What a difference a year makes.
Now, a little more than a year removed from public uproar over issues of transparency mixed with a turbulent and public breakup between the Lee's Summit R-7 School District Board of Education and its former superintendent, this spring's election has only four candidates vying for two seats. Whereas last year's public dialogue led to full house of 10 candidates actively campaigning for just three seats.
This year's ballot will see incumbent Julie Doane joined by Michael McMenus, Ryan Murdock and Dr. John Schuler. Voters will choose two winners for the next three-year term.
In an effort to help voters know more about the candidates, Link 2 Lee's Summit posed a short series of questions to each of the candidates. Their responses can be found below. (Note: If reading on a mobile phone, please turn to landscape in order to view candidate responses.)
What prompted you to run for the LS R-7 School Board?
I am running for Lee’s Summit R-7 School Board as an advocate for students, families and educators. I have built my career helping and guiding schools and am excited for the opportunity to make a positive difference in our community. As a board member, I will contribute expertise in school leadership and comprehensive knowledge of current issues impacting our schools. I have a passion for collaborative problem-solving. Most importantly, I care about student success and understand how parents, teachers, and administrators can work together to achieve that goal.
I am running for re-election because I made some major decisions in the past three years and I want to see them through.
I decided to run again (after an unsuccessful run last year) because I want to serve this district and feel like my background as a former teacher, special needs parent, and emergency planner give me multiple perspectives from which to judge an issue. Additionally, I have twin boys who are currently in the 2nd grade at Longview Farm, which means I have a vested interest in seeing this district succeed for decades to come.
I running for school board because I believe citizens should be involved in their community. I believe that we have no one to blame but ourselves if we are surprised by an event that was discussed publicly and we did not take the time to view school board or city council meetings online or attend them. I do not think any elected position should go unopposed. I am running to be the outside the box candidate. I am willing to ask questions like why in the 21st century knowledge economy, do we have an 18th century agrarian economy school schedule? Our kids do not have to be home to work in the fields in the evening. Would a longer school day, with and I emphasize a commiserate increase in teacher pay benefit the students? Could we then have better physical education, potential for k-6 foreign language, and other enrichment activities if we had a longer school day. Would that not be better for working parents to have their young kids in school longer rather than have to pay additional money for after school care? Would this not allow for better utilization of our facilities that set empty after school is out and teachers go home?
Could we offer more courses online to allow for advanced students to have more enrichment? How many students would a more year round schedule benefit instead of a 10 to 12 week summer break where many students go backward in their learning? Do the sports teams have to practice after school could they practice before school? Is it the best schedule for our kids for the high schools to start early and our elementary schools to start late in the morning? Have these questions been answered what we have works best or have they never been asked? It seems that education does many things because that is the way we have always done it. I want to be the board member willing to ask hard questions. I am willing to accept answers backed by data, but not by “because that is the way we have always done it.” I am also willing to experiment and fail and try again. If we don't experiment we don't learn and we are stuck with mediocrity.
For you, what are the main responsibilities/jobs of a member of the school board?
A voice for the students, teachers and tax-payers. Also to help the largest employer (the school district) in Lee's Summit make good financial decisions.
Our job would be to evaluate proposals from the district administration and oversee, advise, and evaluate the superintendent (doing our best to help him move his priorities forward), and help ensure our district is complying with state laws and regulations. Additionally, it is our job to listen to the stakeholders (parents, teachers, staff, students, community members, and all other residents of Lee's Summit) to ensure that their concerns are being heard and addressed.
The main responsibilities of the board member are to make sure the school district does everything to provide the best opportunity for all its students to reach their maximum potential. A board member is elected because they are trusted to make good decisions for the benefit of the children. A board member must be willing to make decisions that can be supported when angry parents challenge them. A board member is not subordinate to the community. A board member has to be willing to make hard choices on items such as school boundary changes, optimum classroom size versus budget, and course selection versus budget. The board must operate in the current tax/economic state of Missouri. Whereas citizens locally support their schools, those same citizens elect representatives to the state legislature that focus on cutting taxes. Missouri is also limited by the Hancock amendment to how much additional revenue it can raise without a vote of the people. Board members must be willing to challenge the state delegation when they are at odds with the citizens of the school district.
The main responsibility of a member of the Board of Education is to look out for students. I believe it will be my job to incorporate community concerns and needs into the decision-making process of the BOE. I have a responsibility to the patrons of the district to ensure students are getting the best education possible in exchange for the support they give the district.
What priorities do you believe the Board will face during the next term?
Retaining high quality staff throughout the district is a priority (and compensating them fairly as well). We need exceptional staff at every level, including teachers, support staff, administrators, and bus drivers. Secondly, maintaining a broad base of activities for student participation is paramount. I believe students who are involved within their schools typically perform better, and this means continuing to invest in all activities, not just sports. Music, art, foreign languages, robotics, elementary math clubs, middle school sports, debate, and so many more. These are just a few of the activities that make our district great. Lastly, I want to see the district (and all the activities that come with it) be accessible to every student. Too often, whether intended or not, marginalized student populations are left behind, we must do better to ensure special needs students are afforded the same chance for success as every other student!
