SOUTH BEND -- When it comes to attracting the best teachers to South Bend schools, Dustin Saunders made a statement that elicited responses of "Amen," "Yep" and "Mm-hmm" from the audience in the Recital Hall at Century Center Thursday evening.
"How many people want to work here when they see us on the front page of The Tribune every day for dysfunction?" he said, following up with a reference to what he called frequent "infighting" among school board members.
Saunders is a candidate for an at-large seat on the South Bend school board.
He was joined by six other candidates -- two of whom will be elected for at-large positions and one for the District 3 seat -- at a forum sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County, The Tribune, WSBT-TV and TCU.
The event, which drew an audience of about 60, was moderated by Rick Schutt, a reporter and anchor at WSBT.
Candidates not participating were Lula Malone, Craig Clark and incumbent Bill Sniadecki.
Sniadecki earlier said that, because of a misunderstanding, he didn't know the forum was open to all candidates, not just those who wished to be interviewed by Chamber representatives for consideration for endorsement by that group.
Meanwhile, Roger Parent, the current president of the school board, said the district has for years had a system that's "top down."
"It's not a very good system for listening to the people doing the work," he said.
He said the input of teachers needs to be requested and taken seriously when it comes to decisions that impact their day-to-day jobs.
He also is in favor of giving them a raise, something they haven't had for years.
Maritza Robles, a retired administrator with South Bend schools and current board member, also said teachers should be allowed to participate in the decision-making process more.
At Kennedy Primary, LaSalle and Dickinson intermediates, she said, teachers are involved from the ground up.
"We need to implement that across the district," she said.
Cory Gathright Sr., a pastor, said the district has to attract teachers from a more diverse background so they can connect with students of the same.
When it comes to bringing in new students and retaining the ones it has, Parent said public schools aren't used to being in an environment of competition.
"We haven't always been so user friendly," he said of South Bend schools. "We're working on that. ... We have to do a much better job overall and a much better job of marketing ourselves."
John Hess, a retired school administrator from Mishawaka, said South Bend schools need to let the community know of their many offerings.
He also cited the school board's behavior as a negative factor impacting the district's image.