Five candidates — two incumbents and three challengers — are vying for three available seats on the Garden City USD 457 Board of Education.
Incumbents Lara Bors and Jean Clifford will be on the Nov. 7 ballot, as well as challengers Tim Hanigan, Jeff Sims and Alex Wallace.
Bors, 41, has served on the board since 2011. She is a practicing lawyer at her firm, Bors Law, P.A, in Garden City. She and her husband, Carl, have two children, Carl and Henry.
Clifford, 66, has served on the board since 2012. She is a homemaker and a retired Air Force officer. She served on the Garden City Cultural Relations Board from 2007 to 2011. She and her husband, Dr. Bill Clifford, have six children: Mary, Elizabeth, Patrick, Joy and David; and a grandson, Mason.
Hanigan, 52, is a practicing orthodontist at High Plain Orthodontics and has served on the board of the Finney County Economic Development Corp. He and his wife, Christina, have three daughters: McKenzie, 19; Chloe, 16; and Olivia, 15.
Sims, 45, is the head football coach at Garden City Community College. He previously served on the USD 234 Board of Education in Fort Scott. He was named the NJCAA National Coach of the Year in December 2016 after leading the Broncbusters to the national championship. He and his wife, Lecia, have three children: Dylan, Jake and Samantha.
Wallace, 48, is the owner of Wallace Electric, LLC, in Garden City. He served on the school board from 2011 to 2015. He and his wife, Natalie, have three children: Brittany Lance, and Cameron and Austin Wallace.
The top three vote-getters will win the available seats on the board.
The Telegram sent each of the candidates a questionnaire asking their thoughts on various issues pertaining to USD 457. Here's what they had to say:
What needs to be done to address the national teacher shortage locally?
Bors: … I believe that the State and particularly USD 457 have turned a corner with treating our teachers as professionals and giving them the opportunity to effectively teach to the children in their classrooms. By treating our teachers as the professionals that they are, providing them with opportunities to truly make an impact on children’s lives and paying them a wage commensurate with that professionalism, I hope we will be able to retain our teachers. By showing our students that teaching is a truly honorable profession where they can earn a good wage, I hope they will be encouraged to seek out those opportunities.
Clifford: … The district has done a great deal to address this at the local level, but I believe more is needed. The district must recruit great teachers and retain them because they are essential to promoting the high student achievement we expect in our community. … But the district also needs to ensure that these teachers are retained and continue working in the district. I believe that retention starts with each staff member feeling valued and supported in the workplace. … I believe that our salaries and benefits need to be competitive to those offered in other districts, not only in our area but statewide. …
Hanigan: I think the greatest difference can be made in retention. There are two issues employees consistently rank as critical to longevity: having a voice in their work environment and pay. We are obviously constrained by the state with their pay. But my intent is to be sure that the board is doing everything possible to give teachers a voice before decisions are made that impact their teaching environment.
Sims: … We have to be competitive in creating an environment that our teachers want to be a part of. Teachers in 2017 have options, and to recruit/retain the best teachers we have to be the best school district for teachers. In addition, we have to look for other ways to combat the problem of teacher shortages, the ability and creativity to use technology and resources to allow our students/teachers access to meet their educational needs is important.
Wallace: Due to shortages of teachers across the state, I believe we will have to go to a “grow your own” concept and invest in our students of the community. We need to work with our state colleges to help find a solution to this ever fast growing problem in the teaching profession.
Do you feel there needs to be increased security in our schools and district buildings to ensure safety?
Bors: … I believe that the school resource officers that we have present now are sufficient to meet the needs of our students on a day-to-day basis. I appreciate the increased security in those times when needed, but do not see the need to increase their presence on a regular basis.
Clifford: The first priority of district schools must be the safety and security of students, staff members and visitors to our schools. Security is critical and must be continually improved to meet any new challenges to the safety of students and staff in our buildings and on our property… School Resource Officers play a critical role, and the district’s partnership with local law enforcement is a top priority to ensure safety. …
Hanigan: It’s a tough call, but I don’t think we need increased security. The local law enforcement community has done an outstanding job responding to the threats that are truly credible, and worked hard to balance their security responses with the need to avoid excessive disruption to the school day. … “Over the top” security measures are counter-productive to the type of positive learning environment we should be striving for. Kids end up focusing on the “threat of the day” instead of their education.
