Public meets school board candidates

Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Loretta George/Tribune photo Candidates for USD 234 Board of Education speak to the forum held at Fort Scott Community College Monday evening. From left: Vanessa Poyner, incumbent Jordan Witt, incumbent Michelle Hudiberg, and incumbent Janet Braun take turns speaking to the crowd. Although invited, no members of the USD 235 Board of Education appeared at the candidate forum.

Voters got to know candidates running for spots on local city and school boards during an election candidate's forum Monday night at the Danny and Willa Ellis Family Fine Arts Center on the Fort Scott Community College campus.

The forum, hosted by the Fort Scott Area Chamber of Commerce and moderated by local broadcaster Larry Gazaway, featured candidates for seats on panels such as the Fort Scott City Commission, FSCC Board of Trustees, USD 234 Board of Education, and Uniontown City Council.

No candidates for the USD 235 Board of Education in Uniontown were present at the forum.

Loretta George/Tribune photo Fort Scott Community College Board of Trustees candidate Robert Nelson addresses the forum on Monday night, while candidate Dana McKenney, center, and candidate Bernita Hill, right, look on. The event was held at the college's Ellis Fine Arts Center.

All races in this year's election are uncontested with the exception of the Fort Scott City Commission race, in which the top two voter-getters will receive four-year terms and the third place finisher will be awarded a two-year term.

Candidates for the USD 234 Board of Education who were present to discuss their backgrounds and answer questions on issues included incumbents Jordan Witt, Janet Braun, Michelle Hudiburg, as well as Vanessa Poyner, who is seeking a seat.

The four candidates explained why they were running for seats on the school board and answered a question about school funding now and in the future. Gazaway asked questions of all candidates present.

Braun, a retired educator, said she grew up in Fort Scott and attended Fort Scott schools. She was a special educator for more than 20 years in Fort Scott. She said when she retired, she saw an opening on the school board and decided to run.

"I was happy to be elected," she said. "I want to continue to contribute to the school district ... I realized I was able to impact the district and students in a positive manner."

Braun said in past years, the district has "put a lot of band-aids on buildings" and thanked voters for passing the $40.8 million school bond issue last November to finance district-wide improvements.

Hudiburg, a teacher, said she was born and raised in Fort Scott, attended Fort Scott schools and graduated from Fort Scott High School in 1991. She taught for one year at the high school. Hudiburg said she has children in the USD 234 school system.

"I have a strong belief we need professional educators on the school board," she said. "I think we should maintain those kinds of people on the board."

Hudiburg said in the past four years, "we've worked hard as a team and made some decisions that maybe weren't the best, but we've made some good decisions, too. I want to do what's best for all our kids moving forward."

Witt, a local financial advisor, has served on the school board for four years, two of those years as board president.

"Thanks for the opportunity to serve the community," he said. "The school district has to be vibrant to survive in a small community."

Witt discussed his work promoting the school bond issue in 2014 "to inform voters."

"In my second term, I want to make sure we do everything we told the public we'd do, either at or maybe below cost," he said. "I grew up here and had a great experience in the public education system. It's easy to give back to the school district."

Poyner, a criminal justice instructor at FSCC, said she was also born and raised in Fort Scott and attended Fort Scott schools. She also had children in the USD 234 school system.

"I'm very invested in this community," she said. "This is where I'll raise my children forever ... I love Fort Scott. I think it's our duty to be involved in creating the best environment for our children."

The USD 234 candidates were asked about their thoughts on recent funding cuts to schools and whether they think lost funding will be made up or if the district will have to use reserve funds.

"I would take careful consideration to avoid making cuts," Braun said, adding "contingency and carry-over will help," although the district may not have as much cash carry-over this year.

Witt said the block grant system in place for funding schools the next two years, which has been approved by the Kansas Legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback and scraps the current funding formula, locks certain funding in for the district "but for the next few years we'll be under budget."

"I'd like to see a fair formula that helps a school district like us," he said.

FSCC Board of Trustees

Candidates for the FSCC Board of Trustees, including incumbent Robert Nelson and two who are seeking seats, Dana McKenney and Bernita Hill, provided background on themselves and answered a question about the college's present and future. Candidates also touched on the college's image.

Hill, a past board member, said she retired from teaching at the college 20 years ago. She served on the FSCC board for 15 years.

"I'm looking forward to it," she said. "I think I still have some knowledge and experience that will benefit the college," she said.

McKenney said she and her family have lived in Fort Scott since 1985 and she currently works at a VA outreach clinic in Fort Scott. She previously taught in the nursing program at the college and was a nurse practitioner at Mercy Hospital.

"I'm concerned about the college's future," she said. "We cannot take the college's presence for granted. We need to treat it with respect for the future."

Hill said FSCC "used to be known as the best community college in eastern Kansas," and she wants to help the college regain that status.

"I would work to regain that trust," she said. "We have some very dedicated trustees who have worked hard to bring the college back together and restore the trust the community has in us."

Nelson said he lives in Fort Scott and has enjoyed his time of service on the board.

"When I started, this building did not exist," he said, referring to the fine arts center. "We need to have a vision of what the college can do for the community."

Nelson said FSCC, in existence since 1919, is the oldest two-year college in Kansas.

"So being that old, it's changed many lives," he said. "And some with no opportunity for higher education.' He said the college is "doing well," "meeting its responsibilities" and is "on the right track."

Nelson said he believes in the college's motto: "Students first, Community Always."

"That's why I'm running," he said.

Gazaway asked candidates "Are things going right at FSCC?" as there are three uncontested candidates for this election and nine candidates vied for seats on the board in the last election.

"Yes," Hill said. "We have a lot of work to do but we'll be back where we were before."

McKenney commended the work of the college's interim president, Dick Hedges, and said she is "looking forward to continuing progress."

Candidates for the FSCC board also gave their thoughts on free community college for two years, and whether they think it's a problem or a logical idea.

"I'm all for it but it's dependent on finances," Nelson said.

"It boils down to funding, and that's an issue right now,"McKenney said.

Hill said it would cost an estimated $6 billion per year for such a proposal.

"That's an issue," she said. "It's a very viable concept but there would be a lot of government bureaucracy and there would be a problem setting that up."

The forum also included updates from USD 234 Superintendent Bob Beckham on the school bond issue voters approved for his district in November 2014, USD 235 Superintendent Randy Rockhold spoke on the proposed $2.5 million bond issue for his district and Bourbon County Sheriff Bill Martin on a sales tax proposal to build a new jail facility. The USD 235 bond issue and the sales tax proposal for a new jail will be on the April 7 ballot.

The purpose of the forum is to introduce candidates to the public so constituents know more about those representing our cities and schools in Bourbon County, and to provide information on the bond issues and sales tax proposal, according to information from the chamber.

A story on candidates for local city boards who attended Monday's forum will appear in Wednesday's edition of the Tribune.