The five candidates for the Leavenworth Board of Education answered five questions submitted by the Leavenworth Times. There are three at-large seats up for election this year. The election will be April 2.
Michael E. (Mike) Carney
Occupation: Senior department service officer for Disabled American Veterans
Previous elected experience: Previously served on the Leavenworth Board of Education
Douglas A. Darling
Occupation: Department of the Army civilian/military analyst (Doctrine)
Previous elected experience: Two terms on the Leavenworth Board of Education
Occupation: Retired educator
Previous elected experience: Appointed to the Leavenworth Board of Education in 2012
Michael (Mike) Robinson
Occupation: Military analyst, Omega Training and Education Division, Cubic Applications
Previous elected experience: Completing four years on the Leavenworth Board of Education
Occupation: Retired car dealer
Previous elected experience: Elected to four terms on the Leavenworth Board of Education
1. Why do you want to be on the Leavenworth Board of Education?
Carney: I have always felt that it is important to give back to your community. I have worked for many years in various voluntary services. I had many people contact me and were concerned about the actions of previous board members and the administration. This concern prompted me to be active again and run for the board.
Darling: I want to help my community. I see ways that my knowledge, skills and abilities can help improve Leavenworth schools. I have volunteered in a wide variety positions: in church, as a Boy Scout leader, and in Leavenworth schools as a member of parent-teacher organizations, school site councils and the Leavenworth Board of Education over the last 30 years. A third BOE term continues that service.
Raines: My interest in the school board position is to serve the community by focusing on student educational challenges and achievement goals. Since serving on the school board, I've gained a broader perspective of the efforts and accomplishments of Leavenworth students and staff. I strongly support the district mission of higher levels of learning and the vision commitment to student academic success and well being.
Robinson: This board has made a significant commitment to support the superintendent as she seeks to lead the district into a high performing and resilient center for learning and achievement. I am committed to continuing that transformation. We must have a district that offers an attractive alternative for educating children, not only to attract new families into our community, but also to better provide children with the knowledge and skills they will need.
Page 2 of 4 - Zeck: The main reason is my pride in the Leavenworth school district. I have a strong commitment to my community and to the best education for students. I was born and raised in Leavenworth and graduated from the school system. I want to give my time and energy to the Leavenworth school board. I believe a strong school district encourages positive growth in a community.
2. What experience do you have that will help you serve on the board?
Carney: I have owned my own business. I have also been in charge of a large industrial operation at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks. I have had previous Board of Education experience and I feel that we developed a compatible, working board that shared the same goals. I also like to think that creativity is important and we have to implement that creativity in a business sense, educational arena, and in the development of a strategic plan.
Darling: My first BOE term saw the passage of a bond issue that addressed the first half of a plan to bring the district's facilities up to code and build Warren Middle School. We instituted a district sustainable information technology plan. My second term saw a complete review of all district
policies. We also established a contingency fund that is serving the district well during the current school budget strain.
Raines: As an educator and school counselor, I know the factors that ensure the high level of learning for all students and achievement in the classroom. I possess knowledge of the educational system and how it functions. With my current school board experience, I am knowledgeable of board duties and goals and stay informed about current, challenging issues.
Robinson: I have a deep professional and personal relationship with the Leavenworth school district. I taught English at the high school for almost nine years, was the assistant coach for boys and girls soccer for three years, and have served as a member of the Board of Education for four years, the last two as president. Furthermore, I have two master's degrees, one in systems management and a second in teaching.
Zeck: I am a retired business owner which gives me a unique, conservative perspective. I have been elected to four, four-year terms on the Leavenworth school board, totaling 16 years of service. I have been a part of school board decisions which have positively impacted the Leavenworth school district.
3. In tough economic times, how should the district handle shrinking budgets?
Carney: There has to be a sound investigation of all aspects of the district and incorporate a plan to meet budget. I would be emphatic in maintaining the integrity of the classroom and subsequent funding of teachers' salaries and benefits while maintaining academic standards. We had just such economic woes when I served previously and we managed to accomplish our goals. We need better relationships with other districts and communities to ensure legislators understand the need for adequate funding.
