LAMOILLE — Candidates for the LaMoille School Board had the opportunity to tell voters how they feel about school issues at a candidates forum, held Wednesday evening in the school cafeteria.
The forum was moderated by LaMoille/Allen teacher Brent Ziegler. The format allowed those in attendance to write questions on note cards and turn them over to Ziegler. The event was limited to one hour with each candidate allowed three minutes to respond to every question.
The candidates were incumbents Mary Taylor and Mary Ann Schwingle, along with newcomers Earl Stuepfert, Roger Moore, and Kevin Hildebrand. Ziegler moderated the forum in a manner that allowed each office-seeker to answer at least one question first and one question last.
One of the more pointed questions during the evening asked candidates what cuts they would look to make when state funds are reduced nearly 20 percent in 2013-14.
“I don’t think I could give you a straight answer at this point. I think you have to sit down, put your heads together, and weigh out what we need to do,” said Schwingle who answered first. “With the cuts that the state is making, there are going to be decisions that people don’t like. It’s just reality. It’s no different than you losing your job, and your new job pays you $40,000 less a year. You make adjustments. You and your husband or wife would sit down, just like the board does, and decide.”
Stuepfert said the students’ education needs to be the deciding factor when it comes to cuts.
“Without knowing all of the facts, I would say that if you have to make cuts, you’ve got to make them where they have the least impact on the education that the kids are going to get ... Just minimize the impact,” he said.
Taylor said what may be the obvious cuts may not necessarily be the popular ones.
“One of the toughest decisions that a board will ever make is not keeping the same number of staff that we’ve had in the past,” she said. “Given that there would be an 18 percent cut, a 20 percent cut in funds, the biggest expenditure on the board is salaries. Is it the first and most popular place to look? Probably not. And it’s not necessarily the best one. But, honestly, I would think that to make up a 20 percent deficit, it’s not going to come from not ordering textbooks this year; it’s not going to come from reducing a field trip. The big cut has to come from the big part of the budget, and I unfortunately think that is salaries. Not a popular decision, but probably one that has to be looked at.”
Hildebrand referred to his farming background when it came to financial cuts.
“Good question. You’re going to make us all commit to something up here tonight ... Certain things are mandated from the state, the way I understand it. You’re going to have to spend so much money, no matter what you do. Maybe a little bit of the farmer is going to come out in me and say what’s our projected income? Yes, the state is going to cut our money. Housing is maybe rebounding steadily, farm or farmland values are rising, maybe our assessed valuation will increase,” he said.
“Just because we lose some money, we shouldn’t panic. We need to take a long hard look at where this district is going expenditure-wise and a long hard look at where this district is going as far as income. Once again, that’s a little bit of the farmer coming out. You know, (it could be) that naughty little word of bonds. We’re going to have to go out and borrow some money ... The idea is that we need to provide the best education that we possibly can for our children. ... Our biggest expenditure is staff. My biggest expenditure out on the farm is fertilizer. If I start cutting that, pretty soon you start strangling your income; you start strangling your productivity. You’ve got to be very careful, and we need to study everything we can and make a slow and informed decision.”
Moore was the last to respond, admitting he’s not in favor of cutting staff.
“Without being on the board, that’s a pretty hard question to answer. But, I’m not in favor of cutting anything, especially the staff. I don’t know if that has to be done, but I’m not in favor of it. Like I say, I don’t know because I’m not on the board. But am willing to learn and find out what needs to be done.”
Other issues covered included expenditures for transportation, which are also under pressure due to cuts in state funding; school lunches (a question posed by a student); and art and music programs at the school. No candidate was interested in cuts to transportation or art/music programs.
In addition, co-ops with other schools, principals and superintendents desired level of involvement with the students, the level of communication between the board and the greater community, and the candidates’ ability to get along with other board members were addressed.
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