On September 21st, I participated in the League of Women Voters Forum. If you missed out here are the questions and my answers.
· WHAT IS YOUR MOTIVATION TO RUN FOR LAWRENCE SCHOOL BOARD? WHAT DO YOU BRING TO THE SCHOOL BOARD?
· As a parent of two students and the wife of a teacher in the district, I know how decisions made by the school board can impact our students and staff. In the years leading up to now, I joined the school's site council, the superintendent's advisory board, the Lawrence Schools Foundation board, and Future's committee as attempts to see firsthand what was happening in our district, but the level of impact I could have in those roles was minimal. I am running so that I can make an impact. I believe that every student should have access to a high-quality education. Through these experiences, I have learned a lot about school funding and finance as well as how the district operates. Many of the skills I have developed in my career from managing budgets, working collaboratively, and listening to all viewpoints will also aid me in my endeavor. If elected, I will work to close achievement gaps, increase support for teachers and staff, increase transparency and communication, work with the City to attract families to the district and advocate to fully fund schools.
· WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE SCHOOL BOARD IN ENSURING ALL STUDENTS CAN LEARN AND SUCCEED?
· The school board plays a crucial role in ensuring that all students can learn and succeed. Its responsibilities encompass setting policies, providing oversight, and making decisions that shape the educational experience for students. One of the primary functions of the board is to set policy. It should communicate our district's core values. The school board should also hold district leadership accountable for student outcomes. This involves setting clear goals and benchmarks for student achievement, tracking progress, and acting when necessary to improve educational outcomes. They should ensure that the curriculum is culturally responsive, inclusive, and aligned with the needs of diverse student populations. The board should actively work to promote equity and inclusivity by addressing achievement gaps, reducing disparities in resources and opportunities, and creating a safe and welcoming environment for all students, regardless of their race, gender, socioeconomic status, etc. Providing equitably distributed funding to support the needs of all students, including those with diverse learning abilities and backgrounds, is a critical responsibility of the board when overseeing the allocation of financial resources, along with offering professional development for educators to better serve all students.
· WHAT ARE THE GREATEST CHALLENGES TO FUND THE DISTRICT? WHAT ARE YOUR BUDGET PRIORITIES?
· The greatest challenge to school funding is the Kansas legislature. They are sitting on a record surplus, yet they refuse to fully fund special education at the statutorily required level. When you look at the base aid per pupil in 1992 adjusted for inflation, it would take a 55% increase to the current base aid to match inflation. The legislature does not value public education. You can see it in the funding levels and the bills they propose to provide vouchers for students to use at private schools. I will be a strong advocate for our school district at the local, state, and national levels, working to secure the resources and policies needed for our students to thrive.
· I understand the importance of fiscal responsibility. I will fight for responsible budgeting that prioritizes resources where they are needed most while minimizing waste. Resources should be focused to enhancing student learning, supporting academic success, and reducing achievement gaps. I will actively support the needs and well-being of teachers, staff, and all school employees who play a vital role in our education system. This includes competitive wages for teachers and a living wage for our classified staff. Recent raises led to the increase in class sizes, which in turn, increased our teachers’ workloads. That really doesn’t amount to a raise. Reducing class size should also be a priority.
· WHAT IS THE SCHOOL BOARD'S ROLE IN ATTRACTING AND RETAINING HIGH-QUALITY TEACHERS GIVEN DECLINING ENROLLMENT AND BUDGET CHALLENGES?