Page 3 of 4 - Darling: Make smart cuts that minimize the impact on classroom teachers. Cut district overhead. Emphasize competing for grants that don't lock us in to excessive spending down the road. Look at self-insuring to avoid Obamacare-related health insurance cost increases. Demand that our state senators and representatives adequately fund K-12 education and stop shifting the blame to us, the local BOEs, for using the local option budget just to fund basic school services.
Raines: Our district has operated cautiously with the budget limitations since 2009. To handle future cuts, our district financial officer and staff will make recommendations and those will be considered. My priority is to ensure the best possible instruction and education that meets Leavenworth students' learning needs and abilities within the given fiscal limitations.
Robinson: The worse action we can take is to rush to judgment and adopt drastic corrective measures without a comprehensive and complete analysis of their impact. Our budget has decreased every year I have served on the board. The superintendent and her staff have managed to stave off severe reductions in programs and services. However, if funding continues to shrink, we will need to prioritize what we do as a district.
Zeck: All district programs need to be reviewed and ways to cut that do not affect what goes on in the classroom need to addressed. Over 80 percent of the total district budget is payroll. District personal is the greatest asset of USD 453. The district needs to look at ways to consolidate and restructure.
4. Other than funding matters, what are other important issues facing the Leavenworth school district?
Carney: One of the most important issues in my mind is to create an atmosphere of commonality of goals between the community, parents, teachers and administrators. It appears to me, through conversations with peers and school employees, that there is an aura of distrust and lack of respect. If this is in fact a reality then the success of the district will be in jeopardy.
Darling: The poverty level of district students is a standard answer. However, my answer is that this district needs leaders in education to mentor classroom teachers. The word is leaders, not administrators. I want to see changes in district policies that ensure that all of our administrators are constantly in the classroom developing and supporting our classroom teachers.
Raines: Other important issues facing this district include student safety, technology, at-risk student needs and implementation of Common Core Standards. This includes college and career readiness and improving instruction by focusing teacher and administration evaluations on student learning.
Robinson: Student academic performance and social development have been and will remain the most important issues we face as a board. There have been many student successes. At the same time, our growth, at least as measured by No Child Left Behind, has stagnated. At-risk student groups have failed to achieve the desired performance. Planning for and implementing an effective curriculum, professional development for teachers and administrators, and integrating technology into learning must continue.
Page 4 of 4 - Zeck: Our district is 61 percent "at risk" and this is a major focus. Students come to school from many different learning levels, which is a huge hurdle for teachers and administrators. The fact that our district is very transient is also a struggle for teachers. Less that 60 percent of students entering USD 453 at kindergarten will attend Leavenworth schools through graduation. These two issues need to be constantly addressed.
5. How should the success of the school district be measured?
Carney: The success of the school district is simply ensuring that all students succeed and become valuable members of society. There needs to be more emphasis in helping those students who are not bound for college. It seemed to be paramount that we build a multimillion dollar athletic complex while neglecting much needed science labs, computer technology and other areas of instruction.
Darling: The first measure is the vast majority of graduates being productive citizens. A second measure is standardized test scores. The third measure is outside businesses willing to move here to take advantage of the local workforce. A fourth measure is administrators and teachers willing to have their own children/grandchildren in Leavenworth public schools.
Raines: The success of the school district should be measured by students' achievement of standards with the expectation of continuous improvement. Consistent growth in achievement indicates success. Our district has experienced success. Graduation rates could also be considered an indicator. Other various measures such as completion of post secondary education for employment could be used to demonstrate success of the district.
Robinson: Success should be measured by improving student performance. We have learned that No Child Left Behind was a failure with its business model aimed at 100 percent achievement. Common Core, in addition to updating learning outcomes and expectations for all students, will make teaching and learning more relevant to life after school. We must include "student improvement" as a component of teacher evaluations and any assessments of the school district as a whole.
Zeck: The success of USD 453 should be measured one student at a time. Students, parents and teachers need to be held accountable to ensure that required, measurable progress is reached by the end of every school year.