Higher education was a hot topic of the mayoral candidate forum hosted by Centro Hispano Monday night.

The forum was moderated by Madison resident Maricela Martinez, University of Wisconsin student Karen Perez-Wilson and Madison West High School student Pedro Zepeda.

Zepeda asked how the candidates plan to approach the issue of financial insecurity when it comes to higher education for Latinx families.

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Rhodes-Conway stressed the importance of language access and training programs that teach skills employers are looking for. She said that it is important to create savings accounts for children at a young age.

Summer youth employment programs promote better work and academic skills, Soglin said. He announced that later this week, information will be released on a new entrepreneurial program.

“The best way to prepare a young person for a successful job is to one, get them a great education and two, get them work experience,” Soglin said.

Perez-Wilson asked about the candidates’ stance on the presence of police officers in schools.

Soglin said police and educational resource officers should be in schools based on past events, such as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

“We have now implemented a $250,000 restorative justice program and so the kids never even get into the traditional criminal justice system but instead they got alternatives to work in the community,” Soglin said.

Rhodes-Conway would prefer to not have officers in schools, but said that it is up to the school board, not the mayor, to decide. She suggested other solutions such as asking teachers and students what they need to feel safe, and building a more positive relationship with law enforcement and the Latinx and undocumented community.

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Martinez asked how the candidates plan to address bullying in schools, especially towards students of color.

“Young people [should] have a safe place to come and be heard,” Rhodes-Conway said.

Ensuring access to the appropriate mental health services is also essential, Rhodes-Conway said.

The mayor is the voice of moral authority and is responsible for reinstating community values, Soglin said. He cited past events he has coordinated that fostered diversity and togetherness.

Perez-Wilson asked how the candidates plan to work with young people to reduce youth participation in gang violence.

Kids need a trusted adult they can go to, such as a teacher, parent or someone at a community center, Rhodes-Conway said. They need a safe place to go without gang involvement, where they can just be kids.

These crimes are committed by a small group of youth, and aren’t representative of the young population, Soglin said. He expressed the need for group homes and peer support.  

Rhodes-Conway and Soglin will face off April 2.