Ten school board candidates filed into the Gamber Center Monday night, the vast majority having never been in the position to be in front of voters and facing questions in a public forum.
And to that end, every single one should be applauded. Thoughtful, concerted answers came from each and every candidate that evening on a range of topics that spanned from the new superintendent to teacher pay to district priorities.
Running for any public office is difficult, time consuming and comes with added layers of political pressure and dissection.
And at a time that could be the most crucial for our Lee’s Summit R-7 School District, that call was answered by quite a cross section of our populace.
An attorney, a former teacher, former administrators, a former professional soccer player, businessmen and women, and community advocates have all lined up to put their names on the ballot.
Some have deep ties to Lee’s Summit; others are newer to the community. But each heard a call to join a board that has suffered through the lows of deep division to the highs of coming together to select a new superintendent in the last 14 months.
Each candidate was expected to address programming as we come out of cost containment and communication at the district level. They were even asked how they would spend one minute with new superintendent Dennis Carpenter.
Right out of the gate, attorney Jill Marie Worstell gave an early nod she was prepared for the forum by answering that she wouldn’t spend her one minute with Carpenter “telling” him anything, but rather asking questions and listening. Others followed suit, saying they would encourage Carpenter to get out and spend time in each building.
Board candidate Kim Fritchie, noting that Carpenter mentioned during his January Q&A at Lee’s Summit West his 100-day plan, said she would encourage him to not limit his fact-finding time to just 100 days but however many it took to truly get a good beat on the buildings and what goes on inside each of them.
Ryan Murdock, a Lee’s Summit resident and former teacher in the Raytown School District, raised the discussion even further, saying he would ask Carpenter where he sees the district in 10 to 15 years. This, coupled with Murdock’s comments on student-teacher ratios in elementary schools, lifted the somewhat unfamiliar candidate to an elevated status by the end of the night.
Diego Gutierrez , former professional soccer player and an educator on a collegiate level, said he would discuss the new super’s need to be a builder right off the bat – certainly a notion we can all agree on.
Discussions of teacher evaluations spurred some differing views, with Fritchie and Worstell offering opposing views of how test scores come into play in that regard.
The topics of transparency and “restoring public trust” were not only questions on a note card, but central themes at the forum.
Longtime community advocate Susan Coffman responded to a question on transparency, noting that she will never go on social media to discuss school board issues – a theme that was prevalent during the turmoil of 2016.
Teacher pay also had a central role in the forum, with candidate Carl Quijas – a former member of TEAM Lee’s Summit for the district – noting he would tell prospective teachers to look to their NEA and MSTA organizations for help on pay scales, later saying the district cannot compete with its current wages.
Worstell countered that teachers were not in the field for the salary and that she felt it was disingenuous for candidates to promise any sort of pay raise.
With Carpenter’s words of public trust restoration as job No. 1 for him, candidates also weighed in on what might be the next priority. For Jacqueline Clark, it was to increase accountability.
With an unusually packed April ballot ahead of us – one that includes the community improvement tax, charter amendments and a recall in District 4 – the traffic for school board votes will likely be higher than normal.
If you missed this forum, you still have the opportunity to watch it. Check out the Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce’s YouTube channel online to view the entire school board forum.
Be informed and be sure to vote. There is a lot riding on April 4.
Lee’s Summit resident John Beaudoin writes about city and civic issues, people and personalities around town. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org .