Sims: Unfortunately, safety is a major concern throughout our country. As a board, we have to take seriously the responsibility we have to ensure the safety of our children within our schools. Not only our students, but also everyone that is on a USD 457 campus, should feel comfortable and safe.
Wallace: I believe safety and security of our schools in our district is a top priority.… School safety continues to be a part of the whole community. I go with the saying “if you see something, say something” and report it. With social media threats, I believe that education at school and home can be greatly effective.
What would your budget priorities be for the district?
Bors: … Based upon the Supreme Court’s ruling, it is my hope that our days of cutting our district’s already efficient and lean budget are over. My budgetary priorities would be increasing salaries for both our certified and classified staff in the front lines — our teachers, paras, secretaries, custodial staff, etc. — as well as ensuring that our programs are given sufficient funds to work effectively. I have been proud to be a part of a district which has not seen cuts to extra-curricular activities for our children. Those activities play an important role in their growth and development. …
Clifford: Our district’s priorities should be those areas that support our goal of promoting student achievement, which include programs that support student growth and support for our teachers who are working with our students to achieve that goal. The uncertainty and disruptions in school funding during past years have resulted in a lean district budget, and cuts to our budget would be very difficult. Salaries are a large expense, and if cuts were needed, the district might reduce positions through attrition, limit filling open positions, or adjust staff positions in order to cover the same work with fewer people, rather than downsize staff members. Cuts should be avoided if at all possible. …
Hanigan: … We need to put every available resource towards recruitment, retention, professional development, support, and (whenever possible) increased pay for teachers. Cuts would be impossible for me to project in a short newspaper article unless (perhaps) I knew exactly how much needed to be cut and what choices I had. But with the exception of instruction and maintenance of our facilities, nothing should be off the table.
Sims: My goal is always how we could most effectively use the resources that we have to meet the goals/mission of our district. When first approaching a budget, you should not go in with the idea of what can we cut or add. That said, budget priorities always begin with the classroom (student/teacher) and work their way outward…
Wallace: When I previously sat on the board, I attended a meeting in Wichita on school finance and efficiency. I learned that Garden City was running very, very lean, we were efficient as we could be. I believe any further budget cuts to the district will drastically start to affect students, classroom size and teachers.
What, if anything, do you see as an urgent facilities need for the district?
Bors: … Many of our HVAC systems are aging and may need to be replaced, roofs may need to be replaced (as noted by the loss of part of the roof at Georgia Matthews recently). I hope that we can take a strategic approach to having all of our facilities up to date and in good working order.
Clifford: Although many of the district’s building are older, they have been well maintained by our facilities staff and are still in good condition. We need to continue to ensure maintenance is a priority so we can get the most out of all of our facilities. Maintenance issues that arise need to be promptly addressed and fixed in order to ensure they don’t progress and cause further damage, as well as to ensure safety for our students and staff. … We should carefully consider the appropriateness and necessity of a project before taking on any additional larger construction projects or significant renovations at this time. …
Hanigan: I think we are well-suited from a structural need. But with the extra fixed costs that come with additional “brick and mortar,” the challenge will be keeping up on the maintenance. Delaying proper maintenance is an easy budget sleight that is counter-productive. It always ends up costing much more to repair something that could have been maintained, and there are never extra funds sitting around to do deferred maintenance. When we built the buildings, we committed to maintenance whether we wanted to or not. Now we must find the funds to keep everything in shape.
Sims: It’s important for all districts to have a strategic plan, which includes facilities and maintenance needs which should have a design to address needs yearly, every 5 years, and 10 years. As a board, we should help develop a plan when needed and work within that plan when in place. It is always important to work with the administration of USD 457 and each campus to make sure each campus is safe and conducive to enhancing the learning environment.
Wallace: I will continue on with the long-range facilities plan that the district has implemented and continue working on finding better efficient systems that can be implemented into the district buildings, such as efficient HVAC systems and LED lighting.
An audit conducted at the state level determined it would be cost effective to close Jennie Barker Elementary School, which Superintendent Steve Karlin said at the time wouldn't be an option. Do you believe the district should keep the rural schools, Jennie Barker and Plymell, open?
