Five candidates are running for two seats on the Richmond school board. Two of them are currently serving on the board; Dr. Brad Richey and Connie Taylor. Jeffrey “Tof” McWilliams, Larry Maxwell and Rex Taylor are also running for the seats.
A candidate’s forum was held Tuesday, Mar. 24 at Sunrise Media Center for the public to learn about each candidate and to ask questions. Of the 31 individuals in attendance, eight were teachers, two were current board members (Gwen Weate – vice-pres., and Steve Rittmiller); the rest were parents and community members. All officers in the Parent-Teacher Organization were present.
Audience members commented that the superintendent was absent and there were no principals, assistant principals or district personnel in attendance. This would come up later in the questions posed by the audience.
The candidates gave a short biography about themselves, their reasons for running, their qualifications/strengths/expertise, how they’ve been involved in school-related activities, their views on the most important issue facing the board in the coming year, three goals they would like to see accomplished in the district within the next five years, what aspects of a school system determine student success, the major strengths and weaknesses of the district, how they would make themselves available to teachers and parents, how they would discuss concerns and resolve them, and the factors they felt would maintain and attract a quality teaching staff.
What is the biggest challenge in the immediate future, the next five to 10 years, and after for the district?
R. Taylor: Teachers need to be top. We need to get them financially stable. Teachers that are signed up now are already looking for new jobs. We have new teachers every year.
McWilliams: In the immediate future – salaries. We spend the money, time and effort to train (teachers) and then they leave – that’s lost. In the next five to 10: We need a shared vision. We need our parents, teachers and board together. Beyond that, we need continuity. When I was teaching here, at eight years I was getting up there in seniority.
Maxwell: The immediate challenge is the poor economy. We have to work around it, yet keep salaries up. In five to 10 years, the teachers need to look forward to improvement in their life. Beyond that, it’s the same. I don’t see much difference.
Dr. Richey: Basically, we have financial ways to manage and address the salary issue and have requested information for it for the past few years. There are four different funds available. Fund 2 is the one for teacher salaries. We need to get a finance committee that is educated on this, get information from auditors and financial people; not just administration. In five to 10 years, we need to be meeting AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) reports with NCLB (No Child Left Behind). We’re now trying to get amendments to NCLB. It’s pushing us to be better. The student achievement committee is working harder and we need some real push to meet those standards. Beyond 10 years, we need goals and priorities established.
C. Taylor: In the immediate future – salaries. There are avenues we could decrease in order to increase them. In five to 10 years we need to have our district as one of the premier districts in our area, and I believe we’re headed in the right direction. Our AYP is up. Beyond that, we’ll probably outgrow our facilities. Our one-high school town may be a two-high school town.
Do you support extra funding for gifted and talented education?
Dr. Richey: My oldest son, Morgan, was in the gifted program through eighth grade. I think we need to address the needs of those students more.
C. Taylor: As long as we address those with special needs.
R. Taylor: By law we have to do this. We’ll have to find the funding.
McWilliams: Yes. Students need to be challenged to the extent they can be, those above the curve too. They need to reach above just where we are. We need to be contacting our congressman to get more funding for these students.
Specifically, what is the district’s biggest strength and how do we maintain it?
Dr. Richey: Our biggest strength is our teaching staff. We need to provide them with a good, supportive work environment and develop a program for finances.
C. Taylor: We need to find a way for teachers to get more development and find money to fund this professional development.
R. Taylor: Teachers have to have support. We’ve allotted so much money for their improvement. I feel the funds are there. We don’t need so much travel to conferences. We need a good budget person.
McWilliams: Having taught in two separate school districts, Independence and Richmond, I’ve worked with a large number of homeless students there. Our student population here is a strength, and how they were raised. We need to utilize their abilities more and push them on. Several are languishing. Our programs need to push.
Maxwell: Our teaching faculty. Somehow we need to educate to get improvement – to get the high students and the low students up.
At this point, moderator Steve Hitchcock said, “The state education bill for professional development, HB 2, that had $20 million in it last year, has been cut to $15 million this year.” He went on to say that the governor proposed to cut it to $10 million, but now wants to cut it to zero.
How do you feel about the lack of attendance tonight by the board or administration?
