Forums conclude school board race
With the days to the spring election ticking away, candidates for USD 232’s Board of Education have taken to the community asking for support.
Candidate forums were scheduled Thursday and Sunday for candidates to speak their mind on issues.
The forum Thursday evening at Monticello Trails Middle School was arranged by Position 5 candidate Kevin Straub. All candidates were in attendance except Larry Meyer, Position 6 incumbent and Janine Gracy, Position 5 incumbent. Both candidates wrote letters explaining the forum’s short notice did not allow time to reschedule work obligations.
The forum featured five predetermined questions and additional questions from audience members. Mike Egan served as moderator.
The Kansas Families for Education circulated a news release questioning Egan’s objectivity as moderator.
According to the release, Egan contributed to the candidacy of Straub in his bids for city council and the 2007 school board election.
“This is an out-and-out fraud on the voters of De Soto school district,” wrote Kathy Cook executive director of Kansas Families for Education “Patrons of the district are expecting to come to an event with will allow them to hear candidates in a fair and impartial manner.”
Questions focused on construction management, board policy on accepting gifts, teacher appreciation and the state’s budget shortfall.
When asked what was USD 232’s greatest asset, Position 4 candidates Margaret Johnson, Randy Johnson and Roger Templin along with Position 6 candidates Tim Needham and Tammy Thomas and Straub agreed that students and teachers are tops in the district.
Randy Johnson said teachers were the people the district put in the classroom to make students successful and contributing members of society.
Thomas said families were the bottom line for the district.
The issue of creating a policy forbidding staff and board members from receiving gifts from potential or actual vendors to the district was met with agreement by all candidates.
Candidates believed a policy should be in place.
Wendy Denham, district board clerk, said Friday the district does have a policy in place regarding gifts from vendors for staff. Policy GAJ can be found on the Board of Education Web site, she said.
The hot button issue of taking bids for construction management surfaced as candidates talked about budget issues.
Needham said a fiscally responsible district would seek bids on construction management services.
Margaret Johnson said the district should absolutely bid construction management services for all projects.
“This is all about money and educating,” she said.
At Sunday’s Willow Springs F.C.E. forum, board candidates were given five minutes to introduce themselves and explain why there were running for a position. All candidates were in attendance except Needham.
After the candidates spoke about themselves and their decisions to run for school board, questions were taken from the audience.
Randy Johnson and Templin addressed the issue of bidding for construction management and architectural services in their five-minute statements.
The incumbent Johnson said he had fought for open bidding on all district contracts during his four years on the board. Had it been in place, the district would have saved millions, he said.
Templin said he also favored an open-bidding policy. But he said board members had to advocate for their positions in ways that didn’t prevent support from others on the board.
The only audience question directed to the candidates asked if they thought teachers in the district felt valued.
Thomas said her teacher friends or those she had been in contact with did not.
“They are professionals and they want to teach kids but they want to feel respected,” she said. “I know teachers that have retired from the district early because they felt undervalued.”
Larry Meyer said he had friends who teach in the district and some feel valued but that others didn’t.
“The bar is high,” he said. “It’s tough to be a teacher. They need all the support we can give them, whether it’s a pat on the back, training or higher salaries.”
Gracy said teachers in the district need to feel supported and if they don’t she’d like to know about it.
“We lose good teachers to other districts because of pay,” she said. “They are not getting paid enough if the truth be known.”
Margaret Johnson said she would hate to know that teachers complain to parents about feeling undervalued. She said an open forum for teachers may help get ideas out.
Templin said the district has more than 900 employees and it was certain some wouldn’t be happy.
“Until we as people can value and pay teachers what they are worth, I am sure there are teachers who will be unhappy,” he said.
Randy Johnson said the issue wasn’t about money, it’s about the chain of command breaking down.
“They are afraid to contact the board in open forum,” he said. “They want confidentiality. There are certain situations where it has to be kept in confidentiality.”
Residents of De Soto USD 232 will vote for Position 4, Position 5 and Position 6 board members on April 7.