School board position at-large candidate: Joshua Mihesuah
Name: Joshua K. Mihesuah
Date of birth: February 12, 1952
Family: Spouse: Devon A. Mihesuah, professor, University of Kansas; children: Toshaway (17) Ariana (14)
Current employment: Retired after 30 years in higher education
Past employment history: Vice President Haskell Indian Nations University; Assistant Dean of Students, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, University of Arizona, Tucson, Advisor, Oklahoma State University
Education: B.S. and M.A. Oklahoma State University
Number of years lived in community: 6
Previous public offices held: Baldwin City School Board, 4 years; Board President and Board member, 6 years, Flagstaff Unified School District Governing Board of Directors, overseeing $52 million budget, 17 schools, administration, curriculum, personnel, transportation, and physical plant
Community involvement: Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence Board; Selection Committee for Youth of the Year, Douglas County Boys and Girls Club; Executive Committee Center for American Indian Community Health, University of Kansas Medical Center; Election Committee for Arizona State Representative Jim Sedillo; Tucson United Way leadership and allocation committees; Served as a big brother with Big Brothers of Tucson and Flagstaff Programs; Board member of the Flagstaff Y.M.C.A; Editorial Board Member of the Arizona Daily Sun; Board member of the Allocation Committee of the Tucson United Way; the Victim Witness Compensation Board; President of Executive Board, Native Americans for Community Action, Flagstaff, AZ.
What made you decide to run for office?
I am running because children deserve the best possible education. I have myriad experiences working with schools at many levels, with faculty, administrators, politicians and parents. I believe I can work with all people and I know how to reach goals. My personal philosophy for education is that everyone deserves the opportunity to learn and excel. Both my grandfathers were farmers in Oklahoma and I am a first-generation college graduate. Several community members and my family encouraged me to run . I would not have run again if some community members had not expressed concern about some of the other candidates’ motives for running.
I am interested, am passionate about education and am willing to offer my services. I bring a wealth of ideas to the district about how we can be a more efficient and effective school district and how we can become a better community partner within the Baldwin City area. I know how to work with people, not to alienate them, and to get results. One must possess social skills to be effective as a public official. I am only one vote on the board and one must learn how to compromise. If elected, my hope is that I will be a genuine and helpful benefit to the community and its citizens, especially our children.
What special qualifications would you bring to this office?
I have a myriad of experiences in education. I am a rational thinker. I have the experience to listen for consensus and not to confuse a few dissenting voices with the majority. I always listen carefully to understand all points of view and thoroughly research all available data before voicing my own opinion and certainly before making a decision.
I realize that money alone will not solve all the educational problems in the state or the country. I have worked with large budgets and financial issues all through my career in higher education and working with various community committees. In regards to downsizing because of budget restraints, for the long term health of the school district one has to look at it as an opportunity instead of a disaster. My main qualification is that I can think outside the box to find solutions that are win-win for everyone, especially for our children’s education and futures. I also understand how Boards function. Because my vast experiences serving on school boards and many other community boards I can quickly assess the district’s main concerns. I have the time and desire to invest many hours that will be necessary to carry out the duties of office with the ability to be visionary without prejudice.
How do you plan to familiarize yourself with the issues that come before the board?
There is a steep learning curve for new board members. I already have a broad background and knowledge of the board. And I have visited with all the schools’ teachers, staff, students and community patrons--several times. Almost everyday I speak with members of the community and district staff. People contact me regularly. I make myself available.
What leadership qualities do you possess?
I have served in higher education for 30 years as a Vice President and Dean of Students, as well as many other administrative roles. I have many years of volunteer experience such as developing boards and serving as presidents of boards. As director of university units I have supervised multiple staff, managed large budgets and have raised funds. I remember my responsibilities in serving on one of the most important elective bodies in society for our children now and in the future. I am not afraid to make hard decisions and to keep reminding colleagues of the board’s vision.
How do you plan stay in touch with constituents if you are elected?
