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School board candidates discuss budgeting, pensions

Posted: Thursday, September 30, 2010

Three candidates are competing for two seats on the Juneau School Board, but their answers at a League of Women Voters forum Wednesday evening sometimes made it difficult to determine their positions.

Asked about their top funding priorities, candidate Ivan Nance called the question "oversimplified," but eventually said giving teachers more time with students was important.

Candidate Kim Poole said support staff needed more support, and that paraeducators play an important role, but said that their wages didn't provide an appropriate standard of living.

And candidate Barbara Thurston said she agreed with both her competitors, but "extra money seems to have the biggest bang for the buck when it is applied to the classroom."

There may have been some disagreement regarding teacher retirements.

Two of the candidates strongly supported returning to a defined benefit retirement plan, also known as a traditional pension plan. The Legislature a few years ago shifted the Teacher Retirement System to a defined contribution plan, similar to 401(k)-style plans.

Poole said she "absolutely" supported a return to defined benefits for public employees.

Thurston did as well.

"A defined-benefit plan favors long-term employees," she said. "A school district needs employees who are going to stick around."

Nance's answer was less clear, but he called defined-benefit plans "desirable," but suggested they may not be affordable.

"I think the shift away from defined benefit occurred because the money has not been there, or was perceived as not being there," he said.

"I don't know that its just a simple choice," he said. "Somehow you've got to pay for it."

Any decision about changing public employee pensions would have to be done by the Legislature.

Poole concluded by saying each student was a rising star who "each day needed to have their self esteem enhanced."

Nance said the school system has to help students face an increasingly tough world economy.

"We need to do everything we can to make sure we set these kids up for success in the world they are going to, and to be competitive in the world," he said.

"We need to make sure we're spending money wisely, and using technology wisely," Thurston said.

"Student learning is the most important thing, even more important than test scores," she said.

• Contact Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.



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