Candidates for the Holts Summit Board of Aldermen and the Jefferson City School Board discussed building a second high school in Callaway County during a Candidate Forum Tuesday night in Holts Summit.
The forum, which drew about a dozen residents to the Community Room of Mid America Bank in Holts Summit, was co-sponsored by the Holts Summit Community Betterment Association, the Kingdom of Callaway Chamber of Commerce and the Fulton Area Development Corporation.
In response to a question, all four candidates agreed that the growth of Holts Summit merited consideration as a site for a second Jefferson City high school or academy but they all stopped short of promising support for building the school in Callaway County.
School board candidate John Ruth said if a second nuclear plant is built in Callaway County, Holts Summit is likely to grow even faster. But he said at the end of the day the number of students living in the area will determine the location where a new school is built. The cost of busing students from Jefferson City to Callaway County also would be a factor, he said.
School board candidate Larry D. Henry Jr. said he thinks Holts Summit is growing and the board needs to consider it as an option but the overall needs of all of the students needs to be considered.
School board candidate Tami Turner said "the most important question on this issue is what is best for the children. One thing to consider is that if a second nuclear plant is built it will mean a lot of extra funding for the school."
School Board Candidate Marie Peoples said "it's a data question. We need to build a school where the people and the jobs are. We need to weigh our options."
The Jefferson City School District is considering three options to meet future high school needs in the district. The first option is to expand the current high school. The second is to build a new high school, and the third is to build separate high school academies specializing in different skills of interest to students.
During the discussion, all members voiced agreement that they would consider all three options. But Ruth said he was somewhat skeptical of the specialized academy option because he could see problems of getting students from one school to another if they wanted classes at more than one academy.
The school board candidates agreed that poverty is becoming a larger issue throughout the Jefferson City School District. Turner mentioned that 49 percent of the students in the district now qualify for free or reduced price school lunches. That's up from 32 percent a few years ago, Turner said.
Turner, Peoples and Henry voiced need for more social workers in the school system to deal with students of low income parents.
Former School Board member Jackie Coleman asked the panel if Nichols Career Center played a role in the new building plan. Members of the board assured her that Nichols Career Center would continue to play a key role.
Coleman also cautioned the board to have a Plan B if one of the selected options is rejected by voters.
Turner said another problem is the dropout rate in the Jefferson City School District. She said it now is about 14 percent. Ruth noted that this is a somewhat distorted figure because it counts new students who drop out as well as those students who have been in the system throughout their time in school.
But all agreed the drop out rate is too high.
Alderman candidate Jason Michael said some residents of Holts Summit like the North Elementary School in Holts Summit. But he said many parents are choosing not to send their children to school in Jefferson City, preferring to home school or send them to private school.
Michael said for too long the district has talked about its high drop out rate but has done little to deal with it.
Turner said the district has started a J+ program to deal with some students struggling with school. The district also operates the Jefferson City Academic Center, an alternative school, and has prevented 300 students from dropping out during the last four years.
Michael said Holts Summit voters will decide whether to approve a $7 million sewer bond issue on Tuesday. Michel said he supports the proposal even though it will cost him more money because he will have to disconnect from his septic tank system and connect with the city's new sewerage system.
Alderman write-in candidate Landon Oxley also endorsed the sewer bond issue in Holts Summit. "Holts Summit is growing and we need to upgrade our system. We need to have the facilities available to grow, especially if the second nuclear plant is added in Callaway County," Oxley said.