Bors: … We are seeing new development in the northeast part of our town which could lead to an increase in enrollment in Jennie Barker in the next few years. With the growth that our community is showing, both Plymell and Jennie Barker will be helpful release valves for our schools in town which may otherwise be over-stressed by the additional children from those areas.
Clifford: … They have been well maintained and we have invested in improvements to them in the past. Our community is growing, and we may need additional classroom space in order to avoid overly large class sizes. Despite their smaller size, these schools allow the district to accommodate that growth and still maintain smaller class sizes at all elementary and intermediate level schools. Although future decisions for all schools must be mindful of the district’s budget, as well as the cost of maintenance, condition of the building, and overall opportunities for students among other things, I believe that the rural schools should stay open. …
Hanigan: I would want to see the full analysis from the state to see how that recommendation was determined. My kids were educated in a rural school, and as parents we couldn’t have been happier. It’s also clear that the numbers support the argument that both rural schools are educationally performing quite well. But part of the responsibility of being on the school board is making hard choices in an impossible budget situation. To categorically take any option off the table without a thorough analysis is not in keeping with being a responsible board member.
Sims: Yes, I agree with the district.
Wallace: Jennie Barker and Plymell schools should remain in the district and serve our K-6 grade in the rural community like they have done successfully for many, many years.
What's your philosophy for how best to measure student and district performance?
Bors: I do not believe that there is only one way to gauge a student and district’s success. Rather than some arbitrary line that our students needed to meet under No Child Left Behind, I hope that we can use a growth model to show how much a student has learned in the year. We also need to review how our children are doing in post-secondary life. … These things will not only show the success of our students and districts in the nuts and bolts of academic standards, but the longevity or promotion in those areas will illustrate how our district is doing with the soft skills that our children also desperately need to learn in order to be successful. …
Clifford: … Schools and districts should also be able to utilize the testing data to help them focus their resources on areas requiring improvement. Testing should be purposeful and done to provide information and data for improvement, and that data needs to be shared with all concerned, including students and their parents and teachers. Testing at all levels is time-consuming and should be limited to only that which is required to gain this information and data so that students and teachers can spend greater amounts of time in the classroom learning new material. …
Hanigan: District performance should be measured in part by the rate of post-secondary entrance and completion. We have to accept and operate as though USD 457 is a stepping stone to the further education our students will need to be competitive in the economy to come. In the next four years, it is estimated that 60 percent of the jobs will require education beyond high school, and in eight years it could be as high as 80 percent. … By that measure, we have work to do.
Sims: When evaluating academic standards and gauging student performance, we have to be broad in our approach. … Because of the uniqueness of our district, we need to allow our administration/teachers several opportunities to measure student success while always understanding our mission for our students.
Wallace: … I think we need to continue working with the state of Kansas Department of Education to come up with a better solution for a student academic success and more teachable moments provided by our teachers. We also need to continue working with the teachers and providing a great education for our multicultural community in the district. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.
What motivated you to run, and do you have a particular issue or platform that you are campaigning on?
Bors: … Should I be re-elected, I hope to continue with providing teachers the ability to teach, encourage more of our students to become teachers, reduce the testing footprint in our school district and continue the progress we have made in all areas for our children.
Clifford: … My priorities as a board member are to promote excellence and high achievement for all students, to recruit, retain and support our teachers, to use our resources wisely, to promote the value of K-12 education to our legislators, and to listen and seek input from our community on school-related issues and ensure those concerns are considered in decision making. … I have enjoyed my time on the board and would like to continue to advocate for our students and our community.
Hanigan: … I have no particular platform, but I do believe I am able to press those around me with questions that may at times be uncomfortable. Since board meetings are public and covered by the press, the format discourages discussion that could be interpreted as controversial. I happen to think that hard questions ensure that the administration’s recommendations are in keeping with the board’s vision — and in keeping with the board’s fiscal responsibility to the community.
Sims: … District employees are not allowed to run for Board of Education, because of this, most communities’ boards are made up of citizens who want to help the community but their chosen profession is not education. … They do not know what it is like to have the passion and challenge to help those children succeed educationally and personally. … I know what the trends and challenges are currently presented to students, teachers and administrators. … I am running for Board of Education to help create an environment where ALL our students, teachers, staff and administration can all feel great pride in the young people we educate in USD 457.
Wallace: I want to be a part of the community investment of our future leaders again. It is very humbling to know that we all play a role in each student’s education and future success in life.