In advance of the USD 383 school board race, the Mercury asked the four candidates — Mitch Beims, Aaron Estabrook, Pat Hudgins and Marcia Rozell — to answer questions about issues pertaining to non-fiscal matters likely to come before the school board. Three of these candidates will be elected.
How should the board prepare for enrollment growth?
It is probably never too early to start discussing plans to add new schools in the district if indeed our district population continues to increase. We need to stay very aware of new developments within our community in regard to new businesses and military expansion.
We should also pay close attention to our enrollment numbers at all of our schools. I feel that we should only build new schools if there is an immediate need due to increased enrollment. I do not think we should ever build new buildings in “anticipation” of growth. Having a plan in place in case that happens would be an excellent idea.
The board can do several things that better prepare the district for enrollment growth. In the short-term, one of the most important ways to address the fluctuation in student population is through the “second count” of military dependents. USD 383 is home to about 1,300 military students, with fluctuation between September and February ranging in recent years from 90 to 200 students. Within the week, Kansas senators passed a five-year renewal of the law of a second count that provides the district with an accurate number to calculate per pupil funding. Preparing for long-term growth is a little more based in hypothetical situations and significantly dependent on outside variables like National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility, Base Realignment and Closure, and further economic development within the district. It is imperative that the board is flexible but also prepared for a new elementary school in the near future.
Let us make sure we have safely utilized the capacity each school in our district before looking to expand. In the future, we may have to look at a plan for a bond issue, unless we a drastic change in resources from state funding.
USD 383 has grown as Manhattan has grown in the last few years. The board should continue to monitor this growth while making plans, specifically in regard to elementary classes. We would need to address funding and land acquisition, most likely on the east side of Manhattan.
RELATIONSHIP WITH THE SCHOOL BOARD
How do you view the relationship between the board and school officials?
The school board and school officials should foster an open and active relationship.
Openness and trust are probably the two cornerstones to an effective relationship between the board and all school employees. I have worked in districts where this hasn’t occurred. If either of these groups begin withholding information from each other or blames others for decisions that were made, then this relationship can be severely damaged.
There is a strong relationship between the board and the various administrators. I would like to see a stronger relationship between the board and the district teachers. It is important that our teachers are able to quickly and effectively communicate classroom needs through the appropriate channels, but it is just as important that the board does not isolate or distance itself from our district’s teachers.
My experience as a soldier on the front line has instilled in me an appreciation of the disconnect that can happen between those creating the mission and those implementing it. Often those implementing it, the teachers, will have invaluable insight.
My view of the relationship between the board and school officials seems very supportive of principals, teachers and support staff. While sitting at board meetings or listening to discussions, there seems to be a good balance of collaborative efforts made, to fairly address and accommodate issues.
The relationship between the board and school officials should be one of mutual respect, working for the betterment of the students. The board should oversee the workings of the district while the school officials should handle the details of district.
BOARD ISSUES IN THE NEXT FOUR YEARS
What issues will the board need to address in the next four years?
Probably the two biggest issues we will be dealing with will be our budget and enrollment growth. The state of our economy with higher taxes, higher gas prices, higher health insurance rates, and higher unemployment is making it very difficult for public institutions.
Until things get turned around, I think our district will need to be creative in finding ways to run an effective and efficient school district. And as far as growth, I think we just need to stay alert and be prepared to expand only if necessary.
The crux of most issues the district will face resides in fiscal uncertainty.
Some of the other specific issues include infrastructure improvements, especially in the College Hill building and MHS East Campus.
Minor improvements to the district’s continued security. There is a need for adequate tornado shelters at several schools, especially Northview Elementary. Common core standards are working their way into implementation and that transition will be a little bumpy, but I believe very important.
Elementary teachers will see more planning and collaboration time in their schedules starting in the fall. Discussion and votes working toward providing for similar changes for secondary educators will be on the agenda for the following fall.
Investments and improvements to early education and career ready education remain a foundation for my vision and will inform my votes on the board.
Common core standards, professional development, schools reaching capacity, building another elementary school, state funding, plans for a bond issue and technology needs/funding to mention a few.
In the next four years, the board will need to address the issues of the budget, Core curriculum standards and hiring a superintendent, should Dr. Shannon retire.