SMITHVILLE — Four candidates vie for three seats on the Smithville Board of Education. The three with the most votes will be installed on the board after the April election. The Courier-Tribune asked incumbents Russell Fries and Denney Fales as well as challengers Susan Whitacre and Scott Haggerty to answer biographical and district-specific questions.

Candidates were allowed 50 words to answer each question. Answers exceeding the limit were edited for fairness to all candidates with an ellipses (...).

In your opinion, what is the district’s biggest challenge, and how will you, if elected, work to rectify it?

Fales: “Public perception and trust continue to be called into question. Communications from SSD have increased and will continue to provide information to district patrons. Take the time to read it and ask questions of the administration and board members for answers. Social media isn’t always the best source of information.”

Fries: “The biggest challenge is continuing to keep teachers’ pay competitive. Missouri ranks 48th in the U.S. in starting teacher pay. The board will strive to continue improving the financial standing of our district to retain and attract the high quality teachers that led to our receiving national recognition in 2019.”

Haggerty: “Population growth. It is not going away, it is the biggest challenge facing the entire Smithville community today. Over the next three years, how we prepare for, channel and respond to growth will define what our community and schools become.”

Whitacre: “I believe the district’s biggest challenge is being able to balance the amount of money we receive from various funding sources versus the amount we need to spend on students as a district to provide quality education.”

What is the district doing well, and how, if elected, will you work to build on that success?

Fales: “The district is doing an outstanding job of educating children and preparing students for future challenges. Awards (SHS named No. 2 high school in the state of Missouri), test scores and student achievement as compared to neighboring and other metro districts rank near the top. Teacher retention is a priority.”

Fries: “Students are receiving an excellent education, evidenced by ‘U.S. News & World Report’s’ designating us the No. 2 high school in Missouri. This recognition reflects positively upon our entire K-12 program. I expect continued high performance from students and teachers at all grade levels, and will provide, where possible, the needed resources ...”

Haggerty: “SDD’s educational performance is recognized among the countries best, all while maintaining a lower than average costs per student. This does not happen without the talent and dedication of our teachers and supporting staff. We must continue to bring our community a balance of quality education and fiscal responsibility.”

Whitacre: “I believe the district is doing a good job of educating our students to be prepared for college or alternative education opportunities. If elected, I want to make sure that we continue to promote quality education programs while hiring and maintaining staff to make these programs successful.”

Would you be in favor of asking voters to approve additional tax funding for future district needs? Why or why not?

Fales: “The key to this question is ‘district needs.’ The current Master Building Plan has the next school construction being completed utilizing a no-tax bond issue but that would only include bricks and mortar and not the staffing, salaries and other operational expenses. So yes, a tax levy increase would be ...”

Fries: “I am in favor of a no-tax increase bond issue that is needed to complete Eagle Heights school and provide other district improvements. I currently am not in favor of increasing the tax rate. Future additional taxes will depend on changes in both local commercial development and annual state ...”

Haggerty: “Not without serious scrutiny. I too am a taxpayer, preferring to keep my hard-earned dollar and frustrated with the often, seemingly frivolous governmental expenditures. However, Smithville’s growth may outpace what it projected in the last levy, forcing the community to choose between additional taxes and the services offered.”

Whitacre: “If funding is needed for future district needs, I would hope we could look at alternative sources such as bonds. I hope that as a school district we can make smart, strategic decisions to manage money and set a policy of financial responsibility for the future.”

Northwest Editor Sean Roberts can be reached at sean.roberts@mycouriertribune.com or 389-6606.​

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