School board forum addresses growth, unity
Maintaining the quality of education offered in De Soto USD 232 topped the list of priorities for Board Position 4 candidates at a primary forum Feb. 18 at Lexington Trails Middle School.
Four of the five candidates vying to be placed on the ballot for Position 4 attended the forum, put on by the De Soto Economic Development Council in partnership with the Johnson County League of Women Voters and attended by about 50 people.
Jeff Hopkins, Margaret Johnson, Randy Johnson and Roger Templin answered questions from the EDC and the audience.
Asked what the school district could do to assist the city in attracting commercial and industrial business to the community, the four candidates stressed the quality of education in USD 232.
“The school district speaks for itself,” Margaret Johnson said. “The quality of our staff is great. I think we’ve got a good place.”
Randy Johnson, Position 4 incumbent, agreed saying that the value of education in De Soto brings a lot of people to the community.
The current budget shortfall and imminent cuts played a significant role in questions.
Asked how to handle budget cuts in regard to staff, the candidates said administration should be looked at closely, rather than those in the classroom.
“The top administration is fat,” Randy Johnson said. “We are out to educate kids. Teachers put the district at the top level.”
Roger Templin said the budget would have to be evaluated from top to bottom.
“The entire budget process needs reviewed, to the extent that we are using tax money not in regards to education.”
Jeff Hopkins said it was important to keep the teachers in the classrooms.
“They (teachers) are the heartbeat of the education system,” he said. “We need to look at other areas, too. “
Margaret Johnson said the school district is top heavy, and teachers should not be cut.
Asked if job loss could be avoided in the budget cuts, the candidates said it would not be a goal to save all jobs.
The candidates were split when asked if building Mill Creek Middle School had been a mistake for the school district.
Margaret Johnson said that current enrollment shows the additional middle school was needed because of growing enrollment.
Randy Johnson said the school has 20 empty classrooms and that space was not being utilized to the full extent. However, Johnson said at this point building the school was not a mistake.
Templin said the building of Mill Creek was where the board first broke from the strategic plan that had been in place.
“We need a new strategic plan, we got off of that when we built Mill Creek Middle School,” he said. “It’s what turned me off of the bond issues. We can’t put brick and mortar on the backs of our taxpayers. We need to do a better job of using the facilities that we have.”
Hopkins said there was nothing that could be done now about the school, but that without it Lexington Trails and Monticello Trails Middle Schools would be busting at the seams. Hopkins suggested looking at moving students around so that the buildings were well utilized.
Asked if it was important that the board always agree or if dissenting views were OK if candidates took different views.
Templin said there would always be differing views but that the board needs to work toward a consensus.
“The existing school board has gotten away from civility,” Templin said.
Hopkins said there was a place for distention in board meetings to make sure all bases were covered.
“When the board members make a decision, all members should stand behind that decision in the community,” he said.
Margaret Johnson said the board should present a united front to the community and set an example.
Randy Johnson said that he would not support something that is against his core values.
“I have no shame in what I’ve stood against,” he said. “I did fight the last two bonds and we could have a lot of projects half done right now.”
The primary for Position 4 will be March 3. Only residents living in USD 232’s Position 4, which includes small portions of west Shawnee and west Lenexa, De Soto and the unincorporated areas south and west of De Soto, can vote in the primary. The primary will narrow the ballot to three candidates who will vie for the seat districtwide.