Appoquinimink School District's May 9 referendum is expected to be the central issue in the school board election on May 14.
Yet the newest school board member will be responsible for improving the district, regardless of whether voters agree to close an anticipated $2 million shortfall with a 15-cent increase in the school tax rate.
This week, three of the five candidates seeking a seat on the five-member school board talked about the areas in which they believe the district must improve and the programs they would fight to protect.
Challengers Miguel Gonzalez and Michael Guinan did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment.
But incumbent Edna Cale and challengers Matt Brown and Kelly Wright agreed that the district could do more to help teachers.
Cale said the biggest impediments for teachers are the federal and state mandates that "compromise creative delivery of instruction" in favor of "a narrower 'test-ready' mindset."
"I believe we need to examine teacher workload, understanding that initiatives and compliance are often assigned to them, but no one ever reduces the other tasks and initiatives that were previously assigned," she said.
Wright agreed that effectiveness of the district's high-quality teaching staff is being hampered by the state-mandated initiatives they are required to implement.
"The excessive testing and extra duties required by initiatives like Race to the Top are taxing our staff to the breaking point," she said. "If we want to maintain an energized, high-quality staff, we must do everything we can to make sure they focus solely on what they are highly-qualified to do: educate our students."
Brown, meanwhile, said the district must do more to ensure all students have equal access to technology and the types of instruction that meet their developmental needs.
"As we continue to grow as a district, we must balance tools and resources throughout Appoquinimink, not just the fancy new schools," he said. "I would also like to see an increase in the quality of student assessments, both in recognizing and in developing plans … By improving our assessment procedures, we will be able to properly identify areas of developmental needs."
Cale said she believes district has done a good job of ensuring that ideas and solutions are shared among teachers, while avoiding direct cuts in classroom funding.
But, she said, more needs to be done to educate federal and state officials about the impacts of their funding decisions.
"With sequestration looming, there is jeopardy to the ability the district can continue to provide to educate to the level a global economy demands," she said. "Our legislators need support in a richer understanding of the value in … being present and active in schools beyond a photo-op; examining their assumptions and remembering they were elected to serve their constituents and educate the children."
Page 2 of 2 - If re-elected, Cale said she would work as an advocate for the school district, particularly when it comes to funding issues that threaten class size, language programs and additional classroom assistance, particularly at the Kindergarten level.
Wright said she would give equal priority to protecting artistic programs and Advanced Placement courses.
"The AP students at both high schools have achieved some of the highest pass-rates in the state because of both the outstanding instruction and support in the community," she said, adding that students in the district's performing arts programs have experienced similar success. "These programs, as well as visual arts, are as important to a child's education as English, Social Studies or STEM subjects. They foster creative thinking and help students develop into confident young men and women."
She added that transparent management also would be vital if the district is to regain community support.
"The district has a responsibility to build and maintain support from the entire community, not just select populations, and regularly engage them in what is happening in our schools," she said.
Brown said he would work to ensure the district's specialized academic programs and after-school clubs continue to receive support, while expanding the use of technology in classrooms.
"By offering competitive programs, such as our STEM program and our Odyssey of the Mind program, or by continuing to develop after-school clubs, such as the Business Professionals of America, we will be able to continue our academic excellence," he said. "In addition to our excellent programs, I would continue to promote the integration and advancement of technology within the classrooms. I truly believe that in order to prepare our students for tomorrow, we must give them the tools of tomorrow."