The seven Lawrence school board candidates gathered at City Hall for their second of three open forums Wednesday night.
Questions from the Voter Education Coalition and the audience touched on many topics including the budget, student homelessness, collaborating with other local governmental entities and school boundaries.
Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Chief Mark Bradford is hoping to continue his community service with a seat on the school board. On the issue of property taxes being the best funding for public schools, he said that residential property tax isn’t enough.
“We cannot afford to support a school district in a fashion that we’re accustomed to strictly on residential income,” Bradford said. “It’s a blend, but it’s got to be heavy on commercial and industrial.”
Bob Byers, a child support enforcement administrator for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, discussed the budget crunch, noting that everything the district does can influence a child.
“There is no program that does not affect education of youth,” Byers said. “I think I have a lot of experience in understanding how to differentiate between budget and what’s best for people.”
Former Douglas County Democratic Party Chairman Tom Hartley is looking to Lawrence’s new superintendent, Rick Doll, for an outsider’s perspective on what the district is doing right and how it can improve.
“I would be very interested to hear Dr. Doll’s opinions and ideas on where he thinks we are right now and what his list of priorities would be going forward,” Hartley said. “We are truly in an all-hands-on-deck environment. I want to do my part.”
Accountant Thom Hepford wants to use his background with numbers to approach the budget, his target as the No. 1 issue facing the board.
“I think it’s best to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Hepford said. “My particular point of view, if you will, as a school board member would be one of financial responsibility first.”
When asked about homeless students, Michael Pomes, a geologist for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, thinks the district has a role in assisting them.
“I believe the school district should do what it can to help homeless kids and their families,” Pomes said. “Homelessness is a pretty powerful barrier to education.”
The Salvation Army’s children’s ministry director, Michael Riley, wants to represent parents on the school board.
“I want to support and be a voice for parents as opposed to any other particular group, even students,” Riley said. “We need to recognize and support their authority.”
Kansas University graduate student Vanessa Sanburn is optimistic when it comes to the budget and help from federal stimulus dollars, but wants to make sure that if cuts have to be made, they are the right ones.
“We must rank the programs based on their correlation to academic achievement and cut the programs that have a weaker correlation first,” Sanburn said.
The school board candidates will have their last open forum at 7 p.m. Wednesday at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.
The election is April 7.