Five candidates are running for four open seats on the Manhattan-Ogden school board. They include Kristin Brighton, Joseph Dasenbrock, Darell Edie, Curt Herrman and Brandy Santos.
Brighton is a co-founder of New Boston Creative, a marketing company based in Manhattan.
Dasenbrock is the manager of research and direct marketing at Champion Teamwear.
Edie is currently a member of the board after being initially elected eight years ago.
Herrman is the board’s current president and has been a member of the board for 12 years.
Santos, a stay-at-home mom, is a former CEO of the Kansas Cattlemen’s Association, serving in that position between 2006 and 2015.
The Mercury emailed each candidate a set of questions. Here are four candidates’ responses. (Several calls and an email to Dasenbrock went unanswered, so he isn’t featured in this guide.)
The election is Nov. 5. The deadline to register to vote Tuesday, and advance voting in-person and by mail starts Wednesday.
What plans do you have for the Manhattan High School East Campus after the ninth grade moves to the West Campus?
Brighton: We need to examine other shortages in the community and how the remaining space could creatively support other needs. For example, maybe the building could become a satellite campus for MATC or a way to further expand our high school CTE programs? Or, maybe it could become a community innovation center and makerspace to encourage local entrepreneurship initiatives? As part of this process, the district will need to make a policy decision regarding whether it wants to become a landlord to other non-district entities, but there may be some community partnerships that would make sense to co-locate with district professional staff. I’m excited to explore the possibilities.
Edie: The east campus needs much repair and maintenance work, but to do that you first have to decide on a long range operational structural use of the facility. As a Board we must discuss what the best use for the District and the community might be. It could be outfitted as a school for students that learn a little different than others, or a central administration building and change the use of the Robinson Education Center. Those are only a couple ideas and it will take a team to decide on the best cost-effective use of the facility.
Herrman: I don’t want to see that building mothballed. It is a lot more expensive to leave buildings empty than people think it is. Should consider moving central kitchen there and use the ‘old’ central kitchen site to expand the transportation location. Moving and centralizing all the admin staff there is a strong possibility. Our Network Operations Center is there and cannot be moved. That must remain there. The possibility of a Magnet school or gifted programs could be located there after the other changes are made. We are at least two years from having any serious discussions about that building.
Santos: I believe that the best use for the east campus space would be to re-allocate that building for district administrative offices. It is centrally located, easily accessible, and would provide the space needed.
How would you address further expansion and redistricting after the bond projects are complete?
Brighton: Before the new school opens, we will redistrict the school boundaries so all schools benefit from smaller class sizes. As a BOE member entrusted with this responsibility, I will do my best to keep neighborhood schools intact, but the reality is that some schools just have populations with greater needs for academic and social-emotional supports than others. The Board of Education must do its best to balance out the school populations to ensure an equitable experience for all. We also will have to look at how the different buildings feed into the two middle schools to keep those schools evenly divided as well.
Edie: Once the current project is complete no further expansion should be needed until after 2030 unless projected growth exceeds current estimates, but if that is true that means there is more taxpayers to cover the expense. Going forward in redistricting we will look at keeping some of the neighborhood school concept while at the same time maintaining our Title I status and trying to increase a social economic diversity within all schools.
Herrman: We will begin the redistricting process next year. It will (must) be completed well before we open the new grade school and the middle school wings. We should not need to do another round of that until we reach the point of an additional high school, middle school or grade school. We have been planning ahead and have properties in the Miller Ranch neighborhood for a grade school and have been looking at properties in the Green Valley area for expansion as well. I believe that our current bond issue will take us quite a bit forward into the future.
Santos: It is inevitable that redistricting will need to occur within USD 383. Evaluation of area growth and development should be a main indicator of the redistricting and expansion. Redistricting to minimize force transfers, should reduce students’ commuting time and lessen transportation costs.
What steps will you take to keep the mill levy from increasing?
Brighton: Keeping our community affordable is a responsibility of all units of government. With new school funding from the state and the revenue generated with the passage of the 2018 bond issue, I’m hopeful we can keep the mill levy flat for the immediate future. However, I’m seriously concerned about workforce shortages. Many of our buildings have positions they are struggling to fill at their current hourly rates. We may be forced to increase pay rates in order to recruit and retain quality staff in our buildings, and that will lead to the BOE making some hard choices.
Edie: This year without the increase in the bond issue we would have dropped the mill levy by about 1.5 mills when selling the bonds for the district we saved about 0.7 mills. Currently we are looking at restricting some of the bond expense to save even more money over the life of the bonds. After the construction is done, I do believe it would not hurt to do another large Budget committee just to make sure we all take a hard look at our expenditures. Just because we have funds today does not mean we will have them in the future, so being prudent with what you currently have is a good thing.
Herrman: The mill levy would have actually went down this year if the voters had not passed the bond issue. The legislature passed a three-year plan last year that will provide us with incrementally more money the next 3 years (including accounting for inflation). However, we still need to be a little cautious since we are potentially an election cycle away from having that taken away. As we have seen in the previous years. As long as the state funding stands and continues an upward trend, we should have the resources to control and possibly lower the mill levy.
Santos: It is tremendously important to be fiscally responsible. Staying within budget, finding the best solutions that meet our district’s quality of standards and staying within our means is critical. As well, it is crucial to properly maintain our buildings and facilities and provide adequate upkeep so that we do not find ourselves with dilapidated buildings that require even more funding in the future.
What major initiatives do you want to pursue for the school district that are not yet in place?
Brighton: We must address teacher shortages at both the state and local level. The numbers of young people entering education as a profession have dropped dramatically, and many experienced teachers are leaving the field for higher-paying, less-stressful alternatives. Recently, a veteran teacher told me that when she was hired there were 350 applicants for one teaching job. Now we are lucky to have five candidates for one position. We can’t be complacent. We must develop strategies to address all aspects of this workforce shortage now if we want to continue providing a high-quality learning experience for our students.
Edie: We are currently moving forward in a great deal of areas, sometimes it is good to catch up with what you are doing to make sure you are doing it correctly. As things move forward, I would like for the district to pursue educational avenues for students that do not learn in a traditional setting. I would also like to continue working with our business to improve and enhance our Career Technical Education programs. A ROTC program would be nice, and we have applied for the program but have not been approved as of yet.
Herrman: I want to see more in the area of Career Technical Education for our students. Just because we hit a certain percentage of graduating students, that does not mean we are successful. What the students are doing 5 years from now is what we need to focus on. That doesn’t only mean college. Technical schools and trades are what is needed in the workforce. Preparing our kids to thrive after high school is something I strongly believe in. Creating partnerships, internships and mentorships with the local business community is critical for this. I look to the Chamber for this partnership.
Santos: The school district’s biggest asset is its people. Retention of not only great teachers, but also valuable support staff, including administrative, transportation, and facilities personnel is key to the success of this district. Employees should be valued for their contributions through an enhanced performance-based salary system. Regarding direct educational initiatives, one in three students in USD 383 is disadvantaged or at risk. Creating individualized learning programs, not only through the high school but also through the elementary and middle schools, would provide all students with better opportunities to succeed.