Six candidates will square off for four open seats on the Pittsburg USD 250 Board of Education.

Six candidates will square off for four open seats on the Pittsburg USD 250 Board of Education.
Albert Mendez, John Clark, Joan Fields and Dawn McNay are candidates for the three open four-year terms. Todd Biggs and Howard Smith will compete for the district’s lone two-year term. Their answers to The Morning Sun’s candidate questionnaire is below.

Pittsburg USD 250 Board of Education
Name: Todd Biggs
Age: 42
Occupation: Landscaping/Irrigation Contractor
Family: I am married to my wife Lita and have four children: Patrick (12), Violet (10), Joey (9), and Mac (7).
Related Experience: Product of the Pittsburg School System, Lifelong community member, Degree in English Literature from Pittsburg State University, Businessman who returned to Pittsburg and started his own business; Active supporter of USD 250 administration, faculty, staff, academics, and athletics; Member of the Lakeside Site Council; I walk the halls of my children’s schools daily;  Decade of Coaching and teaching at the College level where I’ve had leadership positions and have seen the results of different school district’s efforts; Facility supervisor at the college level; Created and Implemented a successful academic enhancement program for college students; Recruited students at the college level; Fundraised for various organizations including Pittsburg State and USD 250; Developed and maintain relationships across our community and beyond for social, business, philanthropic, and civic development and education; Proud Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus; and Completed candidate training / Educated on Freedom Principles from the political institute American Majority.

Name: John Clark
Age: 41
Occupation: Controller and Director of Corporate Development for Midwest Minerals, Inc.
Family: Wife Kim and four children (Kelly-17, Matt-16, James-12 and Kayla-9)
Related experience: I was appointed to the Board of Education in October of 2008 to fill a vacant term. I am an active member of and have served on the Board of Directors for several business and civic organizations including the Pittsburg Noon Rotary Club, United Way of Crawford County, Pittsburg Family YMCA, Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce Foundation, USD 250 Foundation and the JL Hutchinson League.

Name: Joan Fields
Age: 42
Occupation: Community banker
Family: 2 boys, PCMS seventh grader and PHS freshman
Related experience: Involvement and leadership throughout the district, leadership positions in several community organizations, business experience and relationships, parent of USD 250 students

Name: Dawn McNay
Age: 50
Occupation: Director of Revenue Cycle – Mt. Carmel Regional Medical Center
Family: Husband — Chris, Sons — Alex 16 yrs., Kevin 14 yrs.
Related Experience – Served on USD 250 Board of Education since 1997. Active in community through service on The United Way of Crawford County, The Family Resource Center and Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas. Masters of Arts in Adult and Continuing Education.

Name: Albert Mendez
Age: 46
Occupation: Dentist
Family: Married. My wife and I have three children — PHS Graduate, PHS Junior, PCMS seventh grade.
Related Experience: Currently serving on USD 250 School Board (first term). I continue to be very involved with youth in Boy Scouts and at church.

Name: Howard Smith
Age: 55
Occupation: Educational leadership — Assistant to President, PSU
Family: Married, four children with one at PHS
Related experience: Taught elementary, middle, high school and college. Served on many K-12 curriculum committees; sponsored numerous activities; served as head and assistant coach; served as assistant principal, principal, director-elementary and middle schools and director-middle schools with responsibility for K-12 English, math, social science and physical education; served as K-12 fine arts coordinator, served as athletic director, served as superintendent of schools, served on Community College Board of Trustees, served university settings as department chair, director-University Outreach Center and assistant to the president. Facilitated community consensus to enhance USD 250 Facilities in 2000 and then to add kindergarten classrooms in 2008. Conducted superintendent searches for several districts including USD 250 in 2000 and 2009; conducted board training and planning sessions for various districts. Hold a B.S. in elementary education from PSU, a M.S. in curriculum and instruction from University of Kansas, a Ph.D. in Educational Administration from Kansas State University.

1) What are the biggest issues facing the school board?

Biggs — “I believe meeting the needs of the most needy, underprivileged students, while not overlooking the needs of the rest of our students, is the greatest challenge facing USD 250. Furthermore, the current financial crisis brings the immediate need to revisit the discussion of want vs. need, make wise use of the resources we currently possess, and further highlights the need for strong leadership that is willing to listen to the parents, educators, and students that fill our schools. I believe it’s our responsibility to take steps now to protect our financial resources for upcoming years. I also believe that we need to work on giving our teachers and the families they serve a greater sense of ownership in our schools. With budget concerns ever-present, it’s important to remember that none of our goals can be accomplished if we don’t take care of our hard-working staff members.”

