KEARNEY — Candidates in the contested Kearney School Board race agreed to have their answers to questions submitted by voters to the Courier-Tribune video recorded. On the ballot, incumbent Dan Holloway is joined by Brian Hamm, Bree Switzer and Chris Shipley. The top three vote-getters will be elected.
Each candidate was provided the questions in advance, was asked the same questions in the same order and were each limited to 1 minute per answer for fairness to all.
The following are transcripts of answers. Answers are listed here in alphabetical order by candidate last name.
Do you think the school district does an adequate job keeping teacher pay competitive? If not, how would you recommend the district adjust its budget to provide compensation to educators?
Hamm: “I think that if we look at Kearney compared to the greater Kansas City area, we’re kind of in the middle when it comes to compensation on average. And if we look to the left to Excelsior Springs, they are significantly lower; and to the right at Smithville, they’re also lower. So, I think we’re seated pretty well on average, but I always want to say that we could do better. I think that our teachers deserve for us to do better. We have really good longevity here for our teachers and I think they deserve to be compensated for that. How you would adjust the budget? I don’t want to go into one specific area, but I think, in general, when you adjust budgets, you look for things that are once that you can get rid of and you transfer the funds from things that you want to, to things that you need. And I definitely think teacher compensation is a need. I think we would need to look within the district budget and find areas that we have once that we could take those funds away from to go to the teachers.”
Holloway: “We currently strive to stay competitive. We actually have a benefits and salary committee. (Jeff) Morrison heads up a lot of things and brings it to our attention, that sort of thing. We look at the numbers and I think we look at the same demographic in our area, so we try to keep it competitive. We’re always looking at that because we want to stay best for the teachers. Even though everybody loves Kearney, loves the environment, loves being here, we want to keep it competitive for our teachers that we love so much. Like I said, I’m here at the hospital, but they are our heroes. (Editor’s note: Holloway is employed by a regional hospital system and was at work at the time of his interview.)
Shipley: “I believe they did do a good job in years past, but we are coming to a level where the curve is starting to catch up with the budget so they’re going to have to start doing something more in the future to try and compensate on that.”
Switzer: “We need to reevaluate our teacher pay, absolutely. I think we’re losing some good teachers this year, and the past year, due to pay. However, it’s not that simple to just pull random stuff from the budget. The more I get into the school district budget, the more layers that there are. I think the board currently has done a good job with looking at the budget to try and adjust the teacher pay, but I do think going forward, that is one thing we need to start focusing on more. It’s for our teachers. We expect a lot out of them and we ask a lot out of them, and we need to pay them better and we need to get more competitive with the districts around us.”
Does the school district provide adequate facilities for students and staff? If not, what would you work to change if elected?
Hamm: “I assume by facilities we mean the schools and the classrooms. I think with the recent redrawing of, or the recommendation of redrawing district lines, I think that brings to light the fact that we are quickly becoming deficient in facilities, meaning that we need additional school space. We know Dogwood (Elementary) is under a lot of pressure, so I think that we definitely could quickly fall behind the bar on this if we don’t stay on top of it. I would really like us to heavily start addressing when the next school is going to go in, where it’s going to go in and how we make that happen because, I think, if we aren’t on our toes, we very well could end up in a situation where we have kids in classrooms that are out in the trailers, which has already been talked about out at Dogwood as a solution. And personally, I don’t like that solution. I think a district as big as Kearney and as good as Kearney should not have to have that happen if we make plans ahead.”
Holloway: “We are always evaluating space and different areas and stuff like it. And of course, with the bond money that passed, we’ve added new facilities and bettered the infrastructure we had in place. We get feedback — there’s Doug Sublett, who gives us information there in regards to what’s going on — but we’re always looking at that and feedback from parents and things. We’re always looking at improvements and we know — we’re lucky to have the growth we have — that we will eventually, may be, adding an elementary school down the road and go from there. Always looking and keeping things up and making it great for our kids and teachers.”
Shipley: “Yes, I do believe they do have adequate (facilities) for students and staff.”
Switzer: “I think that our facilities are top notch. I think we’ve done a great job over the years of maintaining them and I think we’ve done a really good job of updating and adding on. So, in that area, I think Kearney is excelling extremely well with the facility side of it.”
Do Kearney schools prepare students enough for in-demand jobs? If not, what should be changed?
Hamm: “I definitely think Kearney is making huge strides in this area. I think they are really trying to get kids, what they call, ‘real-world assets’ or real-world experiences before they graduate, not only to give them those skills, but also to help them look into the different careers that are out there and what they might be interested in. Right now, I know not every student is getting that. There is only a subset of students that are getting that experience, but I know Kearney has a really healthy goal of getting every high school student into those types of programs within the next few years. And I think if we attain that, that would be awesome. I think it’s something that’s really good. I think we’re doing a pretty good job on this front and recognizing the need for it, and I think we are putting forward the effort to get those kids into those opportunities.”
Holloway: “We have a lot of great programs. We have Northland CAPS, PLTW/Project Lead the Way, agriculture. When we built on the gym, all around there, we have some agriculture teaching, welding, different things added to for our hands-on type of jobs. We have HOSA, we have a LENS program, but we’re always looking at ways. And I think we’re going to have to incorporate even more local businesses for that real-world learning experience. So, those are some things I think we’ll move into as with all the innovation we have, but also, as we grow, look to have kids more successful in future careers and not just an occupation, but a career.”
Shipley: “I think there is improvement that can be made, but we’ve made great strides to improve it over the last few years and stuff.”
