Chat about the Lawrence School Board race with candidate Michael Machell

March 20, 2007

This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.

Michael Machell, who is making his first attempt for public office is a human capital partner for Ingenix, Lenexa, which is affiliated with United Health Group. Machell and his wife, Denise, have a daughter, Emma, 12, a seventh-grader at West Junior High. Machell said he became interested in the race when he read J-W stories that few candidates have filed. "I had thought for a long time about getting involved in community activities," he said. "It was almost like a New Year's resolution to me. I thought with my background in business and education, that I could add some value and contribute to the community."


Hi! I'm Joel Mathis, managing editor for convergence. Michael Machell is here and ready to take questions.

Michael Machell:

Hello, I am pleased to have this opportunity to answer questions from the voters. Thanks for sponsoring it.


How would you differentiate what you stand for from the other candidates?

Michael Machell:

My campaign has emphasized a vision for the future. We need to have graduates prepared to enter the global economy with the ability to think critically, to work collaboratively, and who understand other cultures and points of view. They also have to have the the technical skills in math and science to compete with students from Europe, India and China. SOme students won't find their calling in a four-year college, but we need to train them to enter careers in construction, trades and technology that will help Lawrence grow. We can do a lot more with community colleges and technical schools to offer these opportunities.


If elected to the School Board, what would you propose to help the district better control costs?

Michael Machell:

There's a short-term and a long-term response to this question. In the short-term, I need to take an active role on the board to question the benefits of programs we have funded in the past. Is it doing what it was designed to do? The role of a board member is to be a good steward of the taxpayer's dollars.

But some of this issue deserves a long-term view. First, I think that the use of performance contracts to address the district's maintenance issues was a creative way to stretch out the costs over a number of years. The budget for this was about $2.5 million, but the total need was $10 million. The longer we delay these maintenance needs, however, the more costly it will become. Second, we need to review the early retirement benefit for new teachers. Can we afford to keep it especially when the cost is about $1 million per year? I'm not suggesting that we take it away the benefit from current staff, but we need to consider alternatives looking forward. Finally, the board needs to work closely with the commission to build the tax base. The school system is a critical part of attracting companies to the community, so we need to be a part of the discussion.


What are your views on school voucher programs? Do you think it would help or hurt public schools if all parents could choose where their children attend?

Michael Machell:

I think that school voucher programs siphon off critical resources required by the public schools. The school district is already challenged to meet the needs of all its students. I would oppose school voucher programs.


Mr. Machell, one of the big issues in this year's election for school board is school closures. How do you feel about school closures & what do you plan to do to make sure that closing schools is either not an option or an option of last resort in future budget decisions, if elected? Thank you.

Michael Machell:

I didn't enter this race to close schools. My first involvement with the school system was through the PTA at my neighborhood school, Sunset Hill, so I understand the emotional ties many parents have to their neighborhood schools. However, I cannot promise that I would never vote to close a school. As a board member, I have to consider how to best serve the needs of all students across the district. If we can build efficiencies by consolidating smaller schools into two or three section schools while still protecting class sizes and quality standards, I would support the decision to close a school. It all goes back to what our priorities are when we are considering the overall budget.


Please discuss your philosophy concerning parental input, and what you would do if you were aware of a parent concern or complaint.

Michael Machell:

Parents and educators need to be a part of this process. I would welcome parental input. I have worked hard during this campaign to educate myself on the issues, but I don't pretend to have all the answers. I find that talking to people with various points of view helps me to make a more informed decision overall. However, the board's role is to set policy and provide oversight. I don't want to interfere with the day to day management of the school district. For broader parental concerns - such as the effectiveness of a particular program or policy - I view my role as raising the concern, discussing it with the board members, and requesting administration to follow up on a parent's concern.


The current Board could very well determine the next Superintendent. What experience do you have in selecting someone for this important position?

Michael Machell:

Good question. The superintendent has not publicly stated this, but I have heard it mentioned during my discussions with voters. In my role as a Human Resources Manager, I've been very involved in the recruitment and development of executive talent. Given the size of the budget and staff of the Lawrence School District, we will require someone with business savvy as well as being an experienced and capable educator. My background gives me the experience to assess the vision and business acumen of potential candidates for this position. My opinion, however, will be one among several on the board.


How do you feel about initiating all-day Kindergarten in the district?


That will be our last question today.

Michael Machell:

I agree with offering All-Day Kindergarten because it will give teachers more time to cover the curriculum and studies indicate that it provides a solid foundation for success. Given the Governor's decision to use a "phased-in" approach over five years, however, it will be difficult to afford offering All-Day Kindergarten at all schools. The cost to the district to do this would be approximately $1 million. If we have to select which schools receive All-Day Kindergarten and which don't, I support an emphasis on schools supporting Title I populations where there is evidence that children will most benefit from the additional learning time. Otherwise, we will have to make some difficult choices about which programs we won't fund in favor of All-Day Kindergarten for all schools.


Mr. Machell has a couple of more thoughts he'd like to post in the time remaining.

Michael Machell:

I've noted a few questions to the other candidates regarding No Child Left Behind. I'd like to offer some thoughts as well.

As a parent (and a potential employer of students), I am concerned that in preparing students to pass standardized test, we de-emphasize the student's ability to be lifelong learners. As a business-person, however, I am aware of the value of establishing benchmarks for measuring progress. I think that the board has done an effective job of balancing these competing priorities.

I do have concerns, however, as the law comes up for review. I had the opportunity to share some of these thoughts with an aide to Senator Pat Roberts. First, the government hasn't come through with the funding to meet these mandates. Second, there is an inadequate accomodation for students with learning disabilities who take the test. Finally, I am concerned that poorly performing children may be unfairly blamed for the failure of a school to meet the standard. I would support some flexibility in the law in testing students with special needs and immigrants. After all, the goal is to educate ALL students.


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