School board candidates spoke at a forum organized by the Well-Informed Webster People Thursday at Light of the City Conference Center.
Seven candidates are running on Sept. 10 for three open seats on the Fort Dodge Community School District board.
William Offerman, Troy Schroeder, Lisa Shimkat, John F. Williams and incumbent Stuart Cochrane spoke Thursday. Candidates Randal Funchess and incumbent Brian Forsythe, unable to attend, offered written messages.
More than two dozen citizens attended the forum, which was moderated by Sharon Hickey, WWP organizer.
Candidates were first asked what they hoped to accomplish on the school board.
"We have an opportunity to increase communication," Shimkat said. "With my communication style, and a lot of the experiences I have, hopefully we can work through some of that. Second is to also not only do the job part of the school board, but take it to the next level and bring some more of the public-private partnership in it, that we can take advantage of."
"I hope to accomplish seeing better opportunities for students," Williams said. "Three of my children are special needs children, so I do have a passion for the special needs people. Funds may be limited, but sometimes I think they're kind of left out. I want to see these kids who really need it aren't left out."
"Primarily, what I'd like to see accomplished in the next four years, is for us to continue to move forward with some of the Department of Education initiatives," Cochrane said. "Test scores are declining, and some of that is we're not keeping pace with changes that are needed in curriculum, particularly technology."
"I feel strongly about safety implementations within the school," Offerman said. "Recently we've had a lot of difficult situations with uninvited guests, not necessarily in our school system, but school systems out there. Safety's a very big component to any teacher's day-to-day operation."
"Getting to the kids that have dropped out or had their share of problems. To be honest, I was one of those kids," Schroeder said. "I didn't graduate high school and it wasn't anything I felt the Fort Dodge school district did. But there were things there I thought they could've given me to help."
Candidates were asked if they would challenge the federal mandates regarding lunches and nutrition.
"It's not an option for us," Cochrane said. "We fought this last fall. We've struggled with it. That menu is strictly now instructed to us. We have worked through Taher, our food service company, and joined a consortium with the Department of Education to try to petition the federal government to re-evaluate what they've done. In my opinion, it was a huge over-reaction."
"My son comes home hungry," Williams said. "Sometimes I think the upper ladder, they don't know what they're talking about. We need to look at meals kids will like."
"I think it would be nice to look into something," Offerman said. "I know through high school I played sports so having to eat throughout the day so you're not starving by the time practice is starting is very important."
"It's a pretty tough thing to butt heads with the government, but, yeah, I'd be all for butting heads," Schroeder said.
"As soon as this came up last year I had three of them coming up and complaining over and over, and one of them is in cross country, and it was just horrible," Shimkat said.
Candidates were asked if they would support construction of a new facility to replace Duncombe Elementary School, a 100-year-old building.
"On a personal level, I would love to see a new school," Shimkat said. "But it would be something where I would probably have to reserve my answer until I had a chance to look at the different funding units available."
"There's a definite need, but we also have to be careful not to overspend ourselves," Williams said. "I'm all for building a new school to help out, but you've got to draw the line somewhere. I'm not saying not do it, but it might be something to consider down the line."
"It's in our long-range plan," Cochrane said. "The reality is, we have limited resources and we have to protect the tax dollars we've got. Building a new Duncombe, you're looking at $30 million."
"I think it would be a neat thing to look at," Offerman said. "Until I could possibly get in there and look things over, I can't give you an honest answer."
"There needs to at least be some change there," Schroeder said. "I would be all for a huge elementary school ... or improvement of any type."
Candidates were asked if they supported the increase in January of the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy, which funds equipment, technology and transportation.
"I supported it because we needed the money to keep the school system in repair," Williams said. "It's got to come from somewhere."
"I did support it," Cochrane said. "We did the math and felt, frankly, that with our funding sources the way they are that those were dollars, right now, that we needed desperately. Even with $1.67 we fall short of meeting our physical needs."
"To be honest, I didn't know there was a meeting about it. I would've attended," Offerman said. "I don't even know what it stands for."
"The way I understand it, without that money, things can't progress," Schroeder said. "As far as supporting it, sure. I don't think anybody up here is going to say no to making things better for our community schools."
"Nobody wants to say yes, I approve increases in taxes," Shimkat said. "We need to make sure we have the infrastructure."
All five candidates also voiced their support for home schooling, and supported considering moving the day school board regularly meets. The candidates also said they would be for holding a quarterly meeting with city officials to coordinate initiatives. All five candidates also defended early dismissal on Wednesdays for teachers to have professional development time.