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Election Forum Recap: Q&A with Clayton School Board Candidates

A Meet the Candidates event happened Wednesday night at Clayton High School. Find out how candidates for the city's Board of Education responded to questions from the audience about cutting expenses, hiring a new superintendent and handling administrative

*Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described a question posed to Clayton Board of Education candidates. The question addressed gender identity and gender expression. This article has been updated to reflect the correct question.

Candidates for two open seats on the —newcomer and incumbents and —responded to audience questions Wednesday night during at .

Election Day is Tuesday in Clayton and .

, and also spoke during the meeting. They are seeking election to the .

The following are highlights from the forum, co-hosted by the Mayor's Youth Advisory Council and the School District of Clayton's PTO Council. Responses are posted in the order in which the school board candidates will appear on the April 3 ballot, as listed in an email from the school district.

Get complete election coverage ahead of Tuesday by going to . Videos from the forum will be posted later this week.

QUESTIONS FOR ALDERMANIC CANDIDATES:

  • How will the city collaborate with entities such as in the future?
    • Berger III:  "We need to, first and foremost, collaborate with the school district." Big believer in lean management.
    • Harris: There are opportunities to attain efficiencies in the city.
    • Boulton: When opportunities arise to use the resources of other municipalities, we should do that.
  • Can you elaborate on collaboration between the city and school district?
    • Harris: Both entities buy paper and salt for roads, for example. There have to be areas in which financial efficiency can be attained.
    • Berger III: Echoes Harris' thoughts.
    • Boulton: She was surprised to learn, in discussions with City Manager Craig Owens, that the aldermen and school board don't often meet together.
  • Why doesn't that collaboration occur more regularly?
    • Harris: There's no one reason, it just needs more attention.

