|School board candidates square off|
|October 08, 2014 Jerry Purvis|
Candidates for Gering School Board were at city hall Tuesday night to outline their views on the future of education.
Incumbents Brian Copsey and Mary Winn are seeking second terms on the board. Other candidates include Brady Shaul, AJ Moore, Kimberli Anderson and Robert Rahmig. Gering voters will elect three of the group to the school board during the Nov. 4 election.
Winn and Rahmig were unable to attend the candidate forum, but outlined their concerns in prepared statements.
Winn said she’s been committed to Gering schools since she started teaching there in 1980. After retirement, she ran for a seat on the school board in 2010. “Having good leadership at the helm is essential,” she wrote. “Although we hired a great superintendent, some serious issues face the district. Test scores remain below state averages, our cash reserves are uncomfortably low and our aging high school needs some significant upgrades.”
She added she’s familiar with the school system and its curriculum and as a former teacher, brings a different perspective to the board.
Rahmig wrote that as the father of four children, education is a high priority. “Ever-improving technology challenges us to adapt to an ever-changing world. I would like to be involved in that process.”
In his opening statement, Copsey said his first term was very educational as they selected a new superintendent and also completed a long-term strategic plan.
Anderson lives in Melbeta, which is part of the Gering school district. She is also a member of the village board. She said that as a native of Ogallala, she could bring a different perspective to the Gering board than those who graduated from Gering schools.
How to improve communication between the district and its patrons was one of the questions asked by a media panel. Moore said that in a digital age, the district should take full advantage of social media to keep parents up to date about the district.
Copsey agreed, saying that Bob Hastings, the district’s new superintendent is tech savvy and supports those efforts.
Anderson said the district could publish a one-page digital newsletter after each board meeting that could be emailed to parents. Also, notes from the individual schools could be sent via email, rather than relying on students to deliver them.
Shaul said social media is important, but it should be two-way communication that allows parents to give input on important issues.
On the future of the district’s building needs, Copsey said the district wants to evaluate everything because budgetary issues are always a concern. The district used a lot of its building fund to add four additional classrooms at Lincoln Elementary. Plus, the board must demonstrate their building need to the patrons and be fiscally responsible on any improvements.
Anderson said the biggest issue right now is the future of the high school building. Also, the board should re-evaluate how the buildings are being used and which grade levels are appropriate for each building. That might include moving the ninth graders to the high school.
Both Shaul and Moore said that while building needs are most pressing at the high school, the board needs to be wise with its spending.
When asked about the district’s biggest challenges, Anderson said it was continuing to meet state curriculum testing standards and how the schools can best structure the school day to give students the best opportunity to achieve those standards.
Shaul agreed, saying that everyone in the district, not just students, should be accountable to maintain high educational standards.
Moore said he sees the biggest challenge as the district’s budget. “More than 80 percent of the budget goes to personnel, so it’s difficult to cut budgets without cutting personnel,” he said. “We need to make the best use of personnel and control what we can to get the cash reserve back up to an acceptable level.”
Superintendent Hastings has been an advocate of effectively using technology in the schools. Board candidates said it’s a good goal, but technology needs to be used wisely at age-appropriate and classroom-appropriate levels. Both Shaul and Moore said students in the lower grades should learn to calculate their own math and perform their own spelling before relying on technology to do it for them.