816 North

Candidates focus on dealing with growth

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Half of the candidates running for the Smithville School District will find themselves on the board after Election Day, and as three of the six candidates are incumbents, it’s possible that could mean no change for the district’s decision-making body.

The Smithville School District served 2,384 students in 2016 and has seven total board members. Candidates Russell Fries, Greg Chastain and Denney Fales are all currently on the board, and Fries is the current board president. Wade Kiefer, Earl Soetaert and Michael Till would all be new faces on the board.

Chastain said seeing through and monitoring the construction of the new elementary school was his top priority.

“The continuing growth of the district is an ongoing issue,” he said.

Chastain said a way of dealing with that growth would be to look for ways to draw businesses to the area so funding wouldn’t fall solely on the district’s property owners.

Fries echoed his fellow board member’s thoughts on the new school and talked about the importance of transparency as the district undergoes changes morphing “neighborhood schools from attendance centers.”

“The tasks include building and equipping a new school, reassigning and hiring new staff, and creating subdistrict boundaries,” he said. “We must do it in a transparent way that allows all stakeholders maximum input into the process.”

Soetaert said his top priorities are offering professional development opportunities, working on funding sources and financial reports, and working on getting administrators into classrooms on a more frequent basis.

He would “make sure administrators keep current on daily classroom situations, strengths and problems and be available to offer teachers and students the support they need,” he said about his first move as a board member.

Growth is at the forefront of current board member Fales’ agenda. He said the district needs to really focus on making sure people in the community understand how the district needs to deal with continued growth.

In November, the district passed a levy and bond issue, but it took multiple attempts on the ballot to get voter approval.

“We need to keep looking at the future with regards to growth and development because that’s not looking to slow down in Smithville,” Fales said. “We need to make sure we have plans as far as 10, 15 years out.”

Kiefer agreed it was important to keep district residents informed as changes continue to happen in the schools.

“The biggest challenge facing the district will be the redistricting of schools,” Kiefer said. “The best way to address this challenge is open communication with the public, collaboration with education professionals — and in a manner that is economically and logistically sound for the district.”

He also said his first step would be to examine teachers’ salaries and make sure they are competitive.

The winners will serve a three-year term.

Till did not respond to requests for comment.

Greg Chastain

Age: 53

Address: 9209 N.E. 198th St., Trimble

Occupation: Sheet metal worker, Sheet Metal Workers Local 2

Education: Bachelor’s degree in business and industrial technology from Northwest Missouri State University, 1985; bachelor’s degree in labor education from National Labor College, 2003

Public experience: Smithville board of education, 2008 to present

Website: N/A

Russell Fries

Age: 64

Address: 4223 N.E. 160th St, Smithville

Occupation: Retired but recently started consulting manufacturing operations and supply chain management. Formerly chief strategic officer of pet treat manufacturer.

Education: Bachelor’s degree in agriculture economics from University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 1976

Public experience: Smithville school board, 2008 to present; Cooperating School Districts of Greater Kansas City, 2014 to present

Website: N/A

Earl Soetaert

Age: 67

Address: 111 Raintree Lane, Smithville

Occupation: Retired middle school educator

Education: Bachelor’s degree in education industrial arts, Northwest Missouri State University, 1972; master’s degree in education — secondary school administration, NWMSU, 1974

Public experience: Board of Aldermen member and mayor of Smithville, mid- to late 1980s

Website: N/A

Denney L. Fales

Age: 51

Address: 621 Liberty Road, Smithville

Occupation: System operations trainer for KCP&L

Education: Smithville High School, 1983

Public experience: Smithville school board, 2014; Smithville park board, early 1990s

Website: N/A

Wade Hugh Kiefer

Age: 24

Address: 1108 Viola St., Smithville

Occupation: Electrician, Shaw Electric

Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Missouri-Columbia, 2015

Public experience: N/A

Website: N/A