Clark — “Certainly the biggest issue receiving all the attention at this time is the proposed cuts in state-level funding for education. Based on information I have received, we will be fortunate to “break even” in terms of specialty funding increases and potential funding decreases for the upcoming budget year given the addition of stimulus dollars. In reality, we’re looking at a short term fix to a potentially long-term problem. Administrators and faculty will be required to do more with less and yet continue to provide USD 250 students the best possible education available.”

Fields — “The issue of the budget and funding; where are the funds coming from, how much is coming, what are the restrictions on the funds and how to best utilize those funds will be challenging. The change in leadership with our new incoming superintendent, Destry Brown, will be an issue that creates opportunity to look at where we are as a district, were we want to be and ask how we best get there. Engaging parents and community in the shaping of the district with strong communication that reaches all stakeholders; with those stakeholders ranging from people that utilize the most up to date technology to communicate and people that rely on their children to read the letters sent home by the district. The great facilities that are a part of the district need to be maintained and utilized while the staff members inside those facilities receive the support they need.”

McNay — “The most important opportunity facing the USD 250 school board is to continue to develop an organization that effectively and efficiently uses its resources to improve student learning. The district has demonstrated consistent progress in student achievement over the past 7-8 years. We have the tools to positively affect learning at the student level. The challenge is balancing all of this with our available resources. The district needs to develop a process to really understand what is key for our students to learn, what is key for students to be prepared upon graduation, and what is key to maintain community support. The district is fortunate to attract and retain quality staff, however a significant percentage could retire in the next five years. We need to be looking ahead and planning, unfortunately funding is determined one year at a time. Our strategic plan for the next 3-5 years needs to focus on student learning.”

Mendez — “We are currently completing a school year in which we have filled several key positions with quality individuals who are serving as interims. This next school year will see many people moving back into positions held in prior years. We will also see the start of the tenure of Destry Brown as USD 250 Superintendent of Schools. It is very important that the Board provide continuity as we see these changes occur. We are also seeing concerns about the financing of Education by the State of Kansas. The Board will need to stay abreast of what is happening in Topeka relative to this and provide direction to Mr. Brown.”

Smith — “1) Transitioning a new superintendent — addressed in question 4; 2) Budget — addressed in question 2; 3) Maintain a comprehensive curriculum so our students have the basics to compete in pursuit of their life goals; 4) Maintain a positive productive board — With the addition of any new board member this becomes a priority since membership changes. Successful boards create an environment conducive to good decision making; 5) Finishing building projects — There are several people (several architects, construction manager, site superintendents, interim assistant superintendent, USD 250 District building director and USD 250 District maintenance director and a board oversight committee) monitoring the process but it is an important issue for the board to continue follow closely as well.

2) How do you propose school districts handle the potential future cuts in state aid due to the state’s budget deficit?

Biggs — “I propose that school districts handle potential cuts in state aid the same way that most families handle finances in tough times. In the Biggs household we talk a great deal about working harder, making the most out of what we already have, spend time planning ahead, and most of all sharpen our pencil on the difference between want and need. There are differences between a family’s finances and a school district’s of course, but the fundamentals are the same: Borrowing against the future is bad, waste not want not, and hard work solves most problems. I firmly believe the leadership from our new superintendent will set the tone for fiscal responsibility and an altogether altruistic philosophy district wide. With information from the district flowing freely I believe the public will support our efforts and help us meet the financial challenges head on while still improving our district.”

Clark — “It will be important for districts to evaluate the merits of all educational programs. Programs will need to be evaluated both in terms of expected educational outcomes and the costs associated with delivery of the programs. Recent examples of programs USD 250 has discussed canceling include driver’s education and summer school. Districts may have to look outside their respective boundaries and consider opportunities to pool administrative resources with other districts for services such as transportation and busing, repairs and maintenance and consolidated purchasing of bulk supplies. During these periods of economic challenge, districts will need to focus on the ‘basics’ of education. Those ‘basics’ are no longer limited to reading, writing and arithmetic but have evolved to include technology, early childhood development and demographic adjustments in order to meet the need of today’s student.”