· Attracting and retaining high-quality teachers is a critical responsibility of the school board, even in the face of declining enrollment and budget challenges The best way to attract and retain talent is to show staff they are valued. The board can impact this in several ways. First, the board must make salary increases a priority in the development of the annual budget. Great progress was made this past year, but there is more to be done. There were 4% of teachers who got no raise last year and these were teachers with 13+ years of experience. We must continue to re-evaluate what opportunities teachers have to move to the right in the salary matrix that isn’t simply college credit hours. What other trainings or experiences could qualify? Next the board must create a supportive work environment that values teachers' contributions, provides opportunities for collaboration, and fosters a positive school culture. Teacher morale and job satisfaction are critical for retention. The board should also actively seek feedback and input from teachers regarding district policies, curriculum decisions, and professional development opportunities. Teachers' perspectives are invaluable for shaping effective practices. Lastly, the board and the district need to put a better spotlight on all the positive things happening within the district. We should celebrate our accomplishments.
· WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS AND TIMELINE TO IMPROVE THE ENERGY EFFICIENCY OF SCHOOL DISTRICT FACILITIES AND BUSES AND TO DECREASE THE PRODUCTION OF GREENHOUSE GASSES IN MEETING DISTRICT ENERGY NEEDS?
· While I do believe that improving the energy efficiency of district facilities and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions in meeting the district energy needs are important goals in order to promote environmental stability and reduce our carbon footprint, I believe that goal falls after closing achievement gaps for students and providing competitive wages. In the short term, if they have not already, the district could begin to conduct comprehensive energy audits of the facilities to identify areas where efficiency can be improved. They can also begin implementing low-cost high-impact energy efficiency improvements such as sealing drafts and improving insulation. Down the road, when the budget allows, the district should look to continue implementing energy-efficient upgrades to school facilities, including HVAC systems, windows, and roofing. The district can seek partnerships with local energy agencies, and environmental organizations, and grant opportunities to secure additional funding for energy-efficient projects. I am interested to see the outcome of the solar panel test at Prairie Park to see if that is a viable option for the district as a whole. I recognize the importance of environmental sustainability and will work to make our schools more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.
· DO YOU THINK TEACHERS AND STUDENTS SHOULD HAVE A VOICE AS STAKEHOLDERS IN DISTRICT DECISION-MAKING? IF SO, HOW?
· Yes, I firmly believe that teachers and students should have a voice as stakeholders in district decision-making. Their perspectives and insights are invaluable in shaping effective policies and creating a positive learning environment. The district should ensure that all advisory committees or task forces include students and teachers. The school board should hold regular meetings with student and teacher representatives to discuss key issues and gather input on proposed policies and initiatives. The board can also conduct surveys and collect feedback from teachers and students on important topics. The board should also build trust with the community including but not limited to students and parents. Board members must cultivate a connected culture by developing strategies to engage our community. A direct relationship exists between an involved and informed community and improved student outcomes. As such, the board should be open to community feedback. It goes beyond reading and answering emails. It is making oneself available to the community to have conversations. The current model of public commentary in meetings is not interactive. I would like to see more opportunities for the public and the board to have meaningful discourse. All voices should be heard. I am committed to engaging with the community, listening to concerns, and building partnerships that support educational goals.
· CLOSING REMARKS - AN OPPORTUNITY TO HELP VOTERS KNOW WHY THEY SHOULD VOTE FOR YOU FOR SCHOOL BOARD.
· I value transparency and accountability in decision-making. I am committed to open and honest communication with the community, ensuring that the school board's actions are understood and accessible to all. A few ways to increase transparency would involve upgrades to the current district website. There should be a master calendar with all the board and committee meetings on it. This way any member of the public who wants to attend, can do so. Every committee should have a page or pages that include information about what the committee does, the membership, and minutes from the meetings. Another addition to the website is based on the city commission’s site. There you can look up any member of a committee and see not only their attendance but their voting record. The public should have access to this information. I believe the board meeting agendas and relevant information should be posted in board docs earlier. This would give not only the board but the public more time to review as well. I think these are small changes that can provide our community with greater access to what is going on and hopefully help rebuild trust with the community. I will work closely with teachers, parents, students, and community members to make informed decisions that reflect the needs and aspirations of our district. My focus will always be on what is best for our students. Their success and well-being will be at the forefront of every decision I make.