C. Taylor: It doesn’t curtail what I want to do.
R. Taylor: Normally we have more administration. I would like to see them more involved.
McWilliams: It’s indicative of the fact that we’re not as uch of a team as we should be. Not enough’s been done to repair schisms that come up. We should have 200 people here and the administration. If we’re going to educate our students to the best of their ability, it’ll take everyone. We need to help the audience, board and administration to come together. It’s disappointing (their absence), but it’s part of the job to heal rifts.
Maxwell: People have their priorities. You don’t know you’ll change the world. If you make it interesting enough, people will come.
Dr. Richey: It’s disappointing to see the lack of support in administration. We do have a CSIP (Comprehensive School Improvement Plan) committee to rebuild the support. We want to mend those fences, but it’s not a priority for them.
We’ve seen lots of change in the last 20 years. In the next few years, what priorities, in terms of the
physical facilities do you see?
McWilliams: We can’t be resting on our laurels. Money comes from taxes. The board struggles with this. Maybe we can give some money back. Dr. Lindell Harrison paid down the bond funds we owed because there was such an uproar about taxes. The board needs to find a way to balance it so we can do it (repairs and maintenance). It’ll take education. We need to work with those that know and if they say we need money to do that, the board needs to educate the people about it.
Maxwell: Richmond should grow. A policy in the past since the high school was built said to add a room on by waiting till the bond is paid down. Passing a bond issue is hard. We must maintain the buildings. The fund shortage will get bigger.
Dr. Richey: The Building Facility Committeee has been meeting on a regular basis. I do know we’re in the process of communicating with roof companies and getting some repairs. We also have security issues. Safety has to be number one. We’re getting bids and estimates on this. My personal opinion on the playground here (at Sunrise), is having children playing on parking lots doesn’t make me happy. Playground improvement needs to continue. We have plans to pave the RMS lot, but it’s still not done due to funds. The government is planning to cut funds by 27 percent. Just like at home, you make cuts.
C. Taylor: The Media Centers. We’re moving toward technology. I’d like to see all of the media centers in our schools upgraded.
R. Taylor: I’m pretty mechanically minded. The facilities now are modern. We can upgrade and move things around. The newer style facilities shouldn’t have any reason except funds to keep those buildings in proper condition.
C. Taylor: I agree with Rex. I feel like we’re running to keep up. We put one fire out over here and then one over
Board members function as two parts: as part of a team and as a conduit. How would you handle complaints and what means do you have/bring to make academic student success?
Maxwell: We have a chain of command for complaints. It goes to the administration level before the board gets into it. We need to challenge our students more than just getting them a passing grade. Our brighter students need to be pushed more.
Dr. Richey: The chain of command is extremely important. I was in the military as well. In that process, people feel like they’re segregated. I am available. We refer them to the proper people. Micromanaging. I hate that word. There are times we’re on the line there. There are times we’re put in that position. There are times we’ve had those decisions pushed upon us because they weren’t handled at the administrative level. The board has one employee. We say, ‘Mr. Robins, look into this.’ As for academic success, my first priority is student achievement. On the team, we’re working on these initiatives. It starts with our committee.
C. Taylor: I am one of seven and because of that I trust my administration. If a problem comes to the board, I hope the administration has tried to solve it. It’s vital for parents, teachers and the board to be of one accord so no one is blind-sided by things our administration should’ve handled.
R. Taylor: We dealt with this in my early years. I talk to parents. I tell them about the chain of command and work with them. I bring the student, principal and parents in. Make them feel you’ll listen. I’m really a P. R. person, and we go from there. I don’t trust all administrators like Connie does. They have to do their job.
C. Taylor: Amen.
R. Taylor: In achievement, the whole deal is how much the parents are going to be involved and how much will be set aside for teachers to pursue education.
McWilliams: This is my place professionally, and there is a direct chain of command. We have the obligation to talk and find out what the complaint is and let them let some steam off. We coach them on how to approach the person they need to talk to. Either they’ve already approached administration and don’t feel heard, or they’re reluctant to approach them. I’m one of seven, but decisions are made with the seven. We have two hats to wear. For academic success, the adults have to work together. The best board will get all of the adults on the same page and help guide those students and give them the foundation to learn well. If adults act like children, the children will never learn.