As voters head to the polls in April, the Cass County Democrat Missourian asks candidates important questions regarding their district’s school board.
1. The overall state budget continues to take big cuts. If education becomes a major piece of those cuts over the next several years, what changes would you be prepared to support in order to accommodate less funding for your district?
Charlie Burton: Reduced funding becomes a very important issue to Cass Midway due to declining enrollment within the district. During my previous nine years on the board, there was a steady enrollment of +/-600 students. Today, enrollment is down to around 450. This 25 percent loss in average daily attendance directly relates to a 25 percent decrease in funding the district receives from the state. In the past four years, Midway’s operating revenue included funding of between 36-38 percent from state revenue. When you couple the potential for less funding from the state, on top of a 25 percent decrease in that same funding due to declining enrollment, everything has to be on the table to ensure all students receive a good education to prepare them for their future in whatever direction they chose to go.
Susan Casaert: In trying to be proactive, the current school board has been working hard for the last few years in an effort to place the Midway District in a more stable financial position going toward the future. The Board has been, and will continue to be, committed to providing an excellent education to our students. I will continue to support our administration in finding creative ways to save money in all areas – including building maintenance and improvement; the assignment of teachers; the use of technology versus the purchase of course books, etc.
Robert Zielinski: Budget tightening and spending delays without cutting the quality of education.
Michael Stephens: I believe the most important thing is the education of our youth. While I feel no cuts are necessary at this time, we may have to face difficult decisions with the possibility of state funding being reduced. I do feel there are many areas of our budget that I would support pulling funds out of first. Education for our children is not one of them.
2. What is your vision for public education in your community? What kind of relationship should a district/school board have with its community? With its parents and families?
Burton: My vision is an open relationship with the public -- where parents and constituents are very involved. After serving nine years on the board, and attending over 100 school board meetings, I am disappointed in the fact that at over 95 percent of those meetings, there were never any members of the public present to see what was going on in their school at that level. The public constantly turns out in huge numbers for sporting events and that is great to see. We need a way to get those folks to take an interest in how the school is run as well. Having served as president of the board for over four years, I received my share of complaints from constituents and parents, but rarely did any of those people attend board meetings. The public needs to be very involved with the school and the board.
Casaert: My vision for public education in the Midway District includes a rigorous curriculum and moving our district forward to a more technology-based education, combined with an excellent administrative and teaching staff. Midway is blessed with a wonderful staff, including our superintendent, principals, teachers, office and maintenance staff, who all work tirelessly to educate our kids in a safe environment. Public education has always been a priority in the Midway district and the district relies heavily on a good relationship with the community because the benefits to the students are enormous. The Midway community has been extremely supportive and involved with Midway over the years and everyone benefits.
Zielinski: To keep up with technological advances and to provide students with a quality education and the tools they need to succeed. The district’s school board should have an open and inviting relationship with the community.
Stephens: As a lifelong member of this area, I truly feel a strong school district helps build a community. A strong school entices families to move into the area and build or buy homes. This in turn adds students to our school population, bringing additional funds and employment opportunities along with them. All of these things depend on one another to create a strong community. I feel a school district should be a welcoming place where all people feel like valuable and active participants in the education of their children.
3. What are the current challenges within your school district? How do you feel you can help find solutions to these issues?
Burton: The three biggest issues I see are declining enrollment, potential for reduced state funding, and lack of community involvement at the operational level of the district. Declining enrollment is due to the lack of new housing being built within the district and with families, like mine, where the kids are growing up and moving on. This also directly relates to the lack of economic development within and around the district to draw new housing developments and a place for families to raise their children. On the issue of reduced funding, this requires continual relationships with our elected officials in the general assembly. We need to hold our senators’ and representatives’ feet to the fire and ensure they hold public education funding in its rightful place. To address the community involvement, we need to create community advisory committees and ensure the board and the public have face-to-face involvement.
Casaert: One of our current challenges right now is a declining student population. The school receives money for each student, so each year that our enrollment drops, the school’s revenue drops, impacting every aspect of providing educational opportunities. Finding a way to encourage growth in the Midway community will not be easy, but I would suggest following up on a suggestion that was made earlier that the school “advertise” itself to local real estate agents and provide them with pertinent and encouraging information about the district that they can then pass on to their clients.
Zielinski: To address challenges, I would listen to all sides and take a common sense approach.
Stephens: Through all of the recent economic challenges, I feel we have weathered them well as a district. I feel the biggest need is the attraction of new families into our community. I’ll work within my means and with my fellow board members to continue to build an attractive school environment. Midway is a fantastic community with a lot of wonderful people. We just need to let others know we are here and we would love to have them join us.