Archive for Tuesday, April 3, 2007

School Board Q&A (Part II)

April 3, 2007

The Eudora USD 491 School Board candidates were invited to a "Meet the Candidates" night last week at Eudora City Hall.

Following the forum, several of the candidates answered prepared questions for The News to post online in addition to the questions that were asked at the forum. Their answers appear below. (Note: The candidates who are not listed in the School Board Q&A Part II were out of town on business, as was the case for Joe Pyle and Kenny Massey. If time allows, and if the answers are received before the election, they will be posted).


MARK CHRISLIP
My name is Mark Chrislip and I want to personally thank the Chamber of Commerce for having this forum so that our patrons can meet their candidates. Unfortunately because of prior business commitments I had to be out of town this evening. I've taken the time to answer the questions that were posed and I hope these answers give you insight into some of my personal convictions that drive my decision- making on this board. I've had the pleasure to serve as a board member for 16 years and I believe that we've worked really hard to make our district one of the best districts in the state of Kansas. My wife and I have lived in Eudora for nearly 30 years, we have 3 grown children who all received a great education in our school system, and now I have 4 grandsons that will have an opportunity to experience learning in this fine district. My commitment to you is I will do my best to ensure that we continue to place a high value on an excellent education that will prepare students for college or employment, while making sure that we are also responsible to our taxpayers by making sound financial decisions. My past 16 years board experience, nearly 30 years of business experience at many different levels, community involvement, and commitment to my family all work together to help qualify me to serve as a board member.

1. Given the recent trends and decisions in school finance at the state level, what is the role that you see the local school board and its members taking in terms of budgeting and planning?
a. Recent changes haven't really changed the role of the school board in the finance management process. Our role simply put is to read and approve the annual district budget. As a board member we are tasked with the responsibility of ensuring necessary funds are appropriated for the district and that we maintain a balance between needs and resources in the distribution of the available monies. As I see it, my specific role is to thoroughly review the budget and ask questions that hold all of us accountable in making fiscally sound decisions for this district.

2. How do you think the school district can balance the needs for the district and provide a financial commitment level that the community will approve in a school bond?
a. One of the primary responsibilities of the board is long range planning. Here in Eudora this is particularly important because of the continued growth that we enjoy. Recently we have worked hard to assess the need using a variety of sources. We have surveyed the patrons; we hired experts to analyze the demographic and growth trends in our community; we worked with a consultant who took the board and a number of patrons through a long range planning process; we've sought counsel from finance experts; and we've worked with highly qualified architects to build a bond strategy that we think best fits the needs of our district. I personally feel we have used all this information to develop a sound plan and now the ultimate responsibility lies with the patrons and their vote.

3. What do you see as the future growth areas in the school district and how will the district respond to that growth?
a. If I understand the question correctly, I see several potential growth areas:
* First, as we look at the population growth all of our indicators show that the primary student growth will occurs in the lower grade levels. Therefore, we are proposing that we build a new 1-5 grade building that would house 200 students per grade level. This proposal would eliminate the need for multiple neighborhood learning centers but would provide a pod strategy that would keep all grade levels together as small communities.
* Second, these growth projections would require further facility growth and planning. As a board we are looking out as far as 10 years and to make sure that plans we decide on now will provide for future anticipated growth.
* Third, growth will create more program options for our kids. Extra-curricular activities are very important in providing a well rounded education. As we grow we will be able to add more programs which will provide more choices and more opportunities for participation.

4. What are the top three issues you see impacting the Eudora Public Schools? Please give a brief explanation of each issue.
a. I see the top three issues as:
* Academic Achievement & Student Improvement. There are number of influences: QPA, No Child Left Behind, State Assessments, USD 491 academic standards, and parental standards, that all challenge this district to implement the best teaching strategies possible to ensure our kids get the best education possible. As a board member I understand how important this issue is and I will work hard at making sure we continue to challenge and support the hard work being done to meet this challenge.

  • Long Term Facilities Planning. As I addressed earlier, because of our constant growth we have a tremendous responsibility to make sure that we have adequate facilities that will provide the best possible opportunity for our students and maintain a balance that is fiscally responsible.
  • Striking a balance between attracting top quality teachers to the district and offering incentives that will reward and retain long term teachers. As a board member I truly believe our best assets are the teachers and administrators we have in this district. Unfortunately our ability to compensate these folks is directly influenced by the decisions our legislatures make in how they choose to fund us. We have limited revenue sources and our challenge is making the best decisions on how we allocate those funds. It is my opinion we should do all that we can to properly manage our budget so that we can find this balance and maintain the best organization possible with salaries that are equal to or greater than those districts surrounding ours.