The priorities of the upcoming board will be to balance the growth in numbers, increase in diversity of the district, increase in the numbers of free and reduced lunch students, increase in the numbers of ESL students in the district versus the relatively flat budget based on the current tax climate in the State of Missouri.
The Board’s 2017-18 priorities (increase learning and achievement, ensure equitable access to learning, strengthen public trust) are important for the district’s success. I would add that the district needs to support the superintendent in hiring the best candidates to fill key positions vacated by retirements and ensure there is quality training and support for new hires.
Facility usage, such as expansion of building, which may include a boundary study. Budget cuts from state and federal entities. Keeping kids feeling safe at school. And of course keeping up with technology.
What is the most fulfilling volunteer, board, commission or committee task you've performed in Lee's Summit in the past three years, and why?
I have been a mentor to team titanium for many years. I have greatly enjoyed watching all of the Lee's Summit Robotics teams compete on the national stage. Last year to see Titanium reach Einstein and then go to China, to have the Broncobots go to Indianapolis was amazing. I am active in the MS&T alumni and seeing all the Lee's Summit kids that go to my Alma mater makes me proud. I also am a big supporter of Elaine Metcalf and what she has done at the Summit Technology Campus is amazing.
Working on the district’s long-range planning group in 2016 was a very fulfilling experience. I enjoyed the opportunity to collaborate with teachers, administrators, and other patrons to give feedback on the Comprehensive School Improvement Plan. I have worked on these school improvement plans in other settings and found the LSR7 School District process and product to be a great learning experience.
I have been on the Lee's Summit CARES Board for close to ten years. LS CARES is a community coalition to prevent youth substance use and violence, empower positive parenting and promote exemplary character. I want to be a part of positive role model for our Lee's Summit youth.
This one is tough. I love my volunteer work for Sporting Lee's Summit. Not only do I serve on their board, but I also coach an amazing group of 2nd graders. I only recently am getting to see what the Lee's Summit Educational Foundation is all about and I am excited to be serving on committees for the Taste of Lee's Summit and in the future, hopefully the Allocations committee. I have always tried to be involved in different activities and look forward to continuing to volunteer in Lee's Summit.
Dr. Carpenter has set a clear mission to ensure the R-7 District provides every opportunity and path to success for each student in the District. What role do you believe the Board can play in providing equitable paths to education for all students?
The Board can and should continue to support Dr. Carpenter in the mission to provide a path to success for each student. This is a BOE priority for the year and I have seen Dr. Carpenter and his staff report on progress at BOE meetings. It is clear to me that the Board expects Dr. Carpenter and his staff to be accountable for this goal.
I feel the BOE is the sounding board for all levels of our students. We should challenge our administration and staff to raise the bar for all involved. We are part of the team with a different perceptive to help our students.
First, evaluating the proposals brought forward by Dr. Carpenter and district personnel for equitable paths to education is a start. It is important as board members to listen to the community, the staff, and students when evaluating policies. Second, having open dialogue with not only Dr. Carpenter, but with community stakeholders is vital to accomplishing the mission of equitable education for all. Lastly, as board members, we must work together to ensure the decisions we are making give students within the district the best possible chance for success and that we truly are living up to the promise of giving equal opportunities for all students.
The board should find the funding and enlist the support of the state delegation to get the funding to support Dr. Carpenter's mission.
During the past two years public perception is there has not been enough communication and interaction between the R-7 Board and its constituents. Do you believe this premise? How do you propose to be accessible to the people electing you to office?
I believe as anything it is a two way street. The administration has sent press releases and social media as well as R7 news that is mailed to LS residents. So if a person wanted to stay informed it is just an article or post away. With that being said the BOE has implemented the video recording of all BOE meetings, for all to watch. I feel that there are many of us on the BOE that is out in the community and schools that people can approach with an questions. From me personally, if i do not have the answer, I find it and share it.
It certainly was a talking point last year, especially in regards to the transparency of decision making. While I believe it has gotten better, I think there is still work to be done. Policies should be vetted and the public should know about major changes prior to the board voting on them. The board can (and should) seek input from our constituents when new programs are being put into place. How can I be accessible? First and foremost, you respond to every inquiry. This doesn't mean you promise to fix a problem, but that you are willing to discuss an issue and get the information to the proper district personnel. It also means to inform the other board members that an issue has been raised so that everyone is on the same page. Working as a cohesive board means working together to help solve problems.
I believe that all meetings not required by law should be public. Dr. McGehee wanted to many decisions to be made behind closed doors. I think the current board has gone a long way to being more public with their decisions. The public also has the responsibility to actually attend board meetings or view them online. The public should see the arguments between the addition of 4th grade strings or intermural sports in middle school. If the public were to see these arguments and see that the board did actually really consider them and that the budget is the limiting factor then the public would be more accepting of a decision even when they may not agree with it.
I have not felt a lack of communication or interaction on a personal level. However, this is absolutely the impression many patrons have of the Board of Education. As I talk with voters in the district, I will be asking what accessible looks like to them and the how can the Board best communicate with our community.