BRADENTON -- Fielding questions on testing, teacher salaries and student safety, three Manatee County School Board candidates took the stage at one of the first candidate forums in the county for the 2016 election cycle.
The newly formed Manatee County Black Chamber of Commerce held its candidate forum Thursday at A Touch of Class, inviting all declared candidates in the county.
Edward Viltz, Misty Servia and Sadie Montanus -- all running for Manatee County School Board seats -- were the only candidates to attend.
"I think it's very important that we host events like this," chamber President Tarnisha Cliatt said.
Forums help the public interact with candidates, get questions answered and show support, she said.
"This is the first, but there are many more to come," Cliatt said.
Citing a broken system, the candidates shared similar views on a number of topics, including how much time students spend testing.
Montanus, a teacher at Palmetto High who used to work with the state on policy, said district and state officials need to work together to reduce testing because it pulls students out of the classroom too much.
"This is your taxpayer money. These are our kids not learning. We are tested way too much," she said.
Servia, a planner at an engineering firm and active member of a number of local boards, advocated for a different system instead of a basing decisions for students off test results. Evaluating what students are doing day in and day out is a better way to determine learning levels.
"Testing is not the way to evaluate our kids. We need a different plan," she said.
Viltz, a teacher at a Title I charter school with a background in entrepreneurship and business, said he often uses the analogy middle school students are tested more than law school students taking the bar exam. He said pushback against too much testing is gaining traction, but the district need to be a leader.
"I think the pendulum is going to swing, but we're got to really help push that pendulum," he said. "Our teachers are stressed out. Our student are stressed out."
The candidates also voiced similar opinions on issues raised by chamber members, including making schools safer and paying teachers more to value the job they are doing and keep from losing educators to districts that pay more.
Three school board seats will be up for grabs in November with a primary in August. School board races are nonpartisan and although candidates must reside in the district they are running to represent, voters can cast a vote for each seat regardless of where they live.
Viltz is running for the District 1 school board seat held by Bob Gause, who has not decided whether to run.
Xtavia Bailey is also declared for the District 1 seat, but did not attend.
Servia and Montanus are running for the District 3 seat held by Dave Miner, who is running for re-election but was not in attendance.
A two-year stint for the District 5 seat is also up for grabs after former board member Mary Cantrell died in July. John Colon was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott until 2016, and voters will pick a candidate to fill out the rest of the term until 2018. Colon filed for the seat but was not in attendance.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter@MeghinDelaney.