Four candidates vying for three open seats on the Kirkwood School Board responded to questions from residents about a variety of district policies at a public forum Monday night.
Candidates Board President Scott Stream, Kirkwood School District Foundation member E.J. Miller, Treasurer of Kirkwood Public Library Board of Trustees Steve Hazan, and chair of the District Revenue Committee Heidi Meckes were given one minute to respond to questions submitted before the meeting by some of the more than 75 residents who filled the conference room. Each candidate had two minutes for opening and two minutes for closing remarks.
While Stream, the only incumbent, stressed the importance of his experience on the board, Hazan suggested that fiscal responsibility was the most pressing issue facing the school district in coming years.
"I'm concerned about the ongoing deficit we face," Hazan said in response to audience questions about Propositions 1 and 2, which came before voters this past November. "We spend more than we bring in consistently.”
Meckes and Miller, both co-chairs of Propositions 1 and 2, stressed the importance of quality over quantity regarding school improvements.
"I completely understand the financial challenges the district is facing," Meckes said. "But I understand that we are a district of quality, and we should work to maintain that quality."
When asked where the candidates would begin to cut money from the district’s budget, if necessary, responses varied.
"Belt tightening is always rough," Miller said. "We must decide on our priorities and make sure we are stating them clearly."
Hazan said that expenses at the district’s administrative offices increased by 30 percent during the past four years and that "cuts need to be made with the kids in mind."
Residents concerned about looming state-level funding cuts to public education asked candidates how they plan to address revenue challenges.
Stream pointed out that the majority of funding for the district is generated through property taxes. Between 90 and 92 percent of funding is generated at the local level while 5 percent is generated at the state level, according to Stream and Hazan. The remainder comes from federal dollars.
"When we look to make cuts, we must cut as far from the classroom as possible," Meckes said.
Although fiscal responsibility took center stage at the forum, candidates also weighed in on other issues facing the district.
For example, candidates were asked, "Why does Kirkwood School District not have a zero-tolerance drug policy, and what is your opinion on our policy?"
The only candidate to openly support zero tolerance was Meckes, who said that the policy must be clear and consistent.
"In a perfect world, there'd be no drugs in schools," Miller said. "Commitment to zero tolerance can be tough to enforce because it's not a black-and-white world."
Hazan said that he wasn't familiar enough with the policy to comment, but that he "would defer to our administrators," when making those types of decisions.
In their closing remarks, candidates used the opportunity to highlight their strengths.
Hazan emphasized the success of the Kirkwood Public Library, of which he is treasurer, and its financial stability in the face of economic tough times.
"The library is my record; check it out," Hazan said. "Let's be good stewards of our money again."
Stream recalled his record and six years experience as a board member saying that he'd "been there and done that." The incumbent noted that test scores had improved overall during his tenure, and that he was prepared for the future.
Miller told residents that he welcomed as "much input as possible," during the remaining weeks leading up to the April 5 election and that the board “must use the generosity of the resources from this community with responsibility."
Meckes told the crowd that her top priority was the success of the district’s children. "We must remain leaders in individual instruction," she said.