Editor’s Note: This is the first of three stories about the Candidate Forum. Candidates for Great Bend USD 428 school board and Great Bend City Council Ward 2 will be covered in the coming days.
The April election will provide Great Bend voters with several choices. On Wednesday, the Great Bend League of Women Voters hosted a Candidate Forum, inviting candidates for the Barton Community College Board of Trustees, Great Bend USD 428 School Board and Great Bend City Council Ward 2 to introduce themselves and answer randomly selected questions prepared in advance by LWV members.
About 50 people were in the audience and also received 100-word biographies submitted by the candidates. There were no questions taken from the audience. The program lasted about 90 minutes.
Here are some highlights of the BCC trustee candidates’ comments:
Brock McPherson, a Great Bend attorney and member of McPherson & McVey Law Offices, was president of the Great Bend Jaycees in 1960 when the organization conducted a survey to find out what Great Bend needed to grow. That survey and subsequent work eventually resulted in the creation of Barton Community College.
Question: What does Barton do to ensure compliance with rules governing athletes?
Answer: He has attended one planning meeting and one board meeting. He hasn’t heard any current concerns about compliance. The college is governed by rules; “I’m sure that this administration is following them. Our athletes are a dedicated group,” he added, saying the college should continue to do what it is doing.
Bob Mead, a lifelong Kansan and Barton County resident since 1953, is a former Kansas Representative.
Question: Given the state of Kansas’s finances, it is likely that the college will need to cut its budget. How would you propose that the college do this? Be specific. Would you cut program, teachers, administrators? If so, how would you decide what gets cut?
Answer: “I think at every institution of higher learning, the budget’s going to be cut.” Not being on the board yet, he said he would trust the administration to provide information so he could make the proper decisions. “I know the learning curve is pretty steep,” he said of new board members.
Mike Johnson, owner of M&M Equipment, is running for reelection. He serves as chairman on the BCC board.
Question: “Do you support the plan of Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State, to move college trustee elections to the November ballot, to make college trustee elections partisan, and allow voters to cast a unanimous party ballot without reading the ballot?
Answer: “I’ve spoke with a number of legislators specifically about this. No, I do not support it.” At this level of government, partisan politics are not helpful, he said. Johnson said he is a conservative Republican, but “some of the best trustees have been from the other side of the aisle.”
Mike Minton, vice president of sales and marketing at Benefit Management Inc., is a former Great Bend High School teacher and coach. He also served as assistant principal and principal at Larned High School. He is also seeking reelection.
Question: President Obama has proposed that all students who meeting certain requirements be allowed to attend two-year colleges for free. Do you favor this idea?
Answer: “I absolutely favor it, but I absolutely don’t think it will happen.” There would be funding issues and other complications, but such a move would bring students and funds to BCC.
Each candidate was able to select one of the previously asked questions, and to make final remarks.
Bob Mead chose the question about free community college education. “Heck, let’s let everybody go to college for four years,” he said, adding he was being facetious. “Somebody has to pay for the education,” he said, adding, “I think there is a benefit to helping pay your own way.”
Final thoughts: The LWV found questions that cause people to think. “It’s difficult to come up with answers,” he said, returning to the fact that new members have a steep learning curve. “I’m willing to do the work and learn.”
Mike Minton chose the question about changing elections. “I’m not in favor of that. It serves absolutely no purpose, in my opinion.”
Final thoughts: “I have been fortunate to be part of this organization (BCC) for the last four years as a trustee.” He praised the faculty and staff. “The job in the next four years is not going to be easy.” The discussion on finances is definitely going on “and I’d like to be a part of that for the next four years.”
Brock McPherson chose the question on finance and budget cuts, noting the Legislature has taken back 2 percent of the funding it awarded the college last year — about $156,000, “and they’re going to take another 4 percent.” He said the government should “leave the money there.”
Final thoughts: In spite of increasing government regulations, the college is offering more — five new career education courses were mentioned in the paper this week. Community colleges can help individuals accomplish a goal and find employment in our area. “Government needs to stop micromanaging our schools.”
Mike Johnson also chose the question on finance and budget cuts, noting the college is facing a $2 million shortfall next year. “We need to look at all programs that don’t have anything to do with directly educating our students.”
Final thoughts: He favors a low mill levy, and BCC has maintained a flat mill levy for eight years in a row, partly because it is the only Kansas college with seven straight years of enrollment growth at this time. Sites at Fort Riley and Fort Leavenworth help keep the mill levy down. “I can lend my leadership to the issues.”