The candidates for Hannibal Board of Education agreed far more than they disagreed at their recent joint appearance.
The only major point of difference came when one candidate said Hannibal probably will have to merge with a neighboring school district in the next three years. The other candidates didn’t endorse that point of view, but said that the next few years will be very difficult.
Three of the four candidates for the Board of Education appeared in front of a tiny audience.
Incumbents Madeline Pittorf and Dale Young, along with candidate John Metelsky, made up the panel at the event sponsored by the Hannibal Faculty Association. The fourth candidate, William Cook, was not able to attend.
Metelsky, who addresses the board at nearly every one of its meetings, was first to answer a question about where he thought the district would be in three years, given the limited money available from the state.
“You’re not gonna like my answer,” he said. “I think Hannibal is going to have to merge with another district,” such as Red Creek. He said the only other options were continuing to streamline operations or grow the community’s tax base, which he said was stagnant.
But he said a countywide school district, blending all 9 of the county’s schools, wouldn’t work well.
Pittorf saw Hannibal’s financial crisis as more of a political problem, fueled by a formula for distributing state aid that favors wealthy districts at the expense of poor ones. “We need to keep pushing Albany all the time that they need to change their standard,” she said. “First priority should be low wealth districts.”
She said that consolidating with other districts could save some money on administrators, but local input into the running of the school would be lost.
Young said he sees “our district financially strapped and struggling for the next three years and beyond.” Rather than merging with another district, he suggested exploring sharing services with neighboring districts and making more use of distance learning.
He noted that school districts are taking back some programs that have been combined at BOCES because they’re finding that they can be done locally for less money.
Metelsky made another eye-opening suggestion when he said the district should abandon European languages such as Spanish in favor of Mandarin Chinese. Hannibal’s students, he said, “are going to be competing against not millions of people, but billions of people” from China and India. “Your kid is going to be dealing with them, and that’s a fact,” he said.
The candidates agreed that the quality of education in Hannibal has declined in recent years because of the need to cut expenses. At the same time, they acknowledged that district taxpayers can’t handle large annual tax increases.
Later this year, a new Superintendent of Schools begins work in Hannibal. For the first time in memory, the Superintendent will not live in the district.
The candidates agreed that it would be nice if administrators lived in the district, but it’s not practical when the priority is to get the most talented person for the job. Young said that the last time they hired a superintendent, residency was required and there were few applicants. This time, residency was preferred and they received 26 applications.
“We’ve got to have the best here,” agreed Metelsky. Pittorf noted that many teachers live outside the district, too, and said that a residency requirement just wasn’t feasible.
The candidates were asked how much they valued music, sports, extracurricular activities and languages when considering budget cuts. “I consider them all essential,” said Metelsky. “If you’re going to cut something, a little piece of everything has to go.”
“It can’t be about cuts anymore,” said Pittorf. “We have to get creative.” Young noted that each activity contributes something to education and to keeping kids in school.