Mehlville taxpayers came out Monday to question the candidates running for the Mehlville School District Board of Education. Election Day is Tuesday, April 2.
Three candidates are running for the two open seats on the board. Incumbents Venki Palamand and Larry Felton are both seeking a third three-year term. Challenger Lori Trakas is seeking her first term on the board.
In random and changing order, each candidate was given two minutes to answer the same question. Here are a few of the big questions and each candidate's answer.
Suppose the school district receives $5-10 million in new revenue. What would you do with it?
- Trakas: "I would look at the budget and see where we are. I would look at the best way the money could be used. The people should have a voice in the decision."
- Palamand: "It depends on whether the money is from a recurring source or a one-time infusion. If it was a recurring source, I would reduce class size and improve teacher pay. A one-time infusion is a lot harder to work with."
- Felton: "I would put money into early childhood programs. Expand the program to more students. If it is a recurring cost, we really can't put that into salaries."
What are your feelings on the new auditorium?
- Palamand: "I couldn’t be more pleased. This was really Dr. Knost's vision. We are the only district in the area that doesn’t have an auditorium. This is a wonderful addition to our facilities that is being done within budget and with no tax increase. We refinanced bonds. I think we made a bold step forward."
- Felton: "As a choir parent, I'm very excited. This is not a new idea—we've talked about this since the early 1990s. It was always identified in our long-range planning. With patience and perseverance, it's coming."
- Trakas: "Auditoriums are wonderful beautiful things, but not every district has one. I'm concerned with how we went about attaining it. There was a tax increase in 2000. The board bumped up the budget $21 million. Then we refinance the money ten years later—was the money allocated for that?"
Do you think the District should continue character education?
- Felton: "Yes. You can see it when you are going through the schools. It gives the children a better idea of how to interact with each other. They are learning to protect each other and look out for one another."
- Palamand: "It is a great addition to our school district. I spoke to an English teacher who started teaching in Mehlville in 2000. The teacher said the students today are much better behaved, better to deal with. It is a hard to put a price on that, but instinctively you know it is better."
- Trakas: "Character is a good thing. The question is how much to allocate? Are these programs successful? Can you point to their accomplishments? How are we partnering with parents? Twenty or 30 years ago, we need character education. Character was coming from the home."
Should the theory of evolution be taught in Mehlville Schools?
- Felton: "Evolution is the state curriculum. It is recognized as a fundamental theory of science. AP courses, college entrance exams all use it. It is a basic structure of science teaching."
- Trakas: "Evolution is one theory. All theories should be represented in public education."
- Palamand: "Evolution is required by the state and it is a great explanation of what has occurred in our world."
How would you make Mehlville Schools a better place to be?
- Felton: "It starts in the classroom. We need to maintain highly qualified teachers. A rewarding experience comes from good classroom teachers and a parent who cares. We need to put information and services out there into the home. It all starts with early education."
- Palamand: "We have qualified classroom teachers. I think we need continuity. We've had low teacher turnover. We need to fully fund technology and utilize smartboards, cameras and laptops."
- Trakas: "I'm not going to turn my back on the public. Our children are at 40-45 percent proficient. We have AP scholars but what about the ones in the middle? We need to reach them now if they are going to have a chance."
*Editor's Note: Attached to this story are video clips of the closing statements given by each candidate.