Orion PTA hosted a meet-the-candidates forum on Monday, March 18. Five men and women are running for four seats on the school board in the Tuesday, April 2, election. Present were David Harris and incumbents Julie Abbott, Peter Nedved and Kim Nightingale.
In this story, they discuss retention of aides and the importance of vocational education, and they give closing statements.
Incumbent Karl Kane was absent because of work. His responses are in a separate story.
Candidates were asked what the board can do to keep aides.
“We realize aides are important,” Abbott said. “All of us realize their value, that’s part of keeping them. We talk about it a lot. We budget for them and try to make the money stretch.”
Harris, whose wife is a retired teacher, said he had heard a lot about aides. Acknowledging Abbott’s comment that aides were a priority, he said he had observed the opposite and noted aides tend to be laid off.
Insurance is an issue for aides, Harris said.
The board could meet with aides and have conversations, he said. Aides feel they can’t go to administrators with their concerns because they need their jobs and can’t speak freely.
Nedved said aides are an integral part of the school system, with the majority of them in C.R. Hanna working with children who need extra support to progress. They make a big difference.
It’s a balancing act, Nedved said.
“We try to get as many aides as possible and match them with children,” he said.
The board issues reduction-in-force notices to aides in March, Nedved said, and then tries to predict how many will be needed in the fall.
Most of the aides are in the classroom helping teachers, Nightingale said. Classes coming into C.R. Hanna now are some of the smallest ever.
The board has to decide how many aides to lay off in the spring, when board members don’t know class sizes for the fall or how many aides they will need for one-on-one work with students, she said.
Aides are called back according to seniority, Nightingale said. The board has to send pink slips in the spring and then hire aides back before summer.
Candidates were asked what value vocational education has.
Harris said one of his sons was in the cooperative education program and worked for Flick’s.
Not everyone has to go to college, he said. With the facility sales tax money, the board should be exploring vocational education improvements.
Nedved said vocational education is equally as valuable as college-bound courses.
A shortage of workers to fill jobs in the skilled trades makes those jobs more and more important, he said.
Everyone is different with different interests, Nedved said. If they’re inspired, they can go on to a two-year program or apprenticeship.
Nightingale said the district used to have more vocational education classes, but student interest dropped. It’s hard to find teachers.
Orion High School has a strong relationship with the Area Career Center in East Moline, she said. Students can learn almost any kind of trade there.
Nightingale said she is a firm believer in the view that not all students have to go to college. Advanced Placement classes are important, but so is a basic education in English, Spanish, math and science.
Electrical workers, heavy equipment operators and plumbers are needed.
Abbott said the Area Career Center almost always recognizes Orion students among the students of the month.
A lot of college graduates don’t like what they’re doing, she said. It was hard to see ag shop and metal shop go away when the country needs more young people going into trades.
College representatives visit OHS to recruit students, and Abbott’s son told her it was too bad no one ever came from the trades. So she spoke to Principal Nathan DeBaillie, and now the recruiters include the representatives of programs for training students for trades.
Each candidate made a final statement.
Harris said he was the only candidate at the forum who was not a board member already.
The board has done a good job but has not provided all the oversight or all the open communications it should have, he said. Board members haven’t made teachers feel they’re important.
Also, the board has not addressed concerns of aides, or been aware of the concerns of parents of special-needs kids, Harris said.
The board has not been aware of parents who left because their children were not served the way they should have been, Harris said.
Board members have not been aware of teachers who have left, he said.
Nedved said the current board has a very good mix of backgrounds and a balance of social, engineering and financial knowledge.
He said he would have to disagree with Harris’ comments that the board is out of touch with families, teachers and students.
Nedved wants to see the board work on security and focus on the trades.
Schools need to realize that students learn differently, Nedved said. They learn from LEGO robotics how to work as a team.
Nightingale invited residents to come to school board meetings. She said she will talk to anyone at any time.
The current school board and previous boards have had as their primary concern what is in the best interests of every child in the district, she said.
Board members understand the concern about aides, Nightingale said. To keep as many as possible, the board made cuts in insurance.
The board would rather not cut teachers and would rather not have 30 students in a classroom, she said.
Abbott thanked Harris for bringing things up.
“We don’t know what to work on if no one tells us,” she said. “This board talks a lot and has a variety of viewpoints. We have made positive steps in improving communications.”