Archive for Thursday, January 25, 2007

Full slate

Four USD 232 seats to be contested

January 25, 2007

With a rush of last-minute filings, De Soto USD 232 voters will start next month deciding who will sit on four school board seats the next four years.

But even before two Feb. 27 primaries, one change on the district is assured. Ten-year board veteran Bill Waye said Monday he would not seek another four-year term.

"A decade is enough," he said. "All my kids have graduated.

"It's time for someone with other ideas."

The fight to succeed Waye will begin Feb. 27 with a primary limited to those living in his Position 2 district. The district is constituted on neighborhoods in the middle part, mostly west of Kansas Highway 7 but extending eastward between Shawnee Mission Parkway and 51st Street Terrace.

Filing for Waye's Shawnee Position 2 seat last week were Bob Dyche, Donald Gentry and former board member Jim Thomas.

Both Dyche and Gentry said they were motivated to run after learning boundary changes the board approved earlier this month would affect their children.

Gentry would like the board to revisit that decision, which will see his daughter moving to the new Mill Creek Middle School instead of the nearby Monticello Trails.

"I would like to investigate some of the previous decisions," the 52-year-old Missouri Department of Transportation computer technology manager said. "With the opening of the new middle school and elementary, why is it so imperative to open them with full enrollment? If projections are halfway accurate, those schools will be full soon and people you have moved into those schools will have to be moved back."

Such movements could have been prevented had the focus been on expanding existing schools rather than building new ones, Gentry said. That should be the focus in the future with a commitment to keep class sizes small, he said.

Dyche agreed to that growth management strategy. He learned this month his two youngest sons would attend the new Horizon Elementary School instead of Clear Creek. Because of the distance and need to cross Shawnee Mission Parkway, that means they will have to ride the bus, he said.

He's running because he wants to be more directly involved with his three children's education, Dyche said. An assembly line worker for General Motors and former financial officer for his union, Dyche said he understood the value of money and how to keep track of how it was spent.

In addition to expanding schools, he wanted to learn more about the district's process of awarding bids to build new schools, Dyche said.

As a former board member, Thomas said he wouldn't second-guess the board's decision on the boundary changes. He knew from experience those were tough decisions requiring many considerations.

And although Thomas said he would be open to consider larger schools he remained convinced "smaller are better." He would not support high schools larger than the 1,250-student capacity Mill Valley High School would have grown to had the November bond referendum been approved, he said. Although it was difficult to draw a definitive cut-off point, he said he would be reluctant to endorse enlarging elementary schools far beyond a 550-student enrollment capacity.

"Again, that's the standard I've supported and what was in place," he said. "If you get much bigger than that you start compromising the education of the students."

Thomas is in marketing research with a doctorate in psychology. He served on the board from 1999 to 2005. During that time, he consistently supported what was best for students and the district overall, he said.

As in the past, he would look to the district's strategic plan when making decisions, Thomas said.

"That represents the will of the district," he said. "It took a robust effort and quite a well-developed plan. I think that the board is compelled to implement and make decisions in concert with that strategic vision."

Primary for at-large seat

A late filing also forced a primary in the at-large seat now held by Don Clark.

Filing last week to run against the incumbent was 19-year-old and 2006 De Soto High School graduate Kasey Willnauer and Shawnee City Councilman Kevin Straub.

Now a freshman at Baker University majoring in political science and with an eye toward law school, Willnauer said he wasn't concerned about how voters would perceive his youth.

"I think they will see me just as qualified as any other candidate if not more because I just graduated from the system," he said. "Who else would know better?

"After going through the system for 13 years from a student's perspective, you see things that could be done better."

One of the things that left an impression was the need to promote from within, the candidate said. Willnauer was one of the De Soto High School students to question the initial hiring of a new activities director at the high school last spring from outside of the district (De Soto high school baseball coach Steve Deghand was eventually promoted to that position when the person offered the job took a position with another district).

He would like to hear more from district architects of the fiscal consequences of adding on to present schools compared to building new ones, Willnauer said. It was also important to listen to what district residents thought about the issue.

"We need to listen to what they want and make sure we do what they want," he said.

Straub said he was running out of concerns for district taxpayers and students. He resented suggestions he was anti-education because he donated $510 to Citizens for Responsible Government, which campaigned against November's failed bond issue, he said.

De Soto is blessed with many most responsive and dedicated teachers and educators, Straub said. His fifth-grade son and eighth-grade daughter have had great experiences in the schools, he said.

He came to opposition of the bond issue from serving on the district's facility focus group that helps identify needs in the district, he said. He too advocates all projects should be put up for competitive bids.

"I'm all for building schools," he said. "I think if we can build it for less money, that is what we ought to do.

"We ought to analysis what other school districts across the country and Johnson County are doing to how we can build and grow."

Political re-entry

The decision of Bill Fletcher to file against incumbent Sandy Thierer for the Position 3 seat ensures a general election campaign for that seat. Fletcher is not new to local education issues, having served on the Kansas City, Kan., school board.

"It was 25 years ago," he said. "I resigned when we moved to De Soto."

In reference to his opponent Sandy Thierer's comment that she was running for the board because fellow board member Randy Johnson suggested members of the Citizens for Responsible Government would seek the seat, Fletcher said he had no connections to any organization and would run an independent campaign.

"There's a lot of positive things in the school district," he said. "I want to be positive on the campaign. I just think there are things that can be improved."

One of those things is the district's east/west split, Fletcher said. As a resident of De Soto with a business, S&F Mowing, that does most of its business on the district's east side, he could help patch the rift, Fletcher said.

Taxes were a concern, Fletcher said. The board needed to look for cost savings everywhere, he said. But the father of two school-teaching daughters -- one in the De Soto district -- also said the board should take steps to increase teachers' pay so quality educators didn't move on. He suggested the district could do away with steps in its teacher pay schedule so teachers could advance to the top of the pay scale faster.

As for the next bond issue, the district did need new schools, Fletcher said. But he said each project should be subject to contractor bids and that the winning contractor be accountable for delivering what was on the set of plans. That could eliminate approving change orders that add to building costs, he said.

Although the late filings assured races in all board terms expiring this year, there will be no primaries needed because only two candidates filed for each seat. Although candidates must live within a position's boundaries to run for the seat, the USD 232 board general election for all seats are open to voters districtwide.

Also on the April 3 ballot will be the contest for the Position 1 seat between incumbent Rick Walker and challenger Tim Blankenship.

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