Danville school candidates tackle varied topics

DANVILLE — Danville school board incumbent Dan Brown said he pushed to eliminate a policy ending an early retirement incentive for non-union district employees, which gave them a 6 percent salary increase each year in the last three years of their career.

He added he wants to see the incentive eliminated from the next teacher's contract.

"That's created a huge financial burden for the (state) Teachers' Retirement System. The pension fund is already grossly underfunded," Brown said, adding the district has wonderful teachers, and he would like to see them stay as long as they can.

Brown was fielding a question on whether he would be for or against extending early retirement incentives to all employees at a third candidates' forum, held in a town hall format on Tuesday evening.

Brown and fellow incumbents Randal Ashton, Greg Hilleary and Frank Young; and newcomers Johnnie Carey, Darlene Halloran, Lon Henderson, Phyllis Roth and David Woodrow are running for four seats on the board. The top vote-getters will serve a four-year term.

At the forum, Danville High School government students randomly asked eight candidates three questions apiece. The questions, covering everything from school funding and student achievement to safety, nutrition and uniforms, were submitted by Danville High School students, parents and community members.

Woodrow could not attend because he was assisting with a previously scheduled school musical event.

Here's a sampling of the some of the other questions and candidates' answers:

When Carey was asked whether she would support a school uniform, she said yes. She said when she was a district administrator, she initiated the idea to ensure that students were on a level playing field.

"There is too much competition for what students wear," Carey said, adding that officials have problems enforcing the current dress code. "I am looking at too many young men their pants are sagging, and inappropriate dress for young ladies."

Halloran was asked to offer suggestions for increasing parental involvement. She answered by saying schools need to be more welcoming.

"They have to feel welcome and feel like they have a voice and that they're being heard," Halloran said, adding that's partly what inspired her to run. She wants her voice to be heard and listen to the concerns of parents and community members.

Hilleary was asked whether he would be willing to eliminate driver's education as a cost-savings measure.

He replied that he believes the high school has a good program. However, if cutting it would create a substantial savings, "I suppose it should be looked at as a possible reduction. I don't know if it should be the first one."

When asked what the district could do to ensure students are getting the best nutritional products available, Henderson said he would like to see some of Northeast Elementary Magnet School's health and wellness initiatives — such as the fresh fruits and veggies program, which provided students with a health snack each day — replicated at other schools.

"We also have to look at physical activity and make certain there are daily opportunities for (that) within the schools," he said.

Ashton was asked what steps the district could take to bring in the latest educational technology. He said he supports Promethean boards, online text books and possibly having students use their cellphones.

"That's how kids learn now," he said, adding the district must carefully weigh the needs and costs and what will be most useful to students in this district.

Roth was asked whether she supported increasing instructional time, and she answered with an emphatic "yes." She said students who are failing could get more help, while other students would be able to fit in more electives or courses they need to take to be competitive in college.

"In comparison to the rest of the world our students are in school about half the time," Roth said. She added a longer day also would help prepare students for the real world. "Six hours is not going to get the job done."

When asked what is the most important attribute the next superintendent should have, Young said it should be a vision.

"Not only a vision of where he wants to take our district but demonstrated leadership," he said. "We have so many issues that have to be addressed.

"We need someone who has that vision, who can communicate it to the board, the administration, the staff and bring the community along. That is a rare quality," Young continued, adding the district is fortunate to have that with the current superintendent.

Students at the Kenneth D. Bailey Academy will host a candidates' forum from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. Thursday in the gymnasium of the alternative school, 502 E. Main St., Danville.

Board candidates will discuss their views on issues facing the district. Mike Hulvey of Neuhoff Media will moderate the event.

On TV

The Danville school board candidates' forum will be replayed on Comcast's Channel 5 at the following times:

2, 5:30 and 8 p.m. Wednesday.

2 and 4 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

8:30 and 10 a.m. Monday and Tuesday.

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