5. Has the educational system changed since you attended K-12 systems? If so, please point out some of the differences.
a. There are numerous changes since I attended K-12. Some of the most evident are: our kids are learning at a much higher level and at a much younger age; technology is far greater and changing all the time; safety in the classroom is now a much greater concern; our world is becoming smaller so our kids are now exposed to global learning; and the family unit has changed. There are lots of changes, and the thing that excites me about this district is we recognize the changes but we don't react irresponsibly. We do the research and make informed decisions on how to accommodate change while keeping the best interest of our kids in mind.

6. What are the ways the School District, City, and County can better coordinate efforts?
a. Coordinating efforts between these entities is very important. We each have our own responsibilities to our constituents and we each work hard at doing the best we can. However, if we learn to do a better job of working together it seems that we could really enhance how we serve our community. Communication is one of the key ways we can do this. We need to make sure that we aren't making decisions in a vacuum. We should make every effort to inform one another of what we are doing. Within the last few years we've had different board members assigned to meeting with other entities and attend their monthly meetings and then report back to the board. This has been very helpful and continuing to build on that would be a good practice.

Thank you for coming to this forum and I would really appreciate your vote on April 3rd. -- Mark Chrislip


MIKE KELSO
1. Given the recent trends and decisions in school finance at the state level, what is the role that you see the local school board and its members taking in terms of budgeting and planning?

Every member of the school board needs and has the responsibility to become intimately aware of every aspect of the annual budget. This includes every cent that comes in, from all of the multiple sources (local, state and federal) as well as every cent that is spent. If this requires that school board members receive some basic budgetary training, then this must happen. Questions must be asked when it comes time for the annual budget planning and approval process. School board members must also be aware of what is going on at the state level as far as school finance. This is particularly true in Eudora, where our state representative has voted against most of the recent school financing bills. By staying aware of what is going on in Topeka, the school board will be better prepared for the short and long term future.

2. How do you think the school district can balance the needs of the district and provide a financial commitment level that the community will approve in a school bond?

The voice of the community must be heard during the planning process. I believe that some level of this was accomplished by the methods employed by the current board, such as the Citizen Action group and the phone survey that was taken. I do not believe that the survey was random and thorough enough to accurately gauge public opinion. I have spoken with far too many people that believe the proposed bond issue is too extravagant and too expensive. Most, if not all, in Eudora know that the school district has some physical needs as far as its buildings and facilities go. I understand the level of planning that has gone into this project so far, but this bond issue will be the defining moment of the next 10-20 years of our district, and it must be done such that the community is comfortable and strongly behind it. Just because we can leave our mil levy rate steady, doesn't mean we should. Is it possible to lower the rate and still build what the district truly needs? I don't know that this question has been asked.

3. What do you see as the future growth areas in the school district and how will the district respond to that growth?

Based on recent history it is safe to say that the population of Eudora will continue to increase. It has clearly been stated in the local media that the city of Eudora is doing what it can to attract more businesses to Eudora. This will also continue to feed the population growth. Proposed regional projects such as the new Turnpike Interchange in north of town and the Inter-modal facility in Gardner will also lead to population increases. The district must respond to the growth with long range class and classroom planning. This has resulted in parts of the bond issue, such as the new proposed elementary school as well as expansions to the middle and high schools. We must be careful in evaluating the needs so that as the various classes move up from grade to grade that both physical space and available, quality teachers and other staff are there waiting for them. We mustn't forget about staffing as we plan for future growth. The growth of the district isn't just about the buildings. We must have the teachers as well. Our future budgets must be planned with staffing concerns as well as physical building concerns.

4. What are the top three issues you see impacting the Eudora Public Schools? Please give a brief explanation of each issue.

