A flurry of activity followed the Lee’s Summit R-7 Board of Education filing closing last week, bringing to eight the total candidates seeking out two open positions.
There are two open positions because longtime board member and current BOE president Phyllis Balagna opted out from her filing just ahead of the deadline.
With Balagna’s withdrawal, two of the eight — seven of which are first-time filings for school board — will move onto a board overlooking a district seemingly mired in controversy and debate.
Boundaries, achievement gaps, teacher salaries, social media, communication, board policies and curriculum all swirl around an undertone of much publicized (although still debatable) racial divides in this district.
So, to applaud these eight for the bold move of filing would be a good place to start.
But the very next thing we have to do is vet them, and we need to do it thoroughly, carefully and with the precision that will bring us two new board members ready to serve their full terms, adhere to board policies and fulfill the missions and goals the district has promised us.
As they appear on the ballot: Mike McMenus (his third time on the ballot), Mike Allen, Paul Dornon, Billy Wayne Birmingham, Amy Turgon, Don Olson, Judy Hedrick (a former R-7 associate superintendent) and Kathy Campbell will all tell you over the coming weeks and months why you should vote for them.
Hedrick makes this race all the more interesting. The former associate superintendent of business and operations served 18 years in the R-7 District and joined a few others filing right before the deadline. Hedrick could bring a wealth of fiscal and institutional knowledge to the board. But as we know, being a former administrator can be a double-edged sword on this board, too. Hedrick will need to be ready to answer those concerns.
Each candidate will need to make themselves available in every way to the public: at forums, walking neighborhoods, answering questions and showing an ability to take deep dives into complex financial and foundational issues while also being able to operate at 30,000-feet and see the bigger picture of an 18,000-student district.
The bar has been raised for what voters should expect on our school board.
Each candidate likely has some connection to current or former board members. Each candidate might already have platform issues or talking points. Every single candidate has jumped into the unique position where they get to tell voters why they deserve and would best serve our district for the next 1,000 days or so — a three-year term that is unlikely to feature calm waters.
And while they talk, we must listen, and listen intently and purposefully.
We are at a critical time of communication and conversation in our district. We cannot afford election missteps come this April.
Editor's Note: John Beaudoin is a Lee's Summit resident and award winning writer and former newspaper publisher in the Lee's Summit community. Views and opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily reflect those of Link 2 Lee's Summit, it's employees or any other guest contributors.