Last week’s Lee’s Summit R-7 School Board forum revealed much about where the candidates felt.
And, really, that’s what campaign forums should do.
Beyond being thrilled we were actually holding a school board election this year, the political geek (and voter) in me was anxious to hear where they all stood on topics that they rarely get questioned on.
Of course, that they don’t get many questions during the course of the year falls at the feet of the vast Lee’s Summit populace that never attends a school board meeting.
It was mentioned that the nearly 50 people that attended the March 19 forum at the Stansberry Leadership Center was considered a capacity crowd compared to the smattering of people that usually attend.
Attendance or not, we need to hear from our candidates that will make decisions for more than 17,000 kids in the district. And in this case, two were incumbents (Terri Harmon and Chris Storms) and two were newcomers (Bill Baird and Mark Ousnamer).
While the majority of the candidates did agree on a few issues – televising the school board meetings to the general public in the name of transparency (if it is feasible, cost-wise, that is, Storms noted; Harmon said she would like to see city council viewership numbers first before deciding to spend money), there were some topics that brought a sharp tongue from newcomer Ousnamer, who immediately went after Superintendent David McGehee for his social media use.
When discussing the role of a board member, Ousnamer said, “I’d like to see the superintendent be held more accountable,” noting that McGehee’s 50 to 60 Tweets a day begs the question, “how seriously are you taking your job?”
On the school board member role, Baird said it was to manage the superintendent. Storms noted, “We have one employee – the superintendent.”
Grading McGehee garnered an “A” from Storms, Harmon and Baird, although he noted that he “wouldn’t give him an ‘A’ during the (failed) school levy time.” Ousnamer, only when pressed by Storms, gave him a ‘C-’ grade.
Some would have turned around and given Ousnamer a similar mark for his answer on the Common Core Curriculum topic, which seemed to trip him up as he tied in technology a topic about collective course.
Harmon also called Ousnamer on his assertion that the oft-quoted “soft on people, tough on issues” mantra meant accountability was out the window.
Candidates also were asked about the diversity in staff compared with students in the district, with the difference notable in a series of stories we ran in this newspaper last year.
Storms admitted the numbers are off, but asked, “Are you the most qualified person we are hiring?”
Baird said we need to do more to promote staff diversity.
“I want to be reflective of our community,” he said. “We need to be as diverse as possible. There’s something intangible there.”
John Beaudoin is the publisher of the Lees Summit Journal. To comment, call 816-282-7001 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.