Upper Arlington voters had the opportunity Oct. 20 to hear their school board candidates' thoughts on a number of issues, from how they would deal with state funding cuts to the teaching of intelligent design in the classroom.

Upper Arlington voters had the opportunity Oct. 20 to hear their school board candidates’ thoughts on a number of issues, from how they would deal with state funding cuts to the teaching of intelligent design in the classroom.

Leadership UA presented a public debate at the Municipal Services Center, providing school board candidates a chance to field questions in front of residents. Candidates Nancy Drees, incumbent Robin Comfort, Peter Hahn, Stacey Royer and Lori Trent took questions from moderator Ed Seidel Jr. to help voters determine who will fill the three seats up for grabs.

Asked whether they expect the school system to experience financial difficulties in the short term because of state funding cuts and how they would guarantee that adequate funding is available, Royer said working with third parties for many services would cut costs.

“I think the key to being fiscally responsible is to come up with some creative ways to get us to reach that next level without spending more money,” Royer said. “I am a huge proponent of partnerships, I think that’s key, and we have a wealth of knowledge at our doorstep.”

“We will be having a levy discussion in 2012,” Drees said. “Looking at our five-year forecast, we will be in the red in 2015, going as we are currently. We need to look at a levy, that is one way we can keep our budget where we are without looking at cuts to our curriculum and teachers ...

“As far as expenditures, we have five or six co-ops we’re involved in, such as for purchasing buses. I think we should continue to look at those expenditures and make them as conservatively as possible.”

“We need to continue our prudent management, and I think the current board has done an incredible job,” Trent said. “We really need to keep assessing the real needs of our communities, versus the ‘wants.’

“I don’t mean that to sound flip,” she said. “I mean it seriously, because there are limited dollars we have to work with. We have to be really smart about how we spend our money, and provide the best bang for our buck.”

“I think it’s going to require us to look at what we have, what will be, and then assess what creative ways we can work with what we’ve got,” Comfort said.

“We don’t have much control over revenue, so we have to be very careful about budgeting what the district has,” Hahn said. “But when it’s time to move forward, we can’t take it for granted that voters will always approve a levy. We need to approach that carefully, and only when we can demonstrate that the schools have been a good steward of the residents’ money. É Only then should we ask.”

When asked what the district can do to ensure all students get a quality education, whether they be special needs students, talented and gifted students or somewhere in the middle, Trent said the district needs to do a specific evaluation of each of those groups.

“What I’d like to see, if it hasn’t been done already, is see how many of those children fit into each of those categories,” Trent said. “So that we can tick off (what the district does well), and make sure we’re meeting the needs of the kids.

“There are lots of other groups in this district that aren’t getting their needs met, so we need to figure out how we can get them what they need so they can be the best they can be.”

“I think that’s one of the mission statements we’re pursuing, and we’re not quite there yet, but we’re working to the best of our ability,” Comfort said. “There’s always a stretch to be able to reach every student, whether you’re performing at one end of the spectrum or the other. What I think we do really well is that our teachers are eager for professional development, eager to expand their tools and knowledge so that all students can be reached in a variety of ways.”

All students deserve “the opportunity to meet their full potential, whatever that is, and it’s our job as a school district to ensure that that happens,” Hahn said. “It’s celebrating every talent, every accomplishment, no matter how big or small. Each child needs to feel special and know that the school is looking out for them.”

“We need to focus on differentiated learning. Every child may not learn the same way, and we may need to invest some money in staff development and teach our teachers different ways to recognize different problems and really focus on them,” Royer said. “Something without a financial cost we need to do is improve communication, with schools and parents, administrators, all through the district. Ask for feedback from parents and get them involved, so that we do stay on top of things.”

“We need to pursue the best education for every student,” Drees said. “In saying that, UA schools has been ranked as excellent with distinction for the 11th year. I think that says we’re doing a pretty good job for most of our children.

“Definitely there are areas for improvement,” she added. “I think we need to do better screening and intervention services, and we should always do professional development, and I think our teachers are doing that.”