School board position at-large candidate: Robin Bayer
Name: Robin John Bayer
Date of Birth: September 19, 1970
Family: Karen Kinsch-Bayer, Spouse; Kristen Hogan, Stepdaughter (29); Wes Richardson, Stepson (24); Ruby Hogan, Granddaughter (1)
Current Employment: Tequa Creek Holdings LLC (Baldwin City, KS) since 2005
Past Employment History: Worked for several Johnson County-area software companies from 1992 until starting Tequa Creek Holdings in 2005.
Education: Bachelor of Science in Management from Park University, Parkville, Missouri
Number of years lived in community: Ten
Previous public offices held: Currently a member of Baldwin City Council, previously member of Baldwin City Library Board
Community involvement: In prior years assisted with Baldwin Community Theatre and Baldwin Cares Foundation
What made you decide to run for office? Although it does not reflect the popular sentiment of the day, I believe that when government is done right, it can accomplish spectacular things. And I believe government isn’t some distant, overbearing, soul-less entity. Instead, it is comprised at every level of people just like you and me. When those people are smart and hard-working, and have a genuine concern for our community then fabulous things will happen. The District is facing considerable challenges, some of our own making, and some that have been forced upon us from outside. We need to lean into these problems and aggressively address them as just the first step towards creating a premier District for which we can all be proud. I want to be a part of that.
What special qualifications would you bring to this office?
I am a taxpayer in the District, and I know there are quite a few others like me that understand the need to pay taxes to make our community work. But we insist that our money is spent with an eye on maximizing the benefits to our children and, in turn, society as a whole.
How do you plan to familiarize yourself with the issues that come before the board? Over the last month I have spent a few evenings each week reviewing the USD 348 Board meeting minutes from the last two years. For many of the major issues discussed in those meetings I gathered further information from sources such as the Kansas Legislature, the Kansas Department of Education, and several books on public school operations and public school law.
My goal of this research was to achieve at least a rudimentary understanding of the mechanisms of school funding, regulations controlling the expenditures of funds, and regulations surrounding administrator, educator, and staff contracts. As a Board member I expect to have access to even more detailed information about matters of operations and finance available in sufficient time to gain the same level of understanding of the issues prior to Board meetings.
What leadership qualities do you possess? I believe that when I have taken the time to understand an issue I can quickly form a reasonable approach to dealing with that issue. Then I work hard to be persuasive with other decision-makers to join me in my approach.
How do you plan stay in touch with constituents if you are elected?
As a member of City Council I would try to post a useful response when I saw comments on the Baldwin Signal’s website after a constituent asked why I voted a particular way on an issue, or perhaps had a question about City operations or actions. As part of that post I included my telephone number so that any constituent could contact me for any questions or matters of concern. If I am able to serve as a Board member I will continue to make myself available via telephone and will actively encourage parents and taxpayers to contact me whenever they need to do so.
In addition, when members of the public would repeatedly contact City staff or speak in public comment at City Council meetings I would make it a point to call or visit those constituents with offers of assistance to obtain further information or facilitate constructive conversation with City staff. I found this approach quite beneficial because it forced me to more fully understand an issue and it gave me a natural opportunity to interact with City staff members to learn more about their day-to-day responsibilities. I look forward to doing the same if I am elected to the School
Describe what you see as the main role of a school board member. For me it is instructive to view the School Board member as analogous to a member of company’s Board of Directors. The Board member very deliberately does not get involved in day-to-day operations of the company, but rather is responsible for ensuring that the proper environment exists for leaders to make clear and focused decisions that ensure the longevity of the organization and provide continual benefits for stakeholders. But the most important contribution of a corporate Board member is his or her understanding of business, finance, or operational expertise, obtained from career experience in other companies or industries. This diversity of experience brings in fresh ideas and encourages vigorous debate to the strategic decisions made for future of the enterprise.
Similarly, the mission statement of the Kansas Association of School Boards calls for local School Boards to implement a framework of vision, structure, accountability, and advocacy. In analyzing the decisions of the Board over the last several years, we are plenty strong in the area of advocacy for our children, but we clearly do not focus enough on the other areas. As I reviewed the minutes of many past meetings I saw clear examples of unfettered advocacy. For example, the Board praised a committee that met for longer than a year to discuss the layout of report cards, and a Board member asserted that other members should make their decision to implement all-day kindergarten at a “philosophical level”, without regard to other factors. What was clearly missing was discussion of obtaining maximum efficiency, cost-to-benefit considerations, or how introducing one item might require adjusting the resources available to another priority. If I am elected I will push hard to ensure that these concepts are discussed in all Board decisions.
What is the best attribute of our school district and why?
We have good children in our schools. Our administrators and teachers do not have to pay inordinate attention to problems facing other districts, like school violence or rampant drug use.
I don’t pretend that issues like these aren’t present in our schools, because they do arise from time to time. However, our students are a good reflection of the larger community that we all strive to create -- a small town feel, but with all the opportunities and amenities of our larger neighbors.
What are the three most important issues facing the school district and how would you confront them?
