School board forum answers: Joshua Mihesuah
Position #7 (At-large) candidate
Knowing the current budget position and potential future reductions, would you support or oppose reopening the Vinland and/or Marion Springs schools at this time, and why?
I am not in favor of reopening the schools at this time. Both are excellent schools and I absolutely understand that students have thrived in them; but, because of current and future cuts we will soon experience, we had no other option. Any other major cut would have hurt the entire district even more than closing two schools. For example, if we had not closed the schools, more teaching positions would have been cut, making for even larger class sizes than what will happen when the Marion Springs and Vinland students transfer. And, we would possibly have gone to a four-day school week.
The state senate is now considering another 5.6% cut next year. Almost every district in Kansas is closing schools. Unfortunately, we are one of the districts that does not have the tax base to make up the deficit.
If elected, what will be your top three objectives, and why?
a. Budget and budget plan: short-term, mid-term and long-term. Where can we downsize, look at an energy savings plan, save water, drilling a well, reuse reclaimed water, etc.? Money is the biggest unknown and it will affect our district more than anything else. Some how we have to build up our carryover funds in case some unknown emergency arises. We have to be competitive in paying our teachers to keep the best and brightest. We are asking our teachers, staff and administrators to do more duties everyday and if we don’t start rewarding them we could lose some. The morale is not the best it could be right now and we must address this issue.
b. 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.
c. American society and indeed, the whole world around us are moving very quickly thereby forcing us to adapt and to make educational decisions. We must be clear in our goals and decisions and to continue to move towards maintaining an excellent district. We must continue to strive for excellence in every aspect of our visions, starting at the administrative level, through teachers, staff, student achievement, and activities.
In a time with so many negatives within our school district, (job losses, budget cuts, closing of schools, etc.), how can you promote a more positive climate as a board member?
By focusing on the great things that students do. We consistently see outstanding Baldwin City scholar-athletes in the paper who have won academic awards: Real World Design, Academic All Stars, Culinary Management as examples. They’re active in a variety of activities and clubs such as band, choir, art, journalism, Patriot’s Club, student council. Our students have earned distinction on the school and national honor rolls (and many have 4.0 GPAs and have been number one in their graduating class); many are academic athletes who also have won league, regional and state titles in their sports.
I think we should recognize our teachers more and to try and reward them. Teachers work hard, are imaginative and win classroom grants. Parents also greatly contribute to the schools’ successes. We must understand that that this seems like a time of negatives, but there really are incredible opportunities for all the students. However, no matter what happens, how much truth is told, there are some people who only will see the glass as half empty.
Sports and extracurricular activities are viewed by many as part of a well rounded educational experience. With the strain on the districts budget, at what point would you consider cutting the funding on these activities?
Participation in sports forms life-long habits and teaches life lessons: eating right enhances performance and attitudes, that nothing comes without hard work, and sports teaches students to work with each other for the success of their teams. Physical activity alleviates stress, helps participants to sleep better, and combats obesity. How many young people today are unhealthy because of video games and television? Activity as a habit needs to be ingrained in kids at the kindergarten level. Inactivity and all the problems associated with it are rampant in our society.
Extracurricular activities are such a small part of our budget. 81% is taken up by personnel and benefits.
The idea that students’ academic ability will fail because they are distracted by sports is simply not true. There are too many examples of highly successful people in our community who excelled at both. Our coaches have guided thousands of Baldwin City’s young people to become better citizens and a good many of these kids would not have gotten that mentoring anyplace else.
We consistently see outstanding Baldwin City scholar-athletes in the paper who have won academic awards: Real World Design, Academic All Stars, Culinary Management as examples. They’re active in a variety of activities and clubs such as band, choir, art, journalism, Patriot’s Club, student council. Students who participate in Baldwin athletics not only excel by earning distinction on the school and national honor rolls (and many have 4.0 GPAs and have been number one in their graduating class) these academic athletes also have won league, regional and state titles in their sports.
In your opinion, what is the goal of public education (K-12)?
The goal is to educate the masses to make for a better society for everyone. To give everyone an equal opportunity to receive knowledge so they can become productive members of their communities. Public education prepares young people for the workforce and for life in general. We live in a global society and our children must be made aware of the world around them and how to function in it. Those who are not educated are at a disadvantage and often become a burden to the rest of the populace.
Do you believe that the current board and administration is performing their duties at an acceptable level, why or why not?
The Board and administration can always improve. All boards can. It is very easy to criticize when you are on the outside looking in. I can assure you that the Board does the best it can. Decisions are not made because of personal biases and no one is trying to be deceptive. We are transparent. When a board has seven different opinions, no one person is going to get his or her way. A board is only as good as the people who serve. School boards need members from diverse backgrounds who have experience in dealing with budgets, with knowledge of the complex ways each of the K-12 schools work and, they must know how to deal with people to ensure that goals are reached. There is no place for hidden agendas, that is, to want to become a member because there is one only issue or they have a personal vendetta.
The key is to have members who have the background to be able to understand the issues—whether they like the realities or not—and then not be afraid to make hard decisions that may hurt some feelings. We will soon be making some of the hardest decisions we have ever had to face. Just read the paper to see what Topeka has in mind. Everyday we read about new cuts and those decisions are made without consideration for the future our children. Legislatures do not appear to care about education, and it is not just in the state of Kansas. We need to wake up to what the consequences will be from their actions. And it is our fault for putting these people in office. Education is the best investment we can make for our state’s economy and for future generations.
What other issues, besides the budgetary concerns, do you feel need to be addressed? Please explain.
We must continue to look at character education. There are concerns about building maintenance. 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. We must find ways to reward our teachers. We also need to look at how we evaluate our teachers and administrators with the best possible tool that will give comprehensive feedback for improvements. The citizenry needs to speak out to their state senators and representatives on the students’ behalf.
Describe your personal and professional experiences that you feel make you the most qualified candidate for the USD #348 School Board?
I have more experience working with educational systems than any other candidate and I am running for the right reasons, not just because of one issue. One candidate says he is qualified because he is a taxpayer. Being a good board member is more than just paying taxes or having closely read the material. One has to have an educational philosophy to properly act on findings from that data.
Another candidate says he is qualified because his mother and wife are teachers. Well, my wife has taught junior high and high school biology and physics. After she earned two more graduate degrees in history she taught at the university level for over twenty years and has written 16 books. And, she lettered in two sports at a Division I university after participating in organized athletics since third grade. Her experiences don’t qualify me for this position, but they do provide another argument for supporting athletics.
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, such as Board President and Board member for six years of the Flagstaff Unified School District Governing Board of Directors, overseeing $52 million budget, 17 schools, administration, curriculum, personnel, transportation, and physical plant.
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 even though I know some people take those decisions personally, and I am very good at reminding colleagues of the board’s vision.
Assume that you have been elected to the school board and the district is faced with needing to make an additional cut to its budget. The school board is given the following 6 categories to make those cuts, list the categories in the order in which you would look to make those cuts (1 – the 1st category you would cut, 6 – the last category you would cut):
This is not the way I can answer questions about cuts. There needs to be adequate time to study all of these categories, to weigh options, and to take into consideration the changing budget.
What are your thoughts on the district adopting a “shop local” policy, in which the district would look locally for goods and services whenever possible? If adopted, what percent advantage would you give an in district merchant over an out of district merchant? %
I think this is a good idea, but this aspect does require more investigation to find out if it is legal.