Earlier in the week, candidates for the Lansing school board and Leavenworth City Commission answered questions during forums. And Thursday night, candidates for the Leavenworth Board of Education took center stage.
They answered questions during the final candidate forum in a series sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Leavenworth County and the Leavenworth Times.
All five Leavenworth school board candidates were in attendance Thursday ― current board members Verna Raines and Mike Robinson and former board members Mike Carney, Doug Darling and Danny Zeck.
Three at-large positions on the Leavenworth school board are up for election this year. The election will be April 2.
Candidates were asked why they believe themselves to be the best candidates and why people should vote for them.
Carney said he likes to think outside the box.
"I don't like red tape," he said. "I like to get things done."
Carney said he wants to focus on student fitness and nutrition, which he believes should go hand-in-hand with the education side of school operations.
Darling said he has the knowledge, skills and abilities to do the job. He noted that he previously served two terms on the board.
"I study the issues," he said.
Darling said he's not a rubber stamp and he will ask tough questions.
Zeck said he doesn't know if he is the best candidate. But he believes this election marks the first time in a long time in which residents will elect good board members no matter who they vote for. He said all five candidates are good people.
Zeck did say he brings a different perspective as someone with a business background. And he hopes voters think enough of him to elect him to the board.
Robinson said leadership is critical. Robinson is finishing up his first four-year term on the board. For the last two years, he's served as the board's president.
He also said consistency is important in terms of what the board accomplished the last four years and what it's committed to do during the next four.
Raines, who was appointed to a fill a vacancy on the board about eight months ago, said she now has a perspective that is different from when she worked for the school district. She said she will bring experience and a broader perspective
"I know what the daily realities are in the district," she said.
With a decrease in property valuation, the candidates were asked if the school district's tax mill levy will have to be raised.
"That's a possibility," Zeck answered.
He said the assessed valuation in the district has been going down on an annual basis in recent years.
"It's not something new," he said.
Zeck said it's nice that the district has new facilities as a result of a 2008 bond issue. But the district doesn't have a lot of money going into its capital outlay fund, which is used for things such as building maintenance and purchasing equipment.
Zeck noted that board members earlier had promised they wouldn't raise taxes because voters passed the bond issue.
Robinson began his answer to the question by saying, "We might."
He said the issue involves more than the district's assessed valuation. He said the governor and other Kansas officials intend to eliminate the state income tax, increasing the reliance of sales and property taxes in the state.
He argued that at some point the only thing board members will be able to do is raise property taxes because it's what state officials want them to do.
Raines also said board members might increase the mill levy, saying it's a complex issue.
She said board members didn't know what would happen to the economy when they promised not to raise the mill levy.
"The answers are not simple," she said.
She said board members have to think about the quality of education.
Carney said when he previously served on the board there was a proposal, which he didn't support, to raise what is called the local option budget. He said the intent of this had been to put more of the funding burden on local taxpayers.
He also discussed an earlier lawsuit against the state over school funding. The Leavenworth district, along with other school systems, were involved in the lawsuit when he served on the board. He said the courts ruled in favor of the school districts.
Darling said there is a possibility that the mill levy could be raised but he referred to it as a "last" possibility.
He said the school district's chief financial officer will work to make the impact of budgetary constraints as little as possible when it comes to classroom operations.
He said board members will listen to the chief financial officer's recommendations. He said board members have to make hard decisions.
Candidates were asked what parental involvement activities exist beyond the elementary level and what can be done to increase involvement.
Darling said the best way to increase involvement at the higher grade levels is to first get people involved at the elementary level.
In terms of opportunities for parent involvement, he said there are site councils as well as a host of parent support groups.
Zeck said he believes there needs to be more parental involvement but it's tough because of factors such as split families.
"I think we ought to have a contract with parents," he said.
He said the contract could outline what is expected of students and also note that parents would be expected to help their children meet expectations.
Robinson said there are plenty of ways to get involved in the schools. He offered examples including site councils and volunteering in the schools. He also said there is a lot of effort to get people involved in the schools.
He expressed concern that parent support organizations are too athletic oriented.
Raines said she knows it's difficult to be involved when both parents are working. She said parent involvement for some people may be reading a newsletter, visiting a school website or attending a parent-teacher conference.
"You take what you can," she said.
Carney said Leavenworth has children who are considered "at risk." He said some children don't live with their parents, and some may be homeless.
He also raised the issue of apathy, pointing to things such as low voter turnout.