All the candidates running for Milton School Board this spring agreed Thursday that bringing students back into classrooms was a good decision by the board.
Which decision or issue should the board have handled differently? Answers ranged from changing elementary school boundaries to canceling fall sports to simply communicating better with the community.
Six candidates are seeking four seats on the board April 6. Five of the six participated in a virtual forum Thursday hosted by the Milton Area Chamber of Commerce: incumbents Joe Martin and David Holterman, appointee Jennifer Johns, and newcomers Leslie Hubert and Jay Williams.
Sherri Shaw was unable to attend because of a work commitment.
Here is one of the questions the candidates were asked: What is one recent decision that you believe the school board handled well and one that you believe should have been handled differently?
Hubert, who works in civics education, said the board’s decision to bring students back in person was a good one. Grades 4K-6 had the option of learning in person all year; grades 7-12 will return April 5.
“Despite everything that was happening in this last year, they worked well with what they had,” Hubert said. “... The technology certainly helped. We didn’t know what was going to happen, and we certainly adapted for sure.”
She said communication is something the board needs to work on: “Communicating with all different groups in our community—speaking not just to parents of students but community members. They pay taxes here, and we need to keep them informed by utilizing all aspects, not just our website ... and not just Facebook.”
Johns, community development director for Mercyhealth, agreed that bringing students back was the right decision. She said she would not judge her fellow board members for other decisions they made.
“I’m not going to say that we’ve done something wrong in the last six months,” she said.
Martin, the current board president who operates Martin Farms, said he thought most of the board’s decisions on the COVID-19 pandemic were handled “as well as could be.”
“We found a balance, and we had a team approach between the administrators and the board to solve whatever the issue was,” Martin said.
However, the decision to change elementary school boundaries was “rolled out a little abruptly,” he said.
“It did cause some concern among the community, particularly among the elementary parents,” Martin said. “We had to take a step back and gather input and implement our solution a little bit more slowly. I think we could have done a better job if we’d have flipped that around and gotten input from the parents before we made the change. As it turns out, we did use their input and modify the change we made.”
Holterman, a vice president at First Community Bank, praised Milton Forward, the district’s plan for a return to instruction. He said administrators and staff did a good job plotting out a scenario, getting parental feedback and then filling in the blanks.
He said he would have preferred bringing students back into school buildings sooner in January, but the board’s decision was right based on the public health recommendations at the time.
Holterman agreed that the elementary school boundaries issue could have been addressed better.
Williams, assistant operations manager at GoRiteway, said he supported the board’s decision to return to in-person instruction, but he didn’t agree with canceling fall sports and substituting an alternate fall season.
“There was a lot of teams that actually played, and nothing happened with the kids,” Williams said.
Not playing sports “was rough on the kids,” he said.
The three candidates with the most votes will win three-year terms. The fourth-highest vote-getter will earn a one-year term. The shortened term completes the three-year term for a board seat that was vacated earlier this year.