ABERDEEN, S.D. (By Elisa Sand email@example.com) – Three of four candidates for the Aberdeen Public Board of Education shared their thoughts about the state of education and what can be expected going forward during a candidate forum Tuesday.
The candidates include incumbents Kevin Burckhard, Aaron Schultz and Brian Sharp and challenger Randy Evans. There are three open seats on the school board. Evans was not available to participate in the candidate forum.
Here’s a little about the candidates:
- Burckhard is senior vice president and chief retail officer at Dacotah Bank in Aberdeen. He is seeking his third term on the board.
- Schultz is executive director for United Way of Northeastern South Dakota. He is seeking his second term.
- Sharp is a fourth-generation farmer near Bath. He is seeking his sixth term.
- Evans is semi-retired. He’s worked as an accountant and was custodian for the school district for seven years.
Burckhard, Schultz and Sharp said they’ve each enjoyed their time on the board and are proud of what the district has accomplished and the opportunities provided to students.
One of the first questions for the candidates concerned in-town bussing. With more families reliant on two incomes, is it possible to reimplement? While each expressed a desire to remain open to the idea, it comes at a cost.
In-town bussing was a service that was eliminated several years ago during a time when the school board was looking at budget cuts and closing schools, Schultz explained. The district now contracts with a company for bussing service that hauls in students from outside of town and gets them to and from activities.
That costs about $1 million, he said, and there’s currently discussion, with respect to concerns about COVID-19, about whether 80-passenger busses can be filled to capacity moving forward.
“How we make that work is going to be a challenge,” Schultz said.
Burckhard also pointed to discussion about running busses at half capacity.
Sharp said bussing is a big expense and there is also the possibility of not seeing an increase in state funding this year.
“At this point, I don’t see the district paying for (in-town) bussing,” Sharp said.
Candidates were asked if students would be returning to school in the fall and if more teachers would be needed.
“We’re looking at starting the year as normally as possible,” Sharp said. “We have to plan for that unless something changes.”
He said the district is also planning on having the same number of teachers.
Burckhard and Schultz agreed. Burckhard said the district will also be looking for guidance from the state, and there might be a need for creative education for high-risk groups.
“We’re back to somewhat normal, but the new normal isn’t normal, I don’t think,” he said, noting the possibility of some precautionary measures like face masks and extra cleaning.
Schultz said students and staff safety need to be taken into consideration.
“We want to get kids back in schools,” he said. “What that looks like remains to be seen.”
Candidates were asked to clarify if the zero percent pay increase for the 2020-21 budget is just for teachers or for all staff and administration.
All the candidates agreed no raises are being given for any staff, teacher or administrator at this time. That is because state funding is unknown. Although a 2% funding increase was approved for school districts, there has also been talk of a special session and potential budget cuts as the result of COVID-19, which has slowed tax revenues.
No pay increases have been included in the upcoming school budget, but that issue can be revisited if the 2% increase stays in place.
Candidates were asked if the current school board is a fair representation of the community.
Schultz said board members represent a wide variety of businesses and jobs in the community, but added the group is missing something.
“Where we could improve is more female representation on the board,” he said.
Sharp and Burckhard agreed.
The forum, which was held using Zoom, was sponsored by the Aberdeen Area Chamber of Commerce and also live-streamed on the Chamber of Commerce Facebook site.