Three USD 383 school board candidates discussed their priorities during a forum sponsored by Our Manhattan Thursday evening at Manhattan Public Library.
Pat Hudgins, Mitch Beims and Marcia Rozell attended the forum. Aaron Estabrook, the fourth candidate for the three available seats, was unable to take part due to undergoing a surgical procedure Thursday.
The candidates are competing to succeed current board members Pete Paukstelis, Walt Pesaresi and Beth Tatarko, all of whose terms are expiring June 30. None chose to seek re-election.
Beims said the most important part of education is the teacher in the classroom. He said there are a lot of intelligent people in Manhattan who know how best to educate.
“We do not need people from the state telling us how to do that,” he said. “We do not need the president of the United States or senators or any of them telling us how to educate my kid or anybody else’s kid in this district.”
Rozell said she doesn’t have an agenda, but listening to the teachers’ and parents’ perspectives are priorities. She put more of a focus on tackling the hard topics the board faces with the budget being biggest and hardest issue.
“We know that funds are going to be difficult from the state,” Rozell said. “We’re going to have to look for more ways to be efficient in our school district.”
Hudgins said she’s not running to “turn anything upside down” but to provide a different perspective to the board. She said there are situations that hinder a person’s ability to learn, calling it a “travesty” that education isn’t valued more.
“It affects our economy in the long run because when people are not educated, they’re not able to contribute back into society in a way that other people can,” Hudgins said.
The candidates also answered questions about their thoughts on legislative issues and how involved the board should be.
Beims said it’s important for board members to stay knowledgeable of the constant changes in Topeka. “Other than the things we propose just like any of you can propose to them, I don’t think we need to take an active role in what goes in Topeka to that extent,” he said.
Rozell acknowledged state politics would be her biggest learning curve because she’s not very politically minded. “I believe we need to be educated and advocates as school board members to what’s happening in our district,” she said.
Hudgins said the board needs to be connected with local representatives and proactive in sharing its thoughts.
“The thing that disappoints our leadership is that we complain after a bill has passed and then we whine and complain about they should have voted this way,” she said.
A bill currently in the House would reduce the number of contract negotiation items between teachers and school districts. The teachers could negotiate things such as pay and sick leave, but not the length and number of teaching periods and performance evaluations.
Teachers are concerned that this is an attempt to take away their voice and would harm education.
Beims said it doesn’t matter because the district will continue to look for the best teachers. He said the goal was the same whether he worked in school districts that had a local National Education Association chapter or those that didn’t.
“All that does is affect union membership, possibly,” he said.
Rozell said she’s still trying to get her head around the issue but thinks it’s important of the board to advocate its position.
Hudgins said the local representatives should vocalize the concerns of the community including its teachers, so they can focus in the classroom.
“They should be able to go to their job and do their job then to be fighting with negotiations and overload and whether they’re going to get paid for a number of things,” she said.
One question requested the candidate’s thoughts on Head Start and adult education.
Rozell said the main focus of the district should be K-12, but those programs help the process. “The bottom line is we’re trying to grow kids that are good citizens in this community that can learn and care and affect this community,” she said.
Hudgins said the programs get residents on track whether early in life like with Head Start or adults who need to get back in school.
Beims differed, mentioning a study that shows Head Start hasn’t been successful nationwide. He said the shift has gone to teaching kids earlier, but he doesn’t know how much it helps.
The candidates also spoke about what they think is the most important responsibility of a board member.
Hudgins said the most important thing is to be good listener and openminded. Otherwise, she said the focus will be on what you want rather than what the people need.
“If you don’t have the heart of the people, I think you can’t help make the change that’s necessary that’s going to make a difference,” she said.
Beims said a board member should retain his or her core convictions and be consistent.
“If you know where everybody stands on certain things and their core, I think that’s a good starting spot,” he said.
Rozell said she would focus on being visible and active in the schools. She said a lot of her lunch hours would be spent in the schools developing relationships.
“One of the frustrations I hear from a lot of teachers is that they don’t know the board very well other than what they watch on TV,” she said.