  • The first and foremost revolves around determining future needs and long term planning for the district. As stated in the previous answer, this will involve both physical and personnel planning. All available data from every source possible must be analyzed and decisions that balance the needs of all parties (students, staff and taxpayers) must be made.
    * The second is attracting, hiring and retaining quality staff members. We must find a way to optimize the salaries of all employees of the district. While it is truly difficult to compare our district in terms of salaries with the 'Big 3' in Johnson County (Shawnee Mission, Olathe and Blue Valley), it is not unreasonable to expect the Eudora School District to compete with all of the districts of a comparable size within our region. When all factors of the pay scale are factored in, this just is not the case today. Teachers can, and are leaving our wonderful district for more financial reward elsewhere.
    * The third is the use of technology to further the district's mission. As stated by Superintendent Kobza, technology is a key part of the bond issue of the overall future of the district. There are and will be many opportunities for the district to use existing or future technologies to further advance the district in its goals. This will be particularly true in our era of No Child Left Behind. As the district is mandated by state and federal legislation in the improvement and achievement levels that must be obtained and maintained, technology will play a significant role in how these levels are achieved. As this new technology is developed, the board must have the ability to work along with the Technology Director of the district to determine which tools will benefit the students and staff. Because software and hardware solutions change at such a rapid rate in today's world the board must be agile and able to capitalize quickly if necessary. This shows yet another reason for importance of the long range planning.

5. Has the educational system changed since you attended K-12? If so, please point out some of the differences?

There are many, many changes that have occurred over the past 25 years since I graduated from high school. Our students are held to a much higher standard, as evidenced by the level of testing that is now mandated upon our schools. The way students with disabilities of all levels are now handled and inclusively integrated into the everyday classroom has changed dramatically. The computers that were used when I was in high school could barely match the calculators that our students use today. The academic and extracurricular opportunities our students have increased seemingly at the same rate as our technology. It is up to the school board to keep our district moving forward and not let the student experience stagnate.

6. What are the ways the School District, City and County can better coordinate efforts?

Every area of cross-coordination revolves around communication. The various governing bodies must know what the others are doing. This can be accomplished in many ways. The simplest of these is to have members from each organization attend the other's meetings. I know that the school board has assigned members to attend, but unfortunately, this does not always happen. It is also, not just the responsibility of the school board to make sure that this happens. The City and County must take ownership in the process. The more open every group is, the better this process will be. The board should encourage this process at every opportunity. This will particularly be the case, as we move towards the vote on the bond issue.


GREG NEIS
1. Given the recent trends and decisions in school finance at the state level, what is the role that you see the local school board and its members taking in terms of budgeting and planning?
As a current member of the board, I see our role as continuing the same direction as we are going now. We have been planning for this bond issue for more than two years. We are looking down the road 5-10 years to continue serving the community. We are doing the best job we can with the funds that are provided.

I think we do a good job of providing a quality education with the money provided to us by the state, along with all the federal and state mandates that are required, but not fully funded.

2. How do you think the school district can balance the needs for the district and provide a financial commitment level that the community will approve in a school bond?

I think we have accomplished this with the bond issue we are considering. The bonds on the Eudora Middle School are being paid off this year. By continuing with the same mill levy debt that has been paying the old bonds, it will pay for the new bonds without an increase.

3. What do you see as the future growth areas in the school district and how will the district respond to that growth?

Once again, the proposed bond issue will answer a lot of those needs. I also see the board looking at the growth areas as they occur to see if additional facilities need to be located near the areas or existing facilities expanded.

4. What are the top three issues you see impacting the Eudora Public Schools? Please give a brief explanation of each issue.

No Child Left Behind: The standards have been set by the federal and state governments. It is up to us to see that they are met. Administration and staff must have our students meet the standards.

Growth: The location of Eudora on the K-10 corridor means our community will continue to grow. Continued growth in the community means more students for the district. Long range planning is becoming more important to meet the needs of the district.

Lobbying: I see a need to work with the state legislature to come up with more and better ways to fund education. Most of the money that comes to each district comes through the state government. They control the purse string of every district. They tell you how much money your district will receive and they have a major say in how you will spend that money. We can no longer set by and worry only about our own districts when the major problems with school finance will be decided in the legislature.

5. Has the educational system changed since you attended K-12 systems? If so, please point out some of the differences.
When I was in school, computers were electronic monstrosities that took up the space on an entire room. They could only complete certain functions and took a lot of time to complete.

Now we all use computers daily, as common as paper and pen were when I was in school. Electronics have been the major change in the world of education in the last 30 years. I have walked through Nottingham Elementary and seen children working on projects on the computer that I wouldn't have been able to complete in high school. I see seventh-graders doing algebra equations that I was doing as a 10th-grader.

