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Lawrence School Board candidate Thom Hepford to chat with LJWorld.com readers

March 31, 2009

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

Moderator:

Hello and welcome to our online chat with school board candidate Thom Hepford. I'm K-12 education reporter Lindsey Slater and I'll be the moderator today. We're going to get started a little early today because we have quite a few chats this afternoon. Thanks for joining us, Thom.

Thom Hepford:

Thanks for having me here. I look forward to answering a few.

Moderator:

We have a few reader submitted questions. Keep in mind questions can be submitted anytime during the chat.

Pogo:

Teachers work very closely with our children but they are not required to submit to a pre-employment drug screen; nor are they subject to random drug testing once hired.

Will you advocate for drug testing for all teachers, as well as staff, who have contact with our children....and this testing needs to include the school and district administrators in my view as well. What about yours? If you don't believe they should have to be subjected to drug testing, why not? Thank you.

Thom Hepford:

I doubt the teachers union would be very supportive of random drug testing and I also think that random testing is a bit too intrusive. I do not have any problem with pre-employment drug testing. Many agencies and private employers require such testing for obtaining employment. I also think that if the teachers are required to have pre-employment tests, then anyone else employed by the district should undergo the same treatment. After employment, I would be only in favor of testing when probable cause occurs.

Raider:

I asked the same question to one of your fellow candidates;
It seems that more than 50% of our property taxes is going to the schools.
What will you do to keep expentiures down and lower the burden on property owners paying ridiculous amounts of school taxes? Were you for or against the mill levy increase in 2008, and why?

Thom Hepford:

I was against the mill levy increase (which puts me in the vast minority according to the results). I think any government entity should work within the confines of a straight budget process rather than an ever growing budget. In order to keep that thought process in place, I would suggest setting a ceiling for school district mill levies and require that the district find a way to operate within that level each and every year. If there are large expenditures outside the budget such as new schools then I would think a vote on a bond would be a good measuring stick for whether or not the tax payers support the expansion. In regard to lowering the current mill levy, I doubt with the state funding reduction combined with the lower property values that a reduction would be viable this year or next.

gdiepenb:

What is one area you believe the Lawrence school district needs to improve the most?

Thom Hepford:

I would think the achievement gap in students and the graduation rates among diverse groups of students should be high on the list. I honestly am pleased with the education my children have thus far received from our district, so I don't have any specific academic areas to suggest. My goal at this point would be to maintain and not let political or financial forces reduce any areas of our curriculum.

Moderator:

The budget is obviously a big issue this year and in coming school years. How would you handle cuts if they have to be made? What stays and what goes?

Thom Hepford:

The easy answer is nothing goes completely. If cuts prevent us from maintaining all of the services USD497 currently provides then I look at things in the following order: Admin costs, Capital costs, then non-academic services. To be more specific, I think keeping up with the current salary trends for administrators is a mistake. The message we are sending to educators is that admin is more important than teaching. If we needed to make a cut, I would want administrators to feel the burden rather than teachers. As far as capital goes, any expansion of facilities should be put on hold in a budget cut year. I would rather consolidate facilities than increase taxes or cut an academic area.
Fortunately, it doesn't appear that drastic cuts will be required but it also doesn't appear that an increase in the budget can happen either.

Moderator:

What are your feelings on the federal stimulus package in terms of public school funding?

Thom Hepford:

I think the first thing that needs to be understood is that stimulus money is not "go spend our free money". Stimulus funds almost always have specific conditions and strings attached. If we receive stimulus funding, it will have to be used according to the parameters stated in the funding grant. After meeting the parameters, we need to make sure it is equally applied to all schools. It would be great if we could use stimulus money to make up for budget shortfalls but that probably will not happen.

Moderator:

Anything else you want Lawrence voters to know about you?

Moderator:

Anything else you want Lawrence voters to know about you?

Thom Hepford:

My education and work experience will provide a more financial point of view than most of the current board and some of the other candidates. I think having more than one perspective on a policy board is very important. Lawrence parents, teachers, students, and taxpayers frequently have different priorities. In order to sensibly balance those priorities, we will need to balance costs and benefits. That is what I bring to the board. I would also like to encourage all voters to learn as much about the candidates as possible. My hope is that we actually have enough people participate in the election next week to make a clear statement about what direction the voters want USD497 to go. If anyone has any questions for me, I set up a temporary e-mail address hepford@sunflower.com. Thanks for having me here and thank you to those submitting questions.

Krista:

We often hear about a teacher shortage or losing teachers to better economic areas, but in this economy there are also teachers in fear of losing their jobs because of budget reasons - particularly "elective" teachers (as well as other supportive employees). What can you say to calm the fears of those employees>?

Thom Hepford:

I can say that academics is the last thing we should cut. In all the forums I participated in and all the information from the candidates I read, not 1 candidate suggested cutting teacher positions. In regard to maintaining the teachers we have and recruiting for any vacated positions, I can say that we need to emphasize that many of the communities offering more money have a different cost of living and a different economy than Lawrence. We need to understand that our public service employees should not and cannot (due to tax base limitations) make collectively more than the citizens of the the city can support. We also need to promote the non-financial benefits of living in Lawrence. Personally, I moved here from another city in Kansas that has a lower cost of living and a pretty even wage rate base. However, I would never want to move back.

Moderator:

Thanks for joining us today, Thom. Make sure to keep up on all of our chats with school board and city commission candidates right here at LJWorld.com.

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