A forum held by a Saline High School student group helped highlight differences between the four candidates running for two Board of Education seats in the Nov. 6 election.
Smita Nagpal, Diane Friese, Karen Delhey and Paul Hynek fielded questions from members of Students Reinvesting In a Valuable Education (STRIVE) and audience members who attended a the event at Saline Middle School Thursday night.
Although the four candidates have paired off in teams of two, distinguishing between the candidates isn’t as easy as it was in 2011, when David Zimmer and David Holden paired up to win office over incumbent David Friese and Patti Tanner, who were not running a joint campaign. The distinctions weren’t always easy to spot Thursday night, either.
The 2011 campaign, in many ways, was defined what was going to happen with the teachers’ union contract, The election was hard-fought and often divisive. With the contract settled, there does not appear to a major issue defining the 2012 election.
At Thursday's forum, another sign of the peaceful election campaign was that each of the candidates indicated they want to change the way the board presents itself to the public.Policy conflicts have been exacerbated by personality conflicts on school board this year.
The candidates fielded questions about the role of school board, the learning environment in Saline Schools, priorities if there is a budget shortfall, privatizing support staff, semesters vs. trimesters, dealing with board conflict, and what they want changed.
Along the way, many answers were repeated. On privatizing support staff, all four candidates said it was a measure of last resort. Hynek and Nagpal said that long term issues outweigh any short term gains.
One answer that didn’t sound like the rest came from Hynek on a question about what he would cut if the school district experienced another financial shortfall. Hynek if elected he will convene a taskforce to study alternate means of compensating teachers.
“The current contracts we have with the unions, the language hasn’t changed. They are restrictive in some places. I think we might be able to do some things to reward teachers in a different way,” Hynek said.
There did appear to be difference on two of the questions.
Candidates were asked what they thought about having students recite the Pledge of Allegiance. All four said they supported instilling patriotism in school. Hynek and Delhey said they supported having students recite the pledge. Nagpal and Friese suggested there were better ways to educate children and instill patriotism.
“Students these days get their version of war from video games. They don’t appreciate wars of the past,” Hynek said. “My dad was a tail gunner in World War II. These people made a sacrifice for us. (Saying the pledge) is a good thing.”
Nagpal said it was patriotic to teach the Pledge of Allegiance, but that it was also patriotic to have a choice.
“(Students should) not be placed in a position where they might be shunned or unaccepted if they were to make the choice not to recite the pledge,” Nagpal said. “Patriotism can be instilled and should be instilled, but perhaps in a way that gives choices.”
Nagpal said her son took part in a constitutional speech contest put on by the American Legion. The experience taught her son a lot about the country and constitution, Nagpal said.
Another issue that showed a division among candidates was a question from the audience on Proposal 2, which would grant workers the right to unionize and bargain through unions. Nagpal and Friese both showed support the proposal. Hynek and Delhey both said they were against the proposal.
“I don’t have a problem with collective bargaining. I don’t have a problem with unions. I think the proposal, as it’s written will do more harm than good,” Delhey said.
Friese said that collective bargaining is something that has helped keep strengthen America.
“Collective bargaining units have helped keep our country together, keep it growing and keep it safe,” Friese said. “So I am a big supporter of collective bargaining.”
The differences in those two questions went a long way toward explaining why these candidates have paired in teams. Although none of the candidates are actively pushing it, the Delhey-Hynek team leans conservative while the Friese-Nagpal team leans liberal.
In his closing statement, Hynek also said voters need to remember that the school board that takes office this January will be the board that deals with teachers and support staff contracts in 2014.
To see the candidates' answers to questions from The Saline Post, click here.