Our children today are expected to know more, do more and reach farther than we were ever expected back in the early '70s.

6. What are the ways the School District, City, and County can better coordinate efforts?

I wish I knew the answer to that question. We have tried our best to make that happen. The reality of it is: personalities and policies of each staff member and members of the boards and commissions vary greatly.

My best answer would be communicate, communicate, communicate.


BELINDA REHMER
1) Given the recent trends and decisions in school finance at the state level, what is the role that you see the local school board and its members taking in terms of budgeting and planning?
¢ I see all school districts in the state becoming more creative in their finance options. Eudora is no different. I am so excited about the recent creation of an Endowment Association! But reality is, it will take years to build the size cushion we will need to really be able to help. In the mean time, we'll need to continue to search opportunities for grants and special funding options. All the while we will have to work within our budget. (Just like we do with our personal finances) making the tough decisions that we all need to make, in deciding what we can and can't afford to buy/spend. I would also like to see us aggressively promoting our district's successes and educational needs to our governor and legislators. We need to find a way to convince our elected officials that these needs are real and they need to get serious about funding education.

2)How do you think the school district can balance the needs of the district and provide a financial commitment level that the community will approve in a school bond?
¢I think Balance is the key word here. How do we balance the needs of the district while keeping fiscally responsible? This is a directive from the state and probably one of the most difficult aspects of service. It's a huge responsibility. This proposed bond issue is the perfect example of the vision of a past board. Our district has been working toward this Phase II project for about years. It's not really something that they have pulled out of the air. I may be wrong, but I believe each of the incumbents were on the board during the 2001 bond issue when many of these dreams or visions were formulated. It's part of a long range plan. And long range planning is another directive the state assigns our school boards to do.

  • "Do I know how we're going to balance the needs and keep the costs down?" No, I don't.
  • But I do know I plan on asking questions and researching options to be sure we are doing all we can to keep within the budget. The last school building project was done right; I believe it was below budget and on schedule. I believe we can build on the successes of our past accomplishments.

3)What do you see as the future growth areas in the school district and how will the district respond to that growth?
¢Of course our schools will continue to grow. With the population growth continuing to explode at 16+% we will have no choice then to do something with Nottingham Elementary.
¢Traffic. With the Tonganoxie interchange we will need to monitor the traffic especially on Church St. This interchange will make an impact on Eudora, in more ways than added traffic, and we will need to be proactive in solutions.
¢The Community Learning Center and Technical Education Center programs. These successful programs are only destined to grow and improve with increased interest in the classes offered.

4)What are the top three issues you see impacting the Eudora Public Schools? Please give a brief explanation of each issue.
¢ Bond Issue
¢ New elementary school
¢ Laws Field
¢ What to do with Nottingham etc.
¢ What to do with the building at 10th and Main St?
¢ Board of Education offices
¢ Salary and compensation package issues.
¢ Special Education. We have a bit of a situation here. I think we are going to have to be as committed to our special needs kids as we are the rest of the population, but this puts us in a bit of a quandary because the needs are different and the challenges can seem daunting. If you have never participated in a child's IEP, you just can't imagine how intimidating and demeaning this is. No one likes to hear their child is not living up to their potential, but imagine sitting in a room with 6 to 10 educators (experts) who are all pointing out the things little Johnny does wrong. And now imagine asking those experts how much time they have spent with your child, and the answer is "well I really haven't had a lot of time to spend..." or "I saw Johnny for 15 minutes this quarter" how can there be an assessment with little or no interaction with the child? Do I have the answers here? No, do I have lots of questions? Yes. I would love to be a part of making our special needs program better than it is today.

5)Has the educational system changed since you attended K-12 systems? If so, please point out some of the differences.
Has education changed since the Stone Age? Let me count the ways!
¢Technology is the most amazing change! The computers I learned on filled an entire room and used hole punches in cards instead of the number and letter formulas of today.
¢I wasn't expected to know Algebra till high school and today we are teaching it in elementary school
¢ I had to walk 10 miles to school up hill both ways in 3 foot of snow with my dress on! (smiley face)

6) What are ways the School District, City and County can better coordinate efforts?
We need to work together. The suggestion that we work together in developing the corner of 10th and Main into an office building is interesting. Incorporating the City Library and Historical society into this building with the School District Offices is a great idea.

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