Feelings have been running high in the De Soto School District of late.
More than 350 people turned out at a recent school board meeting to air their concerns over the direction that the district has taken and over the events leading up to the resignation of two administrators, who will assume jobs in other districts this summer.
Some voiced fears that the district has lost its luster as a premier school system in the area, and others worried that personality conflicts have led to mistrust among the school board, administration and teachers. They were concerned the district would have trouble hiring and retaining good teachers.
All those issues, plus thoughts over whether De Soto High School should be expanded and how to address growth in other schools, have come to play in the school board election April 7.
The board has seven members, one of whom is elected at large. Two of the board seats are contested this spring.
For Position 2, Jeff King challenges incumbent Mitch Powers. For Position 7, which is the at-large spot, Dustin Keith and Kevin Makalous are vying for the spot being vacated by incumbent Tim Blankenship, who is not running.
King said keeping communications open among board members, the public and administrators will be a top priority. The personality conflicts discussed at the recent meeting should not have been allowed to simmer to the point that they boil over months later, he said.
King said he would be cautious about how the district expands. Population data for the next five or 10 years should be considered before the district jumps into boundary decisions and expansions, he said. He said creating sixth-grade or ninth-grade centers to address future crowding issues in schools is something the district might consider.
Technology needs to be updated, especially since assessment tests are given on computers, he said, adding that a proposal to lease equipment makes sense. He also pledged to protect the English-as-a-second-language program from budget cuts.
Powers cited his experience on the board addressing problems in what he said was a reasonable and rational way. He said returning the lost trust between the school board and district employees is a top priority. He said if re-elected he would make sure the board enforces existing policy or creates new policy to manage behavior and expectations.
Hiring a new superintendent was also near the top of Powers’ list. Superintendent Doug Sumner was one of the administrators who will leave this summer. Powers said he would make sure the next superintendent has a positive working environment that will “create a renewed sense of passion and joy” for teachers and students.
Dealing with state budget decisions is another top priority, Powers said. He said the fact that he has a wife and son who are teachers gives him a good understanding of the effect of board decisions.
In the Position 7 election, Keith said finding a new superintendent would be one of the most important things the board does in the coming months. He said the current board members are already making strides to overcome personality conflicts that aroused some community anger, but he would be a good addition because of his calming personality.
“First and foremost is just listening,” he said. “This is for the children at the end of the day.”
Keith was reluctant to voice an opinion on high school expansion or boundaries without more information. He said that technology will be an issue the district must deal with and that leasing equipment looks like a good choice.
Makalous said the district has lost its way because of the school board’s inability to make tough decisions.
“We’re a ship where the rudder does not work and the sails are pulled in,” he said. “We have to learn to trust one another and not show up with agendas.”
Makalous said the board should trust the district’s experts and deal with the outdated technology issues.
On the high school expansion, he said there are crowding problems at Mill Valley High School that need to be addressed, as De Soto, which isn’t as full, gets its expansion. The district needs to face this issue and look at whether each of its schools is positioned to handle future population changes, Makalous said.
POSITION 2Jeff King
Education: Bachelor’s in civil engineering, University of Kansas; graduate studies, military staff college; studying for master’s in public administration, Central Michigan University
Occupation: Contract military analyst; retired U.S. Army
Elected experience: None
Education: Bachelor’s in business administration, Ottawa University; studied for master’s in business administration at University of Kansas
Occupation: Director of supply chain analytics
Elected experience: De Soto school board, 2011-present
POSITION 7Dustin Keith
Education: Bachelor’s in marketing and international business, Kansas State University
Occupation: Sales representative, Instant Shade
Elected experience: None
Education: Bachelor’s in business, Baker University; law degree, Drake University Law School; master’s in business administration, finance and accounting, Regis University
Occupation: Certified financial planner
Elected experience: None