Switzer: “Kearney over the last couple of years, I’ve learned how they’ve implemented some really good programs, and I think they’re doing a great job of getting these students ready for lifetime skills and life-learning. So I think that we’re on the right path. Whether or not there’s a couple of tweaks you can make, I think every year they adjust very well to that and the people that are involved and these programs are doing a great job with giving these kids hands-on, real-life learning.”
Does the district instill a culture of diversity, equality and inclusion? If not, how will you work as a board member work to change it?
Hamm: “I think it’s a difficult topic here in Kearney. Unfortunately, as a community, we’re not very diverse, so I think that unfortunately trickles into the school district, and maybe not at their fault. I mean, we can only deal with the amount of diversity that we are given as a town in a district. But, I definitely think this is an area that we can improve on. We need to make everybody feel included. Everybody needs to feel important. Clearly bullying is an issue in Kearney on multiple levels, and I think, really, from my opinion, we need to start with the parents, honestly. I think we need to start right around Kindergarten Roundup. We need to be talking to parents about diversity and inclusion and bullying — what we consider bullying, what we consider inclusion and diversity, what we think those things are — and what they should be talking to their student about. Because if we don’t have the parents on board, they are the ones who really the control a lot of these topics from the home. I think we need to be targeting the parents early so that they can be talking to the kids about it at home.”
Holloway: “Again, where I’m at, where I work, I’m on the cultural diversity council, but I think this is a big thing nationwide as we evolve and change. It’s something that is ongoing, it’s not just school districts and everything that we look at. I think we have a lot of programs in place for culture and diversity, but those got to continue to grow and get better. We got to look at access to opportunities for kids to interact with each other and it’s got to start early on — stuff like that, besides what things that take place at home in culture and diversity.”
Shipley: “I think they’re putting their best efforts forward on this. It’s something that I’d have to look into a little bit more and stuff, but right now, I think they are doing their best efforts on that.”
Switzer: “I was asked to be part of a group, gosh, I think that was in the fall now. So with many students from within the district, I think Kearney has some learning to do and I think some changes are being made and they’re positive changes. I think the students do a great job of bringing this attention to administrators and teachers and telling us what they need and what they see. I think that a big part is that we, as adults, need to have our ears open to them on what they see that they need and what they say they need. Just because if we see it one way from outside looking in, the students aren’t seeing it that way, so I think there’s always learning and adapting to do with that. But, I think that Kearney’s striving to make changes, for sure.”
Has the district done enough to properly educate students virtually and provide services and meals to students during the COVID-19 pandemic? If not, how will you work to better prepare the district for the future?
Hamm: “Let’s go with the meals first. I think they’ve done an excellent job of this. I think they’ve used the bus system to deliver food to make it available. I’m really proud as a community, as a district, that we’ve done this to help the students that are in need. I think we’ve done a great job at that. The distance learning, I think it’s a little bit unfair because I don’t think ever when we talked about distance learning did we apply it to weeks and months of not being in school. I think it was designed, initially, for a day or two here and there for snow days. So no, I don’t think we were prepared for this. I think the teachers — and I have two kids who are at Kearney Elementary — have done a phenomenal job at relaying information to my kids and to me and communicating. They have done so well with the little time that they’ve had to get us to this point. But, I think this is definitely an eye-opener for us as a district that we need to have short-term distance learning plans and we probably need to have long-term distance learning plans. And I don’t think every student has probably gotten an equal experience through this and I’d like to see every student have the same accessibility to it.”
Holloway: “I like to jump on services and meals because I know a lot of people were distraught originally when we started providing meals because a lot of people were like, ‘Wow, that’s really awesome they’re doing that’ and then some people were like, ‘Hey, why are they doing that?,’ that sort of thing. But really, it’s part of the Federal CARES Act, and that help to buy lunches and compensate for that, it was not just through us, but nationwide. But that was something we wanted to do before we even knew (about CARES Act funds). We wanted to make sure we provided food for the kids and there’s a lot of different displaced kids, economic-wise, technology-wise. And, I’m part of the Kearney school education foundation program. Like I said, we do the sunrise breakfast, the Turkey Trot and tried different things to raise money, and so while we didn’t have things in place initially, we were able to come up and make a donation. I think we looked at hotspots, adding Zoom to areas like you and I are on today for kids to be able to connect, Chromebook repair, different things like that. And there was able to be a large sum of money available to help the district for those things, things that came up that weren’t maybe exactly in place. And I think we’re continually working on that as we change in this COVID time, which, obviously, has been pretty dramatic for all kids. That was obvious to me with a kid graduating and then two other board members with kids graduating this year. So I think we’re doing what we can and we’re looking to do things better. We’ve got a great team.”
Shipley: “I think that’s totally a group effort on everybody’s part. Being a parent and having to teach your kids and stuff, it’s been extremely difficult. I think they’ve done the best they can with the approach that everybody had to take toward that. Is there room for improvement? Absolutely. I think we can move forward with definitely looking into that in the future.”
Switzer: “Once again, I think Kearney, they do a really good job when something is put in front of them and they have to quickly adapt. I think the board and the district currently does a great job with adapting to what is right in front of them. The meal structure that was given to the community was, I thought, seamless, once again, outside looking in. I thought our teachers really stepped up and did a good job. I felt like the communication to parents — being a parent of elementary students — was good. I think that there could always be a little bit more communication, but I think that, really, as it was handed to us and brought on to the district itself, I thought they did a pretty good job with it.”