The most important issue facing our District is that our balance sheet at the end of each school year shows essentially no remaining operational funds. It’s because we are inclined to spend every single penny that comes in the door. A significant unexpected expense, perhaps caused by a natural disaster or legal judgment, would require us to draw warrants from the State of Kansas just to meet payroll or pay our bills. If this happened it would virtually guarantee that the Kansas Legislature would combine our District with another one. In early 2010 the Legislature commissioned a study to determine the savings to the State if smaller Kansas districts were forced to consolidate. The report concluded that combining USD 348 with USD 289 in
Wellsville would result in an operating savings of $1.3 million annually for the State. The last thing we want to do is appear before the State, hat in hand, asking for help to meet our obligations because we did not plan ahead. This is a very real possibility and is a consideration that should be on the minds of all District patrons.
Another important issue facing our District is that the position of Curriculum Director remains unfilled. Curriculum Director is a rather unfortunate title for what is designated to be the top education expert within the District. As was explained to me by Superintendent Dorathy, the Curriculum Director is responsible for ensuring that all learning activities within our classrooms are performed using the best possible methods and materials. I like to think of this position as the Chief Education Officer for the District. Yet each year the Board asks the Superintendent to perform this role in addition to his administrative duties. When I asked Mr. Dorathy outright if he could be effective in both roles at the same time he admitted that neither role received the proper amount of attention that should be afforded it. I am quite troubled that if our foremost responsibility as a District is to provide a top-quality education to our children that we are willing to attempt it without a full-time education expert dedicated to the task.
Finally, I have talked to several parents who have chosen to send their children to other districts because USD 348 does not provide the requisite courses or level of academics that allows them to compete for top college admissions and scholarships. Several Board members have openly stated that we simply cannot be all things to all people, so therefore it is inevitable that we will lose a percentage of our top students. I simply cannot and will not accept this assertion. The District should challenge itself to add at least one advanced curriculum topic each school year for the express purpose of retaining top students within the District. With proper prioritization and hard work it is possible to achieve this difficult goal, but unfortunately it has been quite a bit easier to assume that the problem is unsolvable and not even try.
Do you think public schools are adequately funded? Why or why not? Over the last few years I have heard politicians at the State level repeatedly say that we simply can’t afford this, or we simply can’t afford that. It is a very disingenuous statement because in actuality our system of representative government ensures that we choose to afford this thing, or perhaps we choose not to afford that thing. Our elected State representative can choose to raise revenues by increasing taxes so that adequate funding exists for top priorities if they so desire.
They will exclaim that under no circumstances can taxes be raised. Such statements may make it easier for these politicians to get elected or stay elected, but it is well within their purview to make adequate funding available if the political will is there and the issue is important enough to them.
The new crop of officials that Kansas voters sent to Topeka have clearly established their priorities, and those priorities show that public school education is much less important to them. These officials have a commanding majority in both the Kansas House and Senate, plus a Governor who shows all the signs of agreeing with them; therefore, their priorities will prevail.
State funding of public education will diminish significantly for many years to come. As a District we don’t have a choice in this matter outside of registering our approval or disappointment of their chosen priorities come next election day.
What areas of the budget would you target for spending cuts if necessary?
It is a distinct possibility that the newly-comprised Board will be called to adjust the District’s operating budget during the upcoming school year, as further reductions in State funding materialize. Although the call for adjustments will come quickly, my very first priority if elected will be to fully understand the budget and ensure that actual expenditures are reflected properly against budgeted items. The information readily available to members of the public does not allow me to be absolutely certain that the published budget reflects how revenues are actually spent. When I am confident about the accuracy of expenditures then I will have a better feel for how the budget can be adjusted.
One area of the District’s budget that frustrates many constituents is the amount spent on technology. Based on Board actions over the last several years it is practically heresy to suggest reductions in technology spending. I am a technology professional for a living, but even I am convinced that we place way too much faith and importance in the role of technology in our classrooms. To be sure, I was one of the last classes of students to attend school without computers gracing every classroom and library work surface. Yet I have never felt that growing up without computers in school (or even at home for that matter) has put me at any disadvantage compared to others (either young or old) in my industry. I am very willing to thoroughly scrutinize the technology budget and reduce it as necessary to fund other priorities.
Are the district's teachers being compensated fairly? Why or why not? USD 348 teachers were in the 87th percentile among all Kansas school districts for salary and benefits during the 2009-2010 school year. Although there is considerable disagreement among policymakers over whether higher teacher salaries directly contribute to higher student test scores, it is well understood that the best teachers, whose experience and reputation allow them to command a higher salary, will very often travel to neighboring Districts to receive better pay. When more prosperous times return (and I assure you they will return) we must ensure that our teacher salaries are very competitive against area districts to ensure our best teachers remain with us.
Under what circumstances would you favor increasing property taxes?
The taxpayers of USD 348 have contributed mightily to USD 348 over the last several years. Fully 48 percent of our property tax goes to either the operating budget or bond issues for the schools. Yet less than 30% of property tax payers actually have children in these schools. To be absolutely definitive, I cannot foresee a time in the next many years where I could support an increase in property taxes for USD 348. However, I think it is equally important that we make our elected State representatives manifestly aware that their approach to reducing State funding for public education with the intent that local property tax payers should make up the difference will not be tolerated.