In his opening statement, Catron characterized his nine years on the board (1985-1993) as a time when members had a good relationship and were able to accomplish many things.
"I was fortunate to be part of a wonderful team," he said. "We worked well together. We did not always agree, but in the end, we would walk out of the board room with a concensus. We were very successful."
If success is measured in "bricks and mortar," he said, the time he served on the board could be remembered as the era when the district rebuilt Trapp Elementary School, built a new football stadium, purchased land for the Clark County Educational Plaza, built Strode Station Elementary and Clark Middle schools, and constructed a new addition for Providence.
The board also put instructional assistants and computer labs in all elementary schools, yet maintained a 5 percent contingency in its budget.
"My main concerns, and the reason I'm running for election to the board again, is first of all finances, and second of all, I'd like to see harmony restored to the board of education," Catron said.
Hicks did not directly address the issue of disharmony among school board members, except to say that she has been "accused of having a personal agenda."
"That's only partially true. I have over 5,700 personal agendas," she said, referring to the children in the county's public schools.
Like Catron, Hicks mentioned several accomplishments during the five years she has served. Since she was appointed to the board in 2001 and then won election to a four-year term the following year, she said, each elementary school now offers full-day kindergarten, preschool and early childhood education programs have expanded, and the dropout rate, although still too high, has improved dramatically, from more than 10 percent in 1999 to 3.7 percent in 2005.
Also, the district technology program and staff have achieved statewide recognition, the district was recently listed as a "progressing" district in state test results, and four elementary schools - Fannie Bush, Pilot View, Providence and Trapp - have met or exceeded their state test goals.
During the forum, members of the audience wrote questions for the candidates on 3-by-5-inch index cards, and these were read by the moderator, Sue Oliver.
One of the questions asked how the candidates planned to balance the district's budget and get the district removed from a state "watch list" for having less than 2 percent of its budget in contingency.
Catron said the lack of an adequate reserve was a serious concern, and that there are no easy answers.
The only options, he said, are to increase revenue or cut programs. He would be opposed to cutting any programs "that would adversely affect our children," he added.
On the revenue side, Catron said, "If a tax increase is the only option available to us to provide a better educational opportunity for our children, I would support that."
Hicks agreed with her opponent on both counts, saying that "cuts to education never heal," and noting that she had supported a tax increase proposal three years ago, but it was rejected by voters. The time will come, she said, when "we will have to have another initiative."
The school board recently approved a small property tax increase.
She did, however, mention that she often votes against measures she thinks the budget cannot sustain.
Hicks said the board recently approved a plan regarding a broadband communications channel that, if approved by the federal government, would provide the district $500,000 up front and between $6,000 and $10,000 a year for the next 30 years. That would come close to covering the 2 percent contingency, she said.
Technically, Catron said, it would get the district off the "watch list," but the more important question concerns what the district will do to get itself on a sound footing for the long term to provide children with the opportunities they need.