Editor’s note: This is the third and final story about last Wednesday’s Candidate Forum at the Crest Theater. It was sponsored by the Great Bend League of Women Voters.
Six of the seven candidates running for positions on the Great Bend USD 428 Board of Education were able to attend a Candidate Forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Three positions will be filled at the April 7 election. Each candidate answered two randomly selected questions from a list created in advance by members of the Great Bend League of Women Voters.
Chris Umphres, assistant director/sports director of the Great Bend Recreation Commission, was asked, “Given the state of the economy in Kansas, it seems likely that schools will have to cut their budgets. If Great Bend needs to cut the school budget, where and how would you suggest those cuts be made? Would you cut programs, staff, administration, maintenance, etc., and if so which programs or personnel would you cut?”
“I definitely don’t want to jump to conclusions right away,” Umphres said. He would want to keep staff but would need more information. “Obviously the cuts are coming.”
Mark Hestand, district sales manager for Shelter Insurance, was asked, “Should students be allowed to use cell phones in class? If so, at what age do you feel this is appropriate? If not, how would you suggest a policy to prevent this be implemented?”
With three teenage daughters at home, Hestand said there are five cell phones in the house. “I don’t think they ought to be allowed in class,” he said. “There’s only so many hours a day for them to be there; educators need full-time attention in the classroom."
Susan Young, a retired elementary teacher, was asked, “Do you believe that schools should be able to sue the state if they feel that Kansas is not providing students with an adequate education?”
“I think that the schools have the right,” she said, but added that if they do so, they may not be successful. “I think it’s going to boil down to the fact that we take care of our students better, to do the best we can.”
Doug Bender, who is seeking reelection to the school board, was asked, “Are you in favor of continuing the middle school concept of social promotion, even if a student has missed most of the year and failed to do even minimal required work?”
“That’s a loaded question,” Bender said. The concept of middle school is to create a peer group of students roughly the same age. “It depends of what the data supports,” he said. Even with our current system cases are evaluated individually, he added.
Lori Reneau, a Certified Evidence Control Specialist at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, drew the question, “Discuss whether you consider the arts to be an essential part of the school curriculum.”
“I think the arts should be part of the curriculum,” she said. The kids enjoy them and they learn a lot.
Donald L. Williams, Ed.D., taught secondary education and coached wrestling at Hanston and Lyons over an 18-year-span. He was asked, “Do you believe that evolution or creationism should be taught in public schools in Kansas? Explain your position.”
“Well, I’ve always said that has a sense of humor,” Williams said. As a science teacher, born again Christian and creationist, he said, all points of view should be touched. “We need to give our young people the information that they need so that they can make informed decisions.”
Doug Bender was asked to, “Address the new math, English, and technology facilitators. Are they administrators or teachers?”
They are both, he said. “They have to administer and teach.” Facilitators play an important role, he added. “We have the best technology we can afford at this time,” but someone has the show teachers how to make use of it.
Chris Umphres drew the question, “Do you support allowing private and home schooled students to participate in USD 428 activities, i.e. sports, etc?”
“Sure. They’re kids, too,” he said. “If they’re part of the community ... we need to get them involved.”
Donald Williams was asked, “Do you favor the suggestion of Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State, to move school board elections to the November ballot, to make school board elections partisan, and to allow voters to cast a unanimous party ballot without reading the ballot?”
“I like the idea that it’s nonpartisan,” he said, and spring elections give new board members time to get up to speed before they take office in July. “The system we have right now is good.”
Lori Reneau was asked, “What is your position on homework? Should it be assigned? If so, as what grade should it be implemented? If not, why not?”
“I think homework is a good thing,” she answered. Students get to come home and use the skills they learned at school. That’s good for any grade, “even kindergarten.”
Mark Hestand’s question was, “Do you feel that elementary students should have recess?”
Yes, he said, students should get a break, get some fresh air and get ready to learn. “It gives them time to wind down and prepare to finish up the day.”
Susan Young drew the question, “Senate Bill 67 proposes that the state retain all curriculum control in Kansas. This would mean that schools could no longer use any materials produced outside of the state. It would do away with AP and IB classes and would cause the state to lose federal funding. Do you favor this bill?”
“No.” Young said, getting a laugh for her short answer. She then elaborated, “When I was a classroom teacher, I looked on the Internet for ways to add to a lesson.” Ideas from others don’t stop at state boundaries.
Donald Williams looks at the job of school boards “PBS.” “The board writes and reviews Policies, works with Budgets and hires a Superintendent.” Board members should not micromanage.
Doug Bender said he has enjoyed serving on the school board for the past four years and he and others on the board have done a good job. They’ve kept the budget in check, increased teacher salaries and helped shape policies. “Legislators that try to interfere with education have obviously never taught before.”
Mark Hestand said he’s had children in schools at USD 428 (including one still in school) and his wife has worked as a paraprofessional in the district. “I want to get involved; that’s why I decided to run for the USD 428 school board.”
Chris Umphres said, “I’m excited about the candidates we have this year.” As the sports director at the Great Bend Recreation Center, he’s seen the importance of other types of programs, too. “I’ve had my eyes opened to a whole new world.” While sports are important, “It’s not driven by sports.”
Susan Young said her parents taught by example, giving to their community. “It was a privilege for me to teach here in Great Bend ... (but) I knew I wasn’t through.” Teachers, school board members, janitors, principals and secretaries “can give children the most important thing.”
Lori Reneau said, “If elected I will help get the schools on track. I’m willing to commit to the school board, students and staff.”
Board member Cheryl Dunlap Rugan, CPA, is also seeking reelection but was unable to attend the forum, moderator Rose Kelly said