QUESTIONS FOR SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES

  • Should all teachers with the same amount of experience be paid the same? Please explain your criteria for determining teacher pay raises.
    • Raymond: Thinks what you're talking about is whether to get into merit pay. My understanding is, until we have a very set evaluation system in place and we're working toward that over the past couple of years—there's a more objective rubric. I think until we get that into place, it will be very difficult to figure out how to do that. Some of the ways we award the high-quality teachers is having them do additional leadership roles in the district and having them be paid for that.
    • Higuchi: Echoes Lily. On a broad view, I think it's important that our teachers are evaluated on a criteria that looks at performance, and I think it's important that is tied to their pay in some form.
    • Klamer: Lily pretty much answered for me in a lot of respects. Changing the paradigm is very disruptive to consider. So I don't think we will be able to make a change until we have an effective way of evaluating. In terms of the trust between teachers and administration. With our existing priorities, I don't know if this is something we will push very hard. But efficacy is how I think most people should be paid.
  • What do you see as the upsides and the downsides of the Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corporation program?
    • Klamer: There's been financial upsides. We've increased our diversity—demographic diversity, socioeconomic. It makes it a little more difficult for our teachers to handle the ability of students presented. There are things that don't work quite as well when it's not a neighborhood school.
    • Raymond: Graduation rates at Clayton are far greater than at St. Louis city schools. We have the international and racial diversity that is a benefit for everyone. We haven't done a good enough job with the achievement gap, though. There are differences between how our Caucasian and African-American students are performing. I believe we of all school districts can do it. As Jane said, there's some figuring out how to allocate those resources.
    • Higuchi: I'm fortunate to have been raised in Hawaii, which has great diversity. As Lily mentioned, there is the downside of the achievement gap.
  • There's been a lot of focus on bullying nationally, and I'm curious about expanding protections to gender identity and gender expression*. Is our district looking to include these protections?
    • Raymond: I would need to learn more about it. We are a board that is very open to hearing from students. Bullying in general is something that we have to continue to pay attention to. I appreciate you bringing this forward and would be interested in knowing more about it. 
    • Higuchi: The mental health of all our students is an important concern. I think there should be zero tolerance for any form of bullying, regardless of background. I think it's important to pay attention to the emotional needs of our kids.
    • Klamer: Bullying is not OK. I would be surprised if our policies don't already cover this. I would like to know whether we have a gap or not.
  • Would you be able to work with city to ensure Maryland School property remains green space?
    • Higuchi: I'm all for green space, and going back to a comment from the aldermen, the school district and city should work together for the benefits of the community as a whole. 
    • Klamer: Yes. I would like to talk about this. The main thing is that the district needs to get commensurate value for its assets, so we can't gift anything. So I would love to have that conversation. That property has been declared surplus. I think the district needs to get value for it.
    • Raymond: I completely agree with what Jane just said. I've come to realize how complex issues really are, and this is a balancing thing. As a citizen, sure, I would love for that to be a park. Yet we also are faced with looking for ways to cut spending.
  • In what areas do you think there are savings? What areas should not be touched?
    • Klamer: There are a lot of areas that we haven't explored yet. What we're doing is going more in-depth. I'm hoping that we're going to find nice little pockets where we can reduce without dramatically changing the classroom experience. Numbers will be forthcoming in the next several months. If we find we are spending a great deal of money sending our elementary school children to the zoo, that might be something where we can change funding. I don't want to stop conferenced English or professional development for teachers. I don't have any big clear answer.
    • Lily: That's a very important question. It's a complex issue of balancing. Jane and I are on the resource allocation committee that is looking at things such as professional development travel, extra days that teachers get paid for, programming. I do believe that we can look at this in a deep and comprehensive way and find other ways of saving money. I think we want to keep small classrooms and conferenced English. I think we want to keep our master teachers and be able to attract teachers. We have to think very carefully before cutting any teaching staff or their salaries.
    • Higuchi: I have a different take on this. I want to look at the big picture (pulls out a large chart describing the district's revenues versus expenditures since 2001). As you can see, the revenue always stays kind of flat, but expenses always go up. You can't stop expenses. We knew about this back in 2006 that we were going to be running out of money in terms of what the district could afford. For some reason, we're spending a lot more money between '06, '07 and '08 when revenue was going down. I think we need to look overall to see where we are spending our money.
  • In my short time as a parent at , we've had three different principals and we're looking at a fourth. It's not been good. What will the candidates do to bring some stability to the principal's office at Meramec and also the superintendent's office?
    • Raymond: I haven't heard all the details. I am aware of the changes. Obviously I can't talk about some of the reasons why people leave or don't because those are personnel reasons. I have gone to a lot of the meetings at Meramec. I just haven't gotten the sense that there is a lack of stability. I am very pleased with where we are with the superintendent. Interim Superintendent Dr. Sharmon Wilkinson has stepped in and implemented a lot of what set out to do.
    • Higuchi: I do think it's a little disappointing that our superintendent search went on for a couple of years. I think it's important to note that people are our most important resource.
    • Klamer: From my perspective, Meramec has had a great deal of stability over the past five years. We're waiting to get a recommendation for the new principal from the superintendent. I think that all of the candidates presented were very strong candidates. I'll be very interested to see which is recommended. We gave Sharmon a two-year contract, and I think that was a great decision on our part.
  • My concern is that we don't have a superintendent. Sharmon Wilkinson has a two-year appointment. When are you going to start looking? 
    • Higuchi: I think that's an important question. Leadership is so critical in this type of endeavor. You need good leaders to help get the message across. But what I'm hearing sometimes is there is a breakdown in communication. I think these things can be resolved with better communication. Everyone should go through the same review process to keep the integrity of the process intact.
    • Klamer: Sharmon's been doing a fabulous job. We're going to be talking about a superintendent search this spring. It's decisions that the board has to make, but we have not had those conversations. Based on our prior experience, it's about a six-month process from start to finish. We will be discussing it I believe before this year is out.
    • Raymond: We have continual discussion as a board about when we need to do things. Five of the board members currently on the board went through these searches in the past. I feel clearer than ever about what it is we want and need in a superintendent. Sharmon has been just phenomenal. We want a strong leader who is showing up at events, who listens, who holds high standards for this district and knows that we can do even better. It has ended up being a very good thing.

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