Steamboat Springs Senate District 8 candidates Michael Zuckerman, Paul Ohri and Jack Taylor all took varying stands Thursday on public-school reform. The candidates appeared at a public forum on the campus of Colorado Mountain College in Steamboat Springs.
Zuckerman, the Libertarian candidate, is a retired physicist living in Clark. Ohri, the Democratic candidate, is a former Grand County commissioner and West Grand School Board member who owns a family run real estate business. Taylor, the Republican, is a businessman who is seeking election to the state Senate after fulfilling the term limit in the House.
A questioner in the audience of about 70 people asked, "As a member of the state Legislature, how would you assure quality education for our children?"
"By supporting adequate funding for our schools," Ohri said. "Over the last 12 years we've fallen behind."
Ohri added that while he supports the notion of holding schools accountable for their performance, he would not have voted for the state law that created the current Colorado Student Assessment Program had he been a member of the state Senate.
"I don't think CSAP testing is the only way to hold schools accountable," Ohri said. He believes the tests, which give schools letter grades based on student abilities to demonstrate proficiency in academic subjects, could be potentially devastating to school districts that get low grades. It could discourage new families and teachers from relocating to that district, he said.
Taylor said not only does he support the CSAP system, but he believes there is evidence it is working.
"I get daily reports from teachers and administrators who tell me it's working," Taylor said. He pointed out the Legislature has approved $20 million for schools that need help improving their reading scores. And he said if that amount is insufficient, he believes he can locate additional funding for that purpose.
With regard to overall school funding, Taylor said the Legislature this year approved $1 billion more for public schools than it did eight years ago when he first became a member of the Colorado House.
Zuckerman said he would be in favor of offering more alternative forms of education such as private and home schooling to give parents more direct control and input into what their children are being taught.
"The public education system is getting worse and worse," Zuckerman said
The candidates also gave varying responses to a question about guns and schools, such as whether teachers or administrators had a right to be armed.
"In schools like Steamboat Springs, it's not appropriate," Taylor said. However, he said it might make some sense in inner-city schools, and he believes that decision should be made locally.
Zuckerman said he supports "concealed carry pretty much anywhere" and believes if school officials had a right to carry a weapon, it could serve as a deterrent to crime.
Ohri was adamantly opposed to the idea. "Absolutely not," Ohri said. "Why would we want them carrying concealed weapons? Would we expect them to draw on a student or visitor? They're educators not policemen."