Candidates for Kyrene and Tempe Union High School District governing boards took the stage on Tuesday at Mountain Pointe High School to debate the various issues facing staff, students and parents of the districts.
The five TUHSD candidates, Sandy Lowe, David Schapira, Mary Lou Taylor, Duane Washkowiak and Dave Wells, are running for two seats and the Kyrene candidates, Ben Benedict, Beth Brizel and Bernadette Coggins, are running for two seats.
For the most part, the debate featured light-hearted banter mixed with the candidates' vision for where they would take the district in the next four years.
At one point Schapira, 30, said, while talking about what made him unique, he was youngest of all the candidates and could bring a fresh perspective. Taylor, 71, who has served on the governing board for the past eight years, quickly said, "Well, I'm the oldest ... so I bring wisdom."
One thing on which the candidates had different opinions pertained to TUHSD's Strategic Plan. The five-year plan outlines specific goals for student achievement. It was adopted for the 2007 school year.
Schapira said: "Five years might be a little shortsighted."
Taylor and Lowe, who helped in developing the Strategic Plan, countered that with technology changing so rapidly, it is in the best interest of everyone involved not to have a long-term plan with specifics but rather a vision of the future.
Schapira rebutted: "(If you have) five-year-plan after five-year plan, what if you are an incoming student in the fifth year of the plan. You would have nothing in place for the next year."
Washkowiak stressed the importance of having tangible results to monitor the goals of the strategic plan.
"The key is the metrics. Perhaps they are in place ... but maybe it's not communicated. I don't recall seeing anything out in public regarding those metrics," he said.
Washkowiak also proposed an idea of how to get the community more involved with school board issues. He said it might be a good idea to change the setting of the weekly board meetings from school to school.
Wells said if he is elected he would not only scrutinize the budget, but also make it more readily available to the public. He cited navigation problems with the TUHSD website.
"(On the search engine for the website) you put in your favorite word, budget, anything, it comes up ‘no documents available,' it doesn't work," Wells said. "I think it's unfortunate that minutes disappear (on the website) after two weeks. They should all be there. We need to be accountable."
Mentioned by Schapira and agreed upon overall was that there are many people who care about what goes on within TUHSD.
"There are some districts in the state who have less candidates than open spots (on the governing board)," he said. "We are lucky to have this many people who care."
Lowe closed out the debate with advice for voters.
"For the young voters, we don't always understand the significance of the school board members and the impact they have on our community and our schools, so what I say is do your homework, get on the website and look at all five candidates," Lowe said. "Don't vote just for party affiliation or gender or incumbent or nonincumbent. There are a lot of other things that we need to look at ... I ask everyone do your homework and pick the best."
On the Kyrene side, the candidates share similar backgrounds and personal interest in achieving the goals set forth by the district.
When asked about the biggest budget challenge facing the district the candidates offered differing opinions.
"Kyrene does a good job on cutting administrative costs," Benedict said. "The better choice is focusing on the top-line revenues (and) continue to maximize student enrollment ... Also I think it is appropriate to look at other revenue sources. Perhaps fee-for-service programming, (such as) after-school programs. Parents can choose to pay extra to let their kids participate."
An issue discussed in depth was the fact there are students within district boundaries who are choosing charter and private schools over Kyrene.
"Our focus is not to compete but to bring back the 3,000 students who chose to go to charter schools," Coggins said. "If we provide the resources and the programs the families are looking for than we can bring them back ... Kyrene has done a great job, but I think we can do better."
Brizel described her ideas for enticing families to come back to Kyrene schools. She said it would be a good idea to offer different programs, such as the dual-language program, at the schools that have issues with keeping students within the district.
"There are several schools in the district that are struggling and those are schools we should look at making more competitive and offer more programs that families want," she said.
For more information about all TUHSD and Kyrene candidates in Tuesday's election, visit www.ahwatukee.com.