Age: 55 Address: 1707 E. 21 Terrace Family: wife, Bonnie; adult son, Christopher, a graduate of Lawrence High Occupation: assistant program administrator for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitative Services
Bob Byers began working with children as soon as he graduated with a master’s degree from Kansas University in the late 1970s.
He’s worked in several capacities at the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, from investigation child protection cases to helping create a child welfare information system and just about everything in between. But there’s a difference between Byers as a social worker and Byers as a school board candidate.
“In looking to run for school board, it has nothing to do with SRS, other than I’ve got some good experience from there,” Byers said. “I’m representing myself as a community member in Lawrence and as a member of the equity council for the school board.”
Byers is now the assistant program administrator for child support enforcement in the Lawrence office for SRS. He has a specialty in community intervention and organizational systems.
“When you’re dealing with a social service type agency, such as the school, you need to not only be a good budget mind, you need to be a good systems mind,” Byers said.
Byers is a member of the district’s equity council and has worked with the NAACP on achievement gaps in the district.
“I’ve gotten the opportunity to deal with a lot of issues around, within the Lawrence school district and have enjoyed that tremendously,” he said.
But now the budget is on his mind.
‘Good budget person’
Byers says in times of economic crisis, people with budget skills step up to the plate.
“I consider myself a good budget person with a good budget mind,” he said. “However, I also consider myself a social service person with an understanding of systems and how those systems interrelate.”
Byers knows cuts are going to be made, he just wants to make sure they are the right ones that don’t affect the major function of a school district: educating children.
“There (are) things that affect that core educational quality that you don’t want to touch,” he said. “There are other things that will still have an affect, but you can (cut them).”
He knows that staff is what most social service agencies spend the majority of their budget on.
“Yes, we are going to need to cut staff,” Byers said. “Which staff? I don’t know. There are certain core services that you just can’t touch.”
But Byers also thinks there maybe ways around simple cuts.
“We have to make strategic cuts,” he said. “We have to realize that it’s not always that you cut something. It may be that you just learn to do it in a different way.”
Byers says he does not have a first cut, but administration would be at the top of the list. But, it’s not enough of a cut to make a big difference.
“That’s about one percent of the budget,” he said. “Cutting one percent of administration doesn’t mean much.”
He wants to ensure the quality of education and set other priorities to protect, like special education first.
“Then you can decide what it is that in protecting the basics, what it is you can remove from around that that won’t weaken that,” Byers said.
Byers is also concerned with the achievement gap in minority males between the ages of 13 and 18.
“Is it present here in Lawrence? Oh, yeah,” he said. “All you got to do is look at the test scores. That has to be dealt with. We can’t continue the way we’re going.”
Another topic of discussion Byers wants to hit on is teacher salaries. Even with the tight budget, he believes that a good salary keeps the best teachers in the district and can lure new teachers to Lawrence. He also wants to make sure hiring mirrors the student population.
“I understand the horrible budget time,” Byers said. “But the reality is what we’re going to be saying to our teachers is the same thing that most of us have been told in our own day to day lives at work, is you’re going to have to do more with less.”
The bottom line for Byers in choosing to run for school board is his investment in the future of children’s lives.
“I honestly care about the community. I care about the school system,” Byers said. “I’m not new to this community at all and I’ve been in child welfare in this community for years. It’s my career. It’s what I like to do.”