While the Mansfield City Council opponents almost seemed to echo each other, the school board candidates sounded like they were coming from different sides of the planet at last week’s Mansfield Matters Candidate Forum.
Sponsored by the J.L. Boren PTA, Thursday’s forum gave voters a chance to question the candidates for Place 6 on the council and the same position on the Mansfield school board.
While council incumbent Wendy Burgess and her opponent, Kelvin Stroy Sr., agreed that the city should focus on economic development and listening to residents, school board candidate Kory Watkins and incumbent Danny Baas couldn’t seem to agree on anything.
Kendall Polk, who is also in the race for the Place 6 seat on the City Council, did not attend the forum or respond to the PTA’s survey questions. Incumbents Larry Broseh on the council and Courtney Lackey Wilson on the school board are unopposed in their re-election bids.
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Watkins, a bartender and trainer at Olive Garden, is in favor of having teachers carry guns in the classroom, while Baas, a Mansfield police officer, is opposed to the idea.
“I want to allow teachers to protect themselves,” Watkins said. “(Some schools) have safes that you put your hand on. I would rather have them on the person in a holster. I don’t see kids grabbing the guns.”
Baas, who is running for a second three-year term, had a different view.
“Teachers have training in teaching, not in handling a gun,” he said. “I don’t think that’s necessary.”
The two men also disagreed on school financing, with Watkins looking for the district to decline federal funds and Baas seeing the district headed in the right direction.
“I would like for us to start living within our means,” Watkins said. “I would look at the budget and cut the federal funding. I think it’s unconstitutional that our federal government is involved in the school district.”
When Watkins was asked how the district would make up the funds if federal money was declined without raising property taxes, he responded that “we need to learn individual responsibility and take care of each other.”
Baas admitted that numbers were not his strength, but said “I squeak when I walk. We have a very diverse board. We work through the budget and I know that it’s being done properly. We are good stewards of the budget.”
Watkins also brought up the fact that the district has $1.3 billion in debt, which moderator Angie Thor addressed by clarifying that the debt was approved by the voters in the 2011 bond election.
While Baas said that he moved to the area when he learned that he was going to be a father so that his children could attend the Mansfield school district, Watkins home schools his two children.
“My children are accelerating at a very fast pace,” Watkins said. “I like to teach my children about gun safety and some of the things that they are missing in schools, like the Constitution. I would like them to be at home with me.”
Meanwhile, the council candidates often repeated each others’ sentiments, occasionally using the same phrases.
Burgess, who is seeking her second three-year term, says her experience as a local business owner and her time on the council give her the advantage in the race.
“The council vets proposals for businesses wanting to come to the area and we also seek out businesses wanting to come to Mansfield,” she said. “We have a lot of great ideas, but fiscally and financially, we can’t do everything. I believe I have shown that I’ve been a good steward of your tax dollars.”
Stroy, who is a junior high principal in the Arlington school district, admitted that he had little business experience, says he does have experience collaborating with businesses and handling state and federal funds.
“I believe in putting the organization before yourself,” he said. “I’m here to move this city forward.”
Both candidates said they want retail growth, but Burgess said that needs to be tempered with the traffic that growth will bring. Stroy says his focus is on keeping the city family friendly and attractive to businesses that will give Mansfield a sustainable revenue base.
City council and school board elections are set for May 10. Early voting runs from April 28 through May 6.