A candidate forum Saturday morning at Iola High School focused the spotlight on how the local school district must manage budget cuts coming from the state.
Those who spoke agreed the Bowlus Fine Arts Center must be preserved as an educational facility for students. The district pays $143,000 a year to use the Bowlus for classes.
“I love the Bowlus, I attended it myself and my kids are very involved there,” said Jen Taylor, District 1 candidate. “I would hope we could maybe negotiate with them and maybe lower the cost we are spending right now but still use it.”
At-large candidate Dan Willis agreed, saying he would like to see them work toward a compromise.
At-large candidate Virginia Macha said the Bowlus is a community gem.
“Not using the Bowlus to its full capacity is a misstep for our district,” Macha said. “We need to sit down and find a solution whether it’s seeking an innovative school district and create something out of the box for the Bowlus. We need to bring things to life that not everyone is thinking about.”
CONVERTING the elementary schools into attendance centers is another potential money saver for the district. USD 257 administration has estimated it would save the district about $200,000.
Attendance centers would place the same grades in the same buildings.
Current board member Doug Dunlap, who is running unopposed for reelection, said he likes the idea of attendance centers but doesn’t want to rush into it.
“I personally don’t want to do it before the election,” Dunlap said. “Even if we do it after the election we will still need to make the call before the new members are seated.”
Macha agrees with Dunlap on the hurried nature of the move but would like to see attendance centers.
“I believe there is a positive movement towards attendance centers,” she said. “I’m grateful that we have a board that has discussed it. However, I would like to have seen a visual and how this would work and give people a selection of ideas.”
“You’re not only impacting the students but the parents,” she said. “I think they are a great idea and great savings on resources. Let’s choose to go to it and give a little time to be implemented. “
Administrators have suggested moving fifth-graders to Iola Middle School on the third floor.
“I have a fifth-grader so it’s an interesting topic,” Willis said. “He said he could have gone to middle school in fifth grade this year just fine. His mom is a different story. It’s a parent issue more than a student issue. There’s so many positives in this: smaller class sizes, no boundaries, equal resources.”
Taylor, who has four children in the district, wants to make sure cuts are not made around the teachers. Moving toward attendance centers would mean a reduction in staff.
“I think in a child’s education the teacher is so important. We need to keep our cuts as far away from our teachers as possible,” she said. “It’s not fair to have uneven class sizes. I think there are other cuts that we could make and keep them away from our students and teachers. Attendance centers could give equalization and equality is important.”
District 1 candidate Stan Grigsby was at a Rotary meeting and could not attend the forum. Mary Apt is running unopposed for district 3 and did not contribute to Saturday’s discussion.