Fort Smith Public School Board member Troy Ecklehoff is being challenged by Phillip Whiteaker for the district’s Zone 1 position. The school board approved a new zone map with five single-membered and two at-large positions for school board members based on 2020 census data.
The school board elections will be held May 24 with Arkansas’ primary election. (Link here for the Talk Business & Politics story about the candidates who filed in each zone.)
Though all school board seats will eventually have a five-year term, as opposed to the three-year terms they had before, a straw vote will be held after the election results are certified to determine how long each seat’s term (one, three or five years) in order for elections of the positions to be staggered.
Each of the new zones have approximately 18,200 residents. Along with voting a person in their zones, voters will also select two at-large positions, so even if their board zone is not contested, they will vote for a candidate in the at-large positions. School Board member Talicia Richardson, in Zone 4, is the only candidate running unopposed.
Talk Business & Politics sent questions to all candidates and will post the responses in a series by zone. Following are the responses from Eckelhoff and Whiteaker.
• What do you believe should be the top three priorities for the Fort Smith Public School Board in the next few years?
Eckelhoff: Always first in every year is curriculum and the education we are providing for the kids. I would also like to see more work done in the mental health area for our kids. Our kids go through so much, we need to make sure we are there to help them learn how to deal with these and other issues as a whole. With the completion of both arenas the Fort Smith Public Schools are heading in the right direction, but there are still other facilities that are due for some upgrades especially in the middle schools. These projects aren’t near as big as the Vision 23 projects, If we can do some these updates and upgrades around the district alone with the 2 arenas and Peak, our district will shine throughout the state as a premier district.
Whiteaker: Our current board is working towards our teachers being compensated fairly. Depending upon timing of this resolution, I’d like to ensure this, as well. I’d like to see more local services/contractors utilized within our district, if possible. Our community supported the passing of the millage, and it only makes sense to use local tax payers in Fort Smith. A district wide curriculum that all schools adapt and agree to grade by grade. (Fourth) To see programs that prepare and encourage our students for life after school that doesn’t involve a two or four year institution. Programs with real life adult skills, as well, that teach taxes, budgeting, interview skills, etc.
• Do you believe the school board has a responsibility to moderate literature available to students, or do you believe that is best left to experienced administrators and faculty?
Eckelhoff: I believe that if there is a list of books that is going to required for students to read during a class then this list should be validated by the Superintendent and then reviewed by the board. As far as books in the library, I am not one to tell others what their kids can and can’t read. I think there (are) plans that can be put in place and used to make sure students don’t check out books that their parents don’t want them to. This would be much easier if there were a rating style like there is for movies.
Whiteaker: I do believe our board should have conversations about the content of both classroom literature, as well as in the library. Explicit profanity and mature content do not belong in Fort Smith Public School. Discipline can be reprimanded by each school principal, should any incident occur, but we do need to trust our educators, in that they have our student’s best interest at heart.
• There are several new charter schools in the area. What do you believe the Fort Smith Public School District should do to be an attractive option for students who now have more options?
Eckelhoff: I think charter schools are the new trend and these companies are trying to get parents to jump on board now so these companies profits go up. There are plenty of advantages to going to a public school. Sports and extracurricular clubs, events like dances and other types of social experiences. There are kids out there that these programs may work for, but I think that number is very low. The FSPS provides a top notch education for free. Why pay for new program that might be here in 2 years when you kid graduates or take advantage of a great education that doesn’t cost anything.
Whiteaker: Our world is ever changing. Opportunity arises almost daily. That said, Fort Smith Public Schools is currently an attractive school, as is. Fort Smith provides a first class education for our students. Our athletes are provided an opportunity to excel. Extracurricular activities are widely available to students of all range and skill. Should a particular student and/or family feel it is in their best interest to transfer or relocate, I invite them to explore all options within our district first and note all available programs before making a decision.