Through an open door policy for parental involvement in their children’s education and being available during school activities and events, plus through technology and face-to-face dialog. I would like to start a meet-and-greet for community members prior to each board meeting for anyone who would like to visit with the board. I want interested parties to feel welcome to discuss any issue. I also want to create an open dialog on the school board website for anyone to discuss issues of concern as long as they identify themselves. I suggest the board make mandatory, frequent meetings with schools, teachers and staff, and I want to explore the possibility of having some school board meetings at different schools so more community members can attend the meetings.
Describe what you see as the main role of a school board member.
Keeping the public informed on the status of the district programs and student progress. The board should meet the needs of the children by promoting all school services to the community. It must oversee policy and evaluate the whole district with data that is provided. The Board must be a soundboard for schools and community and to remember the responsibility is to all children within the district. It must grow and become aware of the changes in society and to understand the role one plays as a board member. The board does not micromanage the district. We must honestly evaluate the school district superintendent, who is responsible for the district. The board must have a vision with many short and long-term goals and objectives. We must always keep the students first in our thoughts and deliberations.
What is the best attribute of our school district and why?
Our students, staff and community as a whole. Baldwin City has always supported education. It brings together the entire community. This support is clearly evident in the success of the students year after year. We have some of the most dedicated and devoted teachers, staff and administrators anyplace. Our comparatively small district wins regional, state and national awards each year in a variety of academic, extracurricular and athletic activities. Our students feel safe and secure and excel at what they do. This is one reason why my family moved to Baldwin City. Quality of life is a big part of the appeal.
What are the three most important issues facing the school district and how would you confront them?
- The ever-changing budget. We may have more tough decisions ahead. We have to look for opportunities, not just the negatives. By realigning certain programs, by using more technology. With more cuts comes the real possibility of a decline in quality of our educational tools. We must think carefully and creatively about how to accomplish our goals and objectives. We must keep our students first. We must communicate with the community about pushing our national and state representatives about how important public education is to our children, and to future generations. Our school budgets cannot continue to be cut.
2.Communication to bring the whole school district together. We have had to make some drastic cuts and it is important that all Baldwin students and parents feel part of the district.
3.American society and indeed, the whole world around us is moving very quickly thereby forcing us to adapt and to make educational decisions. We must be clear in our goals and decisions in order to make our students competitive in a global society.
Do you think public schools are adequately funded? Why or why not?
Currently, no. We have had to cut to the bone in many areas throughout the district. We struggle to keep up with building maintenance and services. Many of our facilities have deferred maintenance. That will cost us in the future. Our services are being cut in every area from food to transportation. The mindset in Topeka is to decrease school funding. Every year we are put in a position of having to make up the deficit from our local tax base. We are in danger of falling behind if we don’t acquire more adequate funding. We will be forced to cut more and find new ways to educate our students. We have to be smart about it and that is the challenge.
What areas of the budget would you target for spending cuts if necessary?
Fiscal management starts with the district budget and should reflect the educators’ goals. We need to continually establish priorities for the district on short-term, intermediate and long range basis. We have to look at all areas and that will be hard to do. I would look at how we could streamline services and if there is any one service we could outsource. We must look at activities and fees. 81% of our budget is tied up in salaries and benefits for staff. That makes it very difficult to cut without losing quality people. So we should first look at what will least affect our students’ education.
Are the district's teachers being compensated fairly? Why or why not?
Teachers are among our most important assets in society. We are one of the few countries in the world that seems not to recognize that fact and to pay them appropriately. This is why our educational system continues to lag behind other countries. Our teachers are not adequately compensated. Teachers are why our school district is so outstanding. I am not sure where we might find the resources to raise salaries, but we should if possible.
Under what circumstances would you favor increasing property taxes?
I do not favor that now or in the future. That should only be a last resort and if there is no other option. When the government and state continue to cut they leave us no choice. The Johnson County district has the tax base to make up their deficit, but Baldwin City does not.