Candidates running for seats on the Westerville Board of Education answered questions from about 20 community members at an open Meet the Candidates forum Thursday, Sept. 24, at OhioHealth's Westerville Medical Campus, 300 Polaris Parkway.
Incumbent Carol French is not seeking re-election. The top two finishers in the four-person field Nov. 3 will win four-year terms on the school board.
Westerville resident Mindy Drayer, weekend anchor for NBC4, moderated the question-and-answer session.
The majority of the questions were about the district's current financial state and the recently approved teacher contract.
"The current board is already looking at reducing costs while still providing positive educational outcomes," Bird said. "We were able to return $325,000 in health care savings in this latest teacher contract negotiations."
The new three-year agreement included base salary increases of 2 percent each year, a $900 annual payment not included in base salaries and the addition of one step on the supplemental contract salary schedule.
Other candidates did not share Bird's positive views of the contract.
"I don't believe this most recent contract was a great deal for the taxpayers. Instead of the lump sum payment for teachers, we could have restored busing or budget cuts that were made to the magnet program," said Burgess, who also ran for the board in 2013.
"I think we need to be careful with the those lump sum payments. I give the recent contract a 'C.' I would've liked to see some revisions in the collective bargaining agreement," Lawson said.
For the majority of questions, Lawson and Burgess shared viewpoints whereas Bird and Cotter had differing views.
Lawson explained his desire to set up classrooms to compete with one another.
"My background working with charter schools showed me the value of incentivizing students to perform their best. I think bringing a competitive ethos would be beneficial," he said in his closing statement.
At a recent Board of Education meeting, the issue of lessening pay-to-participate fees was raised and school board candidates threw in their two cents on the issue.
"I'm glad the current board is looking at this issue. I believe these extracurricular activities actually can impact academic outcomes," Cotter said.
"If there is funding available, the board should consider some kind of a family cap. Students and families should pay some costs but this is one of those things that really inspires students."
Burgess said he wanted to focus on classroom experiences the most.
"I got frustrated that my ninth-grade son had a take-home final in math. I don't think he got the best classroom experience," he said. "It's a love for learning that we should instill in children."
In his closing statements, Bird said it comes down to those who are interested in the position versus those who are committed.
"The population is not going to vote on issues or opinions. They will vote based on the person," Bird said. "There's a difference between committed and interested. I am committed to being on this board."
Election day is Nov. 3 with in-person absentee voting opening Tuesday, Oct. 6.
For those who couldn't attend, the forum was filmed and will be shown at 9:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday on the local government access channel, WOCC-TV3, through the election.
The chamber also is hosting a second forum, starting at 6:30 tonight, Oct. 1, for the five candidates seeking three available seats on Westerville City Council this fall. That forum is taking place at the Westerville Public Library, 126 S. State St.