Candidates for the Juneau School Board came together Wednesday night for a forum sponsored by the Juneau League of Women Voters at City Hall.
Five candidates are running for three at-large seats on the board. Voters will choose winners in the Oct. 6 municipal election.
Incumbents Phyllis Carlson, Mark Choate and Andi Story are running to retain their seats. Challengers are Mary Marks and Bill Peters.
Candidates had one minute to make opening remarks. They used the time to reiterate campaign slogans and explain why they want to sit on the board.
Story, who is running for a third term, said she is committed to instruction for students and especially wants the district to concentrate on basic skills such as reading and math. She said if re-elected, she would work to ensure teachers receive the training and support they need, and would continue to lobby the Legislature for school funding.
Peters, who served three years on the board starting in 2004 and stepped down to care for his ailing mother, said he would bring a strong background in finance to the board - an important skill as the district improves its facilities and balances the budget, he said.
Newcomer Marks previously sat on the school board in Anchorage. She said she wants to address Juneau's high drop-out rate, "especially when we see minority students not achieving." She suggested the board should find a solution "and not get so hung up on surveys."
Choate, who is the board president, said his main reason for running for re-election is to have the best school system in the country.
Despite Juneau's educated population and isolated geography that allows more control over kids, "our schools are not as effective as they should be," Choate said. He said the district is moving in a good direction, but the community needs to make changes. "We need to turn off the TV sets, computers and video games."
Carlson joined the board in 2003 and has served as vice president and president. She said if re-elected, she wants to continue to improve the graduation rate, noting that it improved during her time on the board to 79 percent from 68 percent. She credited new facilities, expanded best practices and the expansion of the alternative high school for the graduation rate improvement.
In response to a question about whether the school district and city should fully fund activities such as art, music and sports for kids, the majority of the candidates said those two entities could not afford to do that.
"We spend over three-quarters of a million a year on athlete travel," Choate said, adding that because of the economic downturn, "money is disappearing."
Peters didn't know if he would support fully funding them, but said he would consider scholarships so that every kid has an opportunity to participate.
Marks said she would support fully funding activities since she personally stayed in school because of sports.
All of the candidates said they support the mandatory student athlete drug testing program under consideration by the district. They were asked to discuss tradeoffs to students' right to privacy and the proposed testing policy.
Story recalled testimony from students who supported the program because they didn't feel safe playing with other kids on drugs.
"The majority of students we heard from wanted testing," Story said.
"Safety is foremost," Carlson agreed. "We heard that loud and clear from the community."
Choate said he supports drug testing because the community has "a crisis with opiate addiction." He said OxyContin abuse among teens is "a safety issue" and he wouldn't have supported the testing program otherwise.
Marks said in addition to drug testing, she would work to retain student privacy and involve district attorneys "so we don't cross the line."
The candidates agreed in their answers to several of the questions asked by the moderator.
They all labeled themselves as risk-takers rather than "a follower of fine print," and they agreed in support of funding for preschool programs.
The candidates listed similar pros and cons of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and the majority said they would use the current system to hold new Superintendent Glenn Gelbrich accountable for his performance.
Choate strayed from the group in his answer to the latter question, saying he would measure Gelbrich's performance by expecting that all schools in the district meet No Child Left Behind testing benchmarks.
"It's not that hard; it's not that complicated. It just hasn't been enough of a priority," Choate said.
Peters said he would involve district staff and the community in the superintendent's evaluation.
Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.