From left, School Board candidates Colleen Scanlon, Ralph Beardsworth, Stephen Bradford and Michelle O’Brien talk at Wednesday’s Chamber of Commerce forum.

Ketchikan School Board candidates were in the spotlight Wednesday during the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce lunch. They discussed their hopes for improving the local school district, and answered questions submitted by audience members.

There are four candidates running for School Board, but with four open seats, it isn’t a contested race.

Ralph Beardsworth, Stephen Bradford, Michelle O’Brien and Colleen Scanlon each said they want to be involved in guiding the community’s education system. O’Brien, an incumbent School Board member, said she doesn’t have an agenda.

“I don’t think that you can be a good school board member if you have an agenda,” she said. “There’s too many moving parts in our district.”

The candidates were asked what improvements they would like to see in the district.

Beardsworth said he would like to improve student performance, to help make sure they are well prepared to succeed after graduation.

Bradford said a recent survey shows that students don’t find classes interesting, and want more one-on-one instruction time with their teachers.

“In times of tough budget constraints, providing interesting classes and lots of teacher time can be difficult,” he said. “But I think it’s extremely important that we continue to offer vocational type courses and interesting courses and (advanced placement) courses to our students.”

O’Brien agreed, adding that while cooperation between the School Board and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly has gotten better, that relationship needs continued improvement.

The Assembly holds the purse strings for the school district, and within certain parameters, can choose to increase or decrease school funding. It can’t, however, dictate how funds are spent once they have been appropriated.

Scanlon said she, too, found the results of the student survey interesting. She said it shows that students can’t be forced into a cookie-cutter school program, and need options. That could help the dropout rate, but could require additional funds from the borough.

The candidates also were asked how to improve the quality of the school system without increasing costs.

Bradford said the district could find new ways to reach out to families, and stress the importance of school attendance and a good breakfast every morning. He said that those who can’t afford it can take advantage of the district’s breakfast program.

O’Brien said attendance is key and should be monitored, and the district should keep a close eye on how many students are failing.

Scanlon said the district could monitor the nutritional value of the food served at lunchtime.

“A lot of times, that is the only meal that these kids are getting,” she said. “Some of them go home and don’t get a meal, and I think it’s important for us to make sure that they get a good, rounded, nutritional meal.”

Beardsworth said additional focus on programs already in place would help the district improve without adding costs.

An audience member asked whether the candidates would support career-focused classes earlier than high school. They all agreed that could only benefit students.

Beardsworth said work programs can offer possibilities that might otherwise have been overlooked.

“There are so many things that students come up with, ‘Gee I didn’t ever think of that.’ And anything that can be done to open them up to, ‘Hey this is a possibility. I might like this. Or I don’t like it,’” he said.

The candidates all said they support continued school choice, believe teachers should be held accountable for their performance, and like the idea of internships for high school students

The municipal election is Oct. 2. KRBD will host a live call-in forum featuring School Board members on Sept. 20.