The seven candidates for the Lawrence school board talked over potential budget cuts, finances and the future of programs at a public forum Monday night.
The questions ranged from what programs they would cut in the budget crisis to charter schools to sports and the arts.
Mark Bradford, a candidate and also Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical chief, said a board member’s job is to direct policy. He touted his 32 years of experience in municipal government, which he says is similar to how the school board works.
“This community has provided a lot of community goals and we need to make sure we look at funding in relation to those goals,” Bradford said. “I think that the important piece (is that) we can’t forget how to manage our money.”
Bob Byers, a social worker and chairman of the district’s Equity Council, says his experience in child welfare could be an asset as a school board member and noted the job is more than just about budget cuts.
“When you cut the counselors, you’re cutting the support for the student to learn,” Byers said. “You have to understand more than the budget. You have to understand children.”
The former chairman for the Douglas County Democrats, Tom Hartley, said making tough decisions is just part of the job. Plus, he says, simply becoming efficient is not going to prepare for the financial cuts.
“All of us are going to have to face decisions ... that we don’t like,” Hartley said. “Things are going to have to go. That’s tough to swallow.”
Accountant Thom Hepford stressed the importance of prioritizing between wants and needs in the money crunch the district is facing. He noted that budget cuts are the least popular thing people can be involved in.
“Everyone needs to keep in mind that core academic curriculum courses should not be cut,” Hepford said. “I would look at first all of the items that are nonacademic.”
Michael Pomes, a Kansas Department of Health and Environment geologist, said his perspective as a parent would help him as a school board member. For him, children come first in regard to education.
“Our mission is to educate,” Pomes said. “Budget cuts are going to be inevitable ... It’s going to be very difficult.”
The Salvation Army’s children’s ministry director, Michael Riley, said answers to the financial challenges could be found in the administration, faculty and staff.
“You can’t just look at that (the budget) and say, ‘This is where we’re going to be able to cut,’” Riley said. “We are facing some challenges but we could be better for it.”
Vanessa Sanburn, a Kansas University social work graduate student, said she is running because she is invested in the success of Lawrence public schools through her daughter, who is in kindergarten at Woodlawn School.
“I want to make sure that we made the best decisions possible that allow our children to succeed as much as they can,” Sanburn said. “I think it’s very important that we limit the amount of cuts that we make in any educational services that we offer.”
The next candidate forum is March 18. The school board members will begin at 6:30 p.m.