On Tuesday, Rock Hill voters will consider nine candidates to fill three seats on the school board, which sets budget and policies for the school district.
Running for Seat 2 on the board are Ginny Moe, Jeff Nicholson, Jay Johnson and David Thompson. Running for seat 4 are incumbent Mikki Rentschler and Jane Sharp, and running at-large are incumbent Jim Vining, Wanda Carr and Anne Morrison.
Each candidates was asked three key questions about the school's budget, student choice and student achievement.
If elected, you'll join the school board during trying financial times. The board faces potential mid-year budget cuts, as well as cuts for the 2011-2012 school year. How would you suggest the district deal with a mid-year cut?
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Moe: My first choice would be use the fund balance. Then, I would suggest combining small classes as much as possible. I would suggest furlough days before layoffs.
Nicholson: They would have to be things that don't affect the classroom. The reserve fund, for example. I would look at things like the operations department and extracurricular activities.
Johnson: The mid-year cuts are certainly the most difficult. You have to look at extracurricular activities that are paid for in part by the school district. Allow external funding.
Cutting outside professional development for employees is an option.
We should also look into allowing students at the Applied Technology Center to work on some of the district's construction projects.
Thompson: You have to start addressing the long-term immediately. If that's done, I would say use the reserve fund, but only on condition of doing necessary planning and reorganization of how we do business.
That includes eliminating duplicate programs and looking at every position. Do we have to bus kids all over town? Take a big step back and say "If we were starting from scratch, what would we do?"
Sharp: Talk with principals to get their input. My prime objective, whatever else we cut, would be to protect the classroom. I would look at other jobs that do not directly impact the classroom and look at cuts there. Also, driver's education in high school; is there a possibility we could cooperate with the state patrol to offer this class?
Rentschler: Look at schools' departmental budgets, and have the superintendent meet with principals to consider cuts. We should look closely at driver's education. Enrollment is down, and fees aren't being paid. We need to make sure we're not taking losses.
Carr: I would love to sit with teachers and see what they think should be cut. No more furlough days. I would look at where we can cut back administrative functions. Avoid cutting anything that would affect the holistic education of a child. Look at cutting extra things like dances and field trips not directly connected to what is being learned in the classroom.
Morrison: We would have to research if there are other avenues, such as a surplus the city might have or a surplus the county might have. We would have to plan to work with what we have.
Vining: It would be my recommendation that we take money from the district's reserve fund.
"Schools of choice," campuses open to any student in a district, have been popular across the state. Superintendent Jim Rex has pushed for more of them. In Rock Hill, three schools - Northside Elementary, Sunset Park Elementary and The Children's School at Sylvia Circle - are choice campuses. Should the district encourage more schools to become "choice?" Why?
Moe: Definitely. Partly because you'll have better programs. You could specialize in something and probably save money that way. The disadvantage is transportation, and not everyone will get to go. The advantage is you can have really stellar programs.
Nicholson: The district should not encourage it. But we need to make sure we offer a complete array of options. If other ones come up, I can see looking into it. It needs to be driven more by the public or students out there.
Johnson: If there's a desire by the community, then you should look into it. They're a great idea and make a lot of sense. They give people choices. But I'm not in favor of making all of our schools choice.
Thompson: Not only should we encourage, we should move to having every school be choice. I would like to see every school in the district competing for students. Each should have a unique program.
Sharp: I would support them if there are parents that are interested in that. It's something that evolves from within a school. Not every one should be a school of choice. What makes Northside and the Children's School such attractive schools is the principals are totally involved.
Rentschler: Yes. The school board and administration have been talking about that for several years. Rosewood Elementary's International Baccalaureate program could be choice, but the attendance zone is full.
We need to be careful, though. You don't want to kick a child out of school to make room for a child outside the attendance zone.
Carr: Yes. Parents should have the choice of which school their kids should go to. That would get better results. It would force the schools to compete for clientele. I should be able to decide which school my child goes to based on performance. If they have more applications than they can handle, they should hold a lottery.
Morrison: There should be more of them, so students with special interests and special needs can have an opportunity to excel in them.
All students have special interests. This will better prepare them and give them opportunities.
Vining: Yes. There's a committee working on it. I don't know that every school can be a school of choice. But I support them because we can't do everything everywhere anymore.
We need to offer opportunities for the children of our district.
On annual state tests, Rock Hill schools continue to see troubling gaps in achievement between white and minority students and between students from low-income backgrounds and their wealthier peers.
In sixth-grade, for example, 50 percent of students receiving free or reduced-price lunch passed last school year's state science test. Among sixth-graders who pay full price for meals, about 83 percent passed.
If elected, how would you suggest the district address those gaps given the current financial troubles?
Moe: It has to be addressed in grammar school. I would focus in elementary on reading. But without an unlimited budget, you're probably going to have some gaps you can't catch up.
Nicholson: We have to get parental involvement. We have to make sure those kids are going home and doing their homework. We also have to work with those groups and targeting those students. Expand successful programs to other schools.
Johnson: We need to better identify students in elementary school. When kids are in kindergarten, we could group similarly performing students for portions of the day.
The biggest reason for gaps, I think, is outside of the school. As a community, we need to do a better job of talking about how to correct that. I would bring to light things that our schools are doing well and push that they need to be expanded.
Thompson: I don't think the financial situation should enter into it. I don't believe in throwing money at the problem. I'm weary of guiding our decisions by state tests. I'd like to come up with new formulas to evaluate the performance of our teachers and students alike.
I'm weary of discussing achievement gaps. The biggest issue is getting students interested. That's a question of leadership. We should focus on creating a culture of engagement. It's about finding a hook. Unique programs that are successful would force schools to compete for those kids.
Sharp: A system that tries to remediate children before children fall behind is what we need - a methodical way of looking at assessments to make sure our kids aren't falling behind.
For school board members, one very simple thing to do during visits to schools is sit and look at the data. It's something I would suggest. It would help the board learn about monitoring accountability.
Rentschler: Our teachers and administrators are already trying to address it. We have turned our focus to engagement. We need to continue focusing on individual students. The process has been started, but things aren't going to change overnight.
Carr: If we could get the children who are falling behind grouped at their own academic levels, they could come up together. These children will be able to relate to each other.
We need to come together and find out what is going on in the household and plug those families that need it into resources.
Morrison: The money is not what makes them want to learn. It's home visits, phone calls and seeking to see where students need help and working with them one on one. When our schools are student- and parent-friendly, it relaxes students.
Vining: We need to get the subject-matter experts involved. Get the teachers who know what's best for these students to improve. We don't have to look at race, and we don't have to look at socio-economics. We know the students who are performing well and who aren't.
We have to get teachers professional development to help them reach all students. We would be better grouping students by their abilities. You've got to start at kindergarten.
I don't buy the argument that it takes more money.