Park Hill Board of Education candidates faced the public last week in the annual candidate forum. The Board ballot is packed this year, with incumbents and challengers vying for one, two and three-year seats. All candidates attended the forum – minus controversial candidate Edward Stephens - and were allowed brief opportunities to speak and answer questions.
The first question of the evening, and one the PTA moderators told candidates had garnered many audience questions, was on the question of district safety. Recently, the Board selected SafePlans, a national risk management firm, to complete an assessment of safety and security in the district at a cost of about $50,000.
After several safety and security incidents over the last several months, including “stranger danger” incidents and a ParkHillHigh School student who carried a gun to school, both the district and the community have questioned district preparedness for disasters.
The safety and security assessment will cover all potential hazards, including weather-related, hazmat and regional hazards including industrial accidents, chemical spills and other man-made disasters.
All candidates agreed safety and security was a major concern, and that the district was already taking steps in the right direction. Incumbent Chris Seufert reminded the audience that he is the only candidate who works in law enforcement, thus giving the Board a built-in advantage in his experience.
“In my time on the Board I have pushed several things that I believe help keep our kids safe,” Seufert said. One of his priorities when new Superintendent Dr. Scott Springston came aboard was to meet with him about safety and security and to encourage the district to share more information with law enforcement.
Candidate Josh Blackman said he worked for the Transportation Safety Authority after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and saw both the good and bad of disaster response. He suggested the administration contact the officials involved in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting incident last year and ask them what they would have done differently. He also suggested the district debrief all involved following incidents.
Questions related to technology were also common at the forum. Current Board President Todd Fane said he hopes to see technology become more and more integrated in learning.
“I want all students to have individualized learning plans and to learn collaboratively at their own pace,” Fane said.
Also common were questions on transparency and the function of the Board of Education. Candidate Jeff Goodwin said he believes the best Board is one that is largely unknown to the public.
“The Board should set policy and get out of the way,” Goodwin said. “What's the worst district in the area? Kansas City, Missouri, and everybody knows who is on that Board.”
Goodwin, an accountant, had several thoughts on transparency, saying he was impressed with the district's record.
“Everybody talks about transparency, but if you want to know about the budget, just go online and it's all there,” he said. “It's a fascinating bit of reading, how school district budgets work. If you go to the Board meetings, there is a 60-page packet telling you where every dime goes. So if people say to you that the district spends money and they don't know where it's going, it's because they're not looking.”
The public also wished to know about the district's levy, since the Board increased the operating levy last year closer to the voter-approved ceiling. Candidate Sherri Scott pointed out that even with the increase, Park Hill has the third-lowest levy among comparable area districts.
“I cannot say I will or will not raise taxes,” Scott said. “Nobody can, because nobody knows what will happen over the next year, or the next few years.”