FREDERICKTOWN — School funding is the biggest issue facing the Fredericktown school district today, according to the six individuals vying for one of three seats on the board of education.
The candidates — Jim Blanchard, Mark Bombardier, Charles Streby, Brian Tucker, Betty Weller and Brandon “Chip” Zolman — shared their thoughts during a meet-the-candidate event held Monday in the high school commons. More than 50 community members, students and staff turned out for the occasion, which was sponsored by the PTO.
Following opening remarks by each candidate, moderator Judy Divelbiss asked a series of written questions created by the senior government class, as well as questions submitted by the audience.
Regarding finances, Tucker said he believes the district in the near future will probably have to ask the community to pass a levy. Zolman said it is important to exercise financial responsibility, but did not rule out the possibility of a levy. Weller agreed, saying there are fixed costs the district cannot control, and pointed out that state funding continues to less than needed.
Like personal finances, Blanchard said, the district’s costs keep rising while income does not. He said the board has to be prepared to make tough decisions; Bombardier concurred, adding that it would be important to get community input before making those decisions. Streby said a levy would be a last resort, and said the board should first look at more cuts if the economic situation continues to worsen.
“If there was a levy and it failed,” Divelbiss asked, “would you favor making cuts to fine arts programs or increasing pay-to-play fees?”
Each of the candidates said a careful review of current expenditures would have to be made before any such decision was made, and said they would prefer not to have to make that choice. Blanchard said he would probably be more inclined to have pay-to-play, and Bombardier said academics have to come first. Streby said the answer might be a blend of both options, and Tucker said the academic side is the most important, adding that it is also important to have sports options for the students.
Zolman said any choice would be hurting someone. He said he doesn’t believe in cutting quality programs such as Fredericktown’s fine arts programs, but also said there is a need for athletics. Weller would not like to see any academic programs cut, and would first go to the community for input before making a decision.
Concerning athletes having mandatory practices on holidays, Weller disagreed with that policy, especially Thanksgiving and Christmas. She said the family time is important and necessary for the athletes and their families.
The other five said the students signing up for a team made a commitment to that team and agreed to follow the coach’s rules. Zolman said it would be important to look at what benefit those extra practices would give and Tucker said it is the coach’s decision. Streby added there should be room for leniency with regard to family obligations. Bombardier said the coaches should be trusted to do the right thing, and Blanchard added it is important to let the students know up front what is expected and what the penalties are for not meeting those expectations.
Regarding school uniforms, the candidates said they didn’t think inappropriate attire is a big problem at this time. Blanchard is not in favor of uniforms per se, but would support standard school attire. He said the schools are preparing the students for the working world, and students are not in school for a fashion show.
Bombardier and Streby are not opposed to uniforms if dress becomes an issue, but said clothing choices are up to the parents. Zolman said there are pros and cons to the issue, and would want community involvement through committees in making a decision. Weller agreed it is a two-sided issue, and, speaking from experience she said, it is easier for teachers to teach if they don’t have to be monitoring clothing. Tucker opposes school uniforms. He said, “Uniforms can happen when they get older.”
Except for Bombardier, the candidates thought closed-door practices should be up to the coach if there is a valid reason for closing them, but suggested parents be allowed to attend some of the practices each season. Bombardier favors open practices.
None of the candidates thought adding 20 days to the school year, as being proposed by state/federal officials, is a good idea. The financial aspect is one drawback. They also said they would need to be convinced it would be academically sound; they said they believe Fredericktown students are already getting a good education, as evidenced by the excellent rating on the most recent report card.
The candidates agreed that an academic booster club would be of great benefit to the district as it would encourage parents to be more involved in their children’s education.
They also all said they would be more than willing to listen to a parent’s complaint or concerns about a teacher or administrator, but would encourage the person to follow the established chain of command in seeking a resolution.
After discussing the role of a school board member and explaining how they plan to educate themselves about a board member’s duties if elected, the candidates listed three reasons they are running for the school board.
Blanchard: To give back to the community; to provide a fresh perspective; and to help the district grow.
Bombardier: To serve the community; qualified for the position; and to further expand what has already been accomplished both academically and athletically.
Streby: To “till the soil” (not plow it under) and grow some new and fresh ideas; to give back to the community; and to offer himself as a servant to the community.
Tucker: To give back to the school district; to help the district continue to grow; and to be able to listen to community members and do what’s best.
Zolman: Protect the district’s excellent rating; improve on that rating and continue to try to reach every single student; and maintain the district’s stability and quality.
Weller was unable to stay for the final question.