TRAVERSE CITY -- Six school board candidates agree that declining enrollment is a serious issue facing Traverse City Area Public Schools, but differ on whether they would revisit a contentious decision to close three elementary schools.
The candidates appeared before roughly 50 people at a League of Women Voters panel Tuesday, in an attempt to convince voters of their abilities to help lead the district.
"TCAPS is one of the best schools in the state. That being said, I think we can do better," candidate Kirt Kilbourne said during his opening statement. "The board can and should do more to make sure the administration understands the community's desires."
Each candidate said knowing the community is important to them, and all said public input needs to be gathered and weighed when making key decisions.
Parents are the most important factor in a child's education, candidate Tom Kachadurian said. "To suggest that there is a line between parent input and what's best for the child is a flawed premise," he added.
Other candidates who participated Tuesday included Megan Crandall, Chuck Curtiss, Marjie Rich and Chris Thompson. They are vying for two available school board seats in the Nov. 6 general election. Incumbents Richard Crampton and Joel Casler are not seeking re-election.
Candidate Derek Christenson, of Williamsburg, did not attend Tuesday's forum.
The league is hosting a series of forums this week. Mayoral and city commission hopefuls will sound off at 7 p.m. today at the Traverse Area District Library.
Each candidate was given the opportunity to make opening and closing statements, and had no more than a minute to respond to a series of questions compiled by audience members. More than 15 questions were asked.
Several candidates had similar ideas on how to keep families from leaving the district. Among them was offering innovative programming, such as elementary foreign language classes or all-day kindergarten.
"If we know what the parents want, maybe we'll be able to offer it to them," Rich said.
The candidates differed on the topic of closing elementary schools. Board members in July voted to close Bertha Vos, Glenn Loomis and Norris elementaries at the end of this school year.
Some said they would like to reconsider that decision, while others said it would be irresponsible to do so. In addition, their views on the ideal size of elementary schools ranged from as few as 300 students to as many as 450.
"I'm not interested in a big-box elementary school," said Thompson, whose 7-year-old son now attends Mill Creek Elementary in Elk Rapids. His 10-year-old son is a fifth-grader at Bertha Vos.
Mac Taylor, of Traverse City, said although his children did not attend TCAPS, he has been interested in the school system's operations. He attended the forum to gain more insight into the candidates' platforms.
"I have the feeling that there was some kind of screw-up, and this might be fairly important in trying to resolve that," said Taylor, who plans to vote. "This has helped give me more information."