League of Women Voters' (LWV) volunteers hosted and governed a Rockwood School District Board of Education candidates' forum Tuesday night at Crestview Middle School in Ellisville. All four candidates participated. An estimated crowd of 60 to 70 was present.
Voters on April 2 will choose among four candidates to fill two open positions on the board. However, with member Steve Smith's resignation from the board on Monday, a third new board member will be added, according to Rockwood's policies. See related article: Resignation Comes from Rockwood Board of Education Director Steve Smith
Rules for Tuesday's forum, as delivered by the League Women Voters' Kathleen Farrell, were that candidates could make a two-minute opening statement, take one-minute turns answering all questions, and would offer a two-minute closing statement. Farrell emphasized participating was paramount, and that the forum was about "Rockwood education issues, not personalities."
See previous candidate-related article regarding backgrounds: Meet the Four Candidates Running for Rockwood School Board
Of the 80-plus questions submitted by the forum's attendees, league representatives batched them by similar topics, and offered 17 questions to candidates.
This article will go through the gist of the first eight questions, with candidates' responses summarized. Patch will publish a second article with the remaining questions, as well as third article with the candidates' closing remarks.
Rockwood communications staffers told Patch that DVDs of the entire forum would be rendered and copied so a DVD could be placed at each of Rockwood's schools for viewing by anyone who would like to do so.
Editor's Note: For the remainder of this article candidate Janet Strate will be referred to as JS; candidate Steve Banton will be SB; candidate Loralee Mondl will be LM; and candidate Jeffrey Morrell will be JM. The candidates' names will appear on the April ballot in the order here. At the forum, the League of Women Voters ensured the sequence for which candidates answered each question was rotated. The responses will be offered in that same sequence.
Read Part 1 for candidate response to questions 1 through 8: Rockwood BOE Candidates' Forum: 'Issues Not Personalities'
QUESTION 9: Although there are great things going on within Rockwood, what do you plan to do to help students who are underachieving or at-risk?
SB: Have dashboard focus, which helps find our weaknesses. Can now tell if it's the method of teaching or a students' learning style.
LM: Wish I had students ace all tests, but they didn't all do that; some tried and worked very hard for a B. Teachers jobs are not to make students love math, but rather to help students get greater appreciation and big picture of where they can use math or science some day.
JM: Need culture of getting resources to teachers and a system that rewards student achievement.
JS: Doing amazing work with the dashboard; know what to work on now by class, by subject, by grade. Kids are learning how to overcome challenges. Additional funding was dedicated in this area.
QUESTION 10: Do you support Prop S?
LM: Yes, support it. Was on the Picture Rockwood facilitating team. Need tax increase. Long range goal is to get community support for bond issue because it focuses on security, safety, technology. Is opportunity to get projects done.
JM: Finances are in chaos. No, do not support it. Real world tends to work with these issues; public sector can too. Need to get handle on what we're spending unwisely.
JS: Don't believe finances are in chaos. Yes, support it. Need the bond to keep on top of building maintenance.
SB: Yes, support it. Matched with length of time it would take. Critical. Bond issue operated in past to make ends meet, maintenance suffered without it.
QUESTION 11: What projects would you support to improve Rockwood security?
JM: Spoke to police captain in Chesterfield, who disagrees with Rockwood's plans. CFO Tim Rooney found excess funds over what should be in reserves. Has been a school shooting once a month for the last 35 years; shooters neutralize the school officers in first 3 minutes.
JS: Important that all of Rockwood school buildings are following security procedures, that visitors are getting buzzed in. We're putting someone at the high school front doors. Visitors must have badges. Work with the municipalities for more police presence, but chiefs are telling us they don't have the number of officers needed for what could be implemented.
SB: Good locks.
LM: Update security cameras.
QUESTION 12: Do you support Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation (VICC) transfer student program?
JS: Yes, good form of diversity. But $10,000 per student in aide has dropped to $6,000.
SB: Need to close the gap between students. Transfer students furnish additional revenue for district, but district isn't meeting all their needs. Don't take in more students until their needs can be met. Gap is increasing.
LM: Yes, strongly. Obligation to give every kid an opportunity. Some are here because they want a good education.
JM: It's great. Kids are beneficiaries of it. Yes, if funds are there to cover it.
QUESTION 13: Money appears to be wasted in bus transportation. What should be or can be done differently?
SB: Law is about 1/2 mile from schools. Could require greater distance. It's three-tiered program. Working effectively. Does require different start times at the different grade levels. Don't want students crossing dangerous streets.
LM: Wondered about the bus situation. From Edgar, WI, where district owned its own buses. Could Rockwood be better purchasing their own?
JM: Complex laws. Outlying areas perhaps should be looked at. High priority, given weather and security to jump and ride.
JS: Historically, board looked at distance students must walk, because of safety. Also looked at traffic congestion; many Rockwood schools located in busy subdivisions. Have to ask are there sidewalks on which students could safely walk?
QUESTION 14: How do you feel about full-day kindergarten?
LM: From Picture Rockwood, know most residents didn't feel full-day kindergarten was top priority. Firm believer in early childhood education.
JM: Wasn't high priority on public survey. Not public support for it. Believe children getting off to the right start is important. Rockwood can't afford it.
JS: Funding is the problem. In Picture Rockwood process, this element wasn't supported.
SB: Change and help children so gaps won't get wider.
QUESTION 15: Do you intend to fulfill your three-year term? Are you connected to any vendors?
JM: Yes to term, not employed, so not affiliated with any company.
JS: Yes to term, not employed, so not affiliated with any company.
SB: Yes to term, self-employed but not affiliated with any related vendors.
LM: Yes to term, if not longer. No connections to companies or vendors.
QUESTION 16: What criteria will you use to appoint board member Steve Smith's replacement?
JS: Knowledge of district, Sunshine Law, understanding of policies, willingness to volunteer, ability to work with six other board members.
SB: Steve Smith, when originally came on the board, was employed at Saint Louis University, not Glenn Construction.
LM: Believer of kids. Negativity needs to stop. Need to find solutions. Have to work with six others. Someone who listens to community. Openness.
JM: Ask why you want to get involved. Experience. Skill set that diversity brings. Time to engage to do job necessary.
QUESTION 17: Why are citizens' questions at Rockwood board meetings never answered right at the meeting?
SB: Goal of board meetings is to get input but not to try to discuss every single thing that comes up.
LM: Community doesn't trust this board. People ask questions and that's the last we hear of it. Should have brief dialogue. Make residents feel they are important. Now they feel they don't matter.
JM: Why are questions not answered? Sake of time? People could submit questions ahead of time.
JS: Board and staff don't know what questions will be presented. Answers deserve more research to be accurate. Need time to discover all sides of each issue. Not discussed to ensure that students' privacy protected.