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Students host school board candidates forum

October 29, 2009|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- A student-hosted forum Thursday for Waynesboro Area School Board candidates featured not only questions about district spending, but also topics that might seem more relevant to teenagers.

Student moderators Jessie Larios, Mary Dennis and Archie Cooley asked candidates about high school parking permits and the possibility of four-day school weeks.

All the candidates and current school board members thanked teacher Ken Brown and his civics class for holding the event.

"I'm impressed with your initiative in planing to do this not just for yourselves, but for your community," Board President K. Marilyn Smith said.

Approximately 50 people, half of whom were school-aged, gathered in Waynesboro Area Senior High School's auditorium. Brown's students received extra credit for attending.

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The event started with brief remarks from Superintendent James Robertson and Assistant Superintendent Evan Williams, and board members Smith, Pat Heefner and Ed Wilson.

Board members Gregory Ochoa and Leland Lemley, who are both running for re-election, also attended, as did fellow candidates Chris Lind, Stephanie Kober and Bonnie Bachtell.

Brown reported the sixth candidate, Brenda Lucas, called him to say she had a work-related emergency and couldn't attend.

Candidates were asked how they'd spend a hypothetical $1 million grant they weren't expecting.

"I'd treat it like I do my own personal money," Lind said, comparing the windfall to a tax refund.

Lind, who is running against Ochoa for the one open seat representing Washington Township, said he'd allocate some of the money to technology; make investments that would yield returns; purchase textbooks; and save a portion of the grant.

Ochoa said he would work with others to identify needs, including building renovations and technology upgrades. Even the youngest students are knowledgeable about technology that the district might not yet have available to them, he said.

Archie, a ninth-grader, asked candidates about their short-term goals for the district.

Bachtell is a candidate with Kober and Lucas for the two seats open in the Borough of Waynesboro. She identified working through the budget process by listening to others as a major goal.

She also mentioned test scores that didn't meet state benchmarks for the high school.

"After talking to some of our students, I heard two or three say, 'Well, I didn't care. It didn't affect my grade, so I didn't try,'" Bachtell said, saying parents and community members need to work with students to change that mentality.

Kober said she'd like more people to attend the semimonthly school board meetings.

"I really think it would make a huge difference in first of all ... how people act toward each other, how the directors act toward each other. I also think it'd really help the community because people come together at the schools," she said.

Lemley is running unopposed in the North End, which includes Quincy Township, the Borough of Mont Alto and part of Guilford Township. He talked about the budget and upcoming teacher contract negotiations.

"This school district is in an awful financial condition and will be next year and the year after," Lemley said.

The students said they worked on preparing the forum for a month.

"To get it ready, we first asked the students of our classes to write up some questions," Archie said.

"It needed to have some of the major issues, like the budget," Mary said.

"Overall I think it went really well," said Jessie, who joined his classmates in lamenting that time ran out before all 15 of their questions were answered.

"I learned a lot about the candidates," Archie said, saying it was interesting to see how they interact with each other.

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