Fields — “The potential future cuts should be thought of more as pending than potential. Communication with our legislators to ensure we are the squeaky wheel that is continually heard is important. Looking at ways to use collaborative efforts to reduce expenses is a potential cost saving measure. Comparing what the needs of our students are to what we are providing with current programs will allow us to use what funds we have efficiently. Finding innovative ways to bring funds into the district through grants and other sources to help work towards keeping programs that are not mandated but still important to student growth and achievement available. Being clear and understandable when communicating what is happening with the budget process and the decision being made The most important part will be keeping the students as not only the focus of those decisions but at the heart of them also.”

McNay — “Minimizing negatives as a result of funding cuts comes from a thorough understanding of our district’s operations. The school board needs to give Mr. Brown and Dr. Dexter the support to develop the district's priories and determine the resources needed to support these priorities. Although cuts are not welcomed, our district has several positives to reduce the adverse affect. We have experienced increased enrollment for several years including the current year, helping to off set reductions. District administration has developed a collaborative relationship with Pittsburg Education Association sharing values for student learning and achievement leading to creative solutions. The current funding environment can be a stimulus for further cooperation between local school districts. The current masonry program through Ft. Scott Community College is an example of capitalizing on the strengths of an individual districts to serve other district as well.”

Mendez — “The Board continues to stay updated on this situation with news from the Interim Superintendent and the Kansas Association of School Boards. As a current member of the Board, I am impressed with the work at the Central Office regarding plans for the next school year. The board has been kept updated on those plans. I feel confident all is being done to maintain the quality education we have come to expect from our community schools. The Board will need to continue to be vigilant concerning finances. No matter what the budget outcome, we will need to provide direction to our new superintendent. It will be imperative that the board continue to maintain a watchful eye on the finances of our district. It has been difficult to understand the district budget and I feel I have been diligent in this area. I will continue to be a good steward of the hard earned tax dollars entrusted to the district.”

Smith — “The board should seek input from staff, community and administration regarding priorities and ensure a review in a transparent atmosphere. Reductions, program cuts or reductions in personnel should be shared long before any actions are taken or considered for appropriate input. The new superintendent should have the opportunity to weigh in on the process since he will ultimately be the person dealing with outcomes of any decisions. Every attempt should be given to make sure the district has a firm handle on immediate impact and long term impact of any potential budget adjustments. The board’s responsibility is to critically study all issues. In our community the school district is a major employer and has many loyal employees so consideration must include the negotiated agreement as well as a fair system if addressing classified positions. These are difficult times so notice and proposed actions are extremely important.”

3) What is your view of the role of a board of education member?

Biggs said — “In regard to the board’s role, I believe the school board should provide oversight in day-to-day operations of the schools without micromanaging. If we as board members have done our jobs during the hiring process, then competent people can and should be allowed to use their skills and do their jobs. Additionally, I believe that the board’s role in curriculum development and the meeting of mandates should be one of strong leadership with consideration given to the strength of the Superintendent’s and Assistant Superintendent’s record of production in curriculum. Finally, I believe that a board member must be answerable to the people of the district, lead by example, serve the children of the district, and put district goals ahead of personal goals or those of an employer. Should we expect the people of Pittsburg to put the greater-good ahead of self if we’re not willing to do the same?”

Clark — “I believe the role of a school board member is to work with the superintendent to set priorities, establish policies and evaluate the outcomes of district operations. Priorities are set that can establish goals for the budget, determine educational programs and ensure adequate services are available to students. School board members are the governing body for the school district. Our Superintendent and administrative staff are responsible for managing the day-to-day operations of the district. The actions of school board members should provide the public with the confidence that the district is being run in a professional manner and is consistent with the educational needs of the students.”

Fields — “My view of the role of a board of education member is to support and promote the district while being an advocate for our children and community. To work together with my fellow board members professionally and constructively. Working with the administrators to set and review policy to ensure those policies meet the needs of our district as we grow and change. The board will help set goals for the district and provide staff with the support and tools needed to accomplish those goals. To prepare the district for the future with both long term goals and planning and short term goals and plans to achieve them. Monitoring student and district achievements and results to ensure our children are receiving the best possible education. Providing support to our educators and staff with both our words and our actions is an important role while serving the district.”

McNay — “The KS Constitution provides that each student receives a ‘suitable education.’ The role of the local school board is to marry that directive with the community in determining policies. An effective school board is a result of transparent communication between the Superintendent, the community and board members. Although we are elected individually, we must act collectively to govern. Members must be informed so that policy decisions are based on sound foundation. Board members need to work together to develop a system of accountability for personnel, academic and fiscal practices. The superintendent and staff's job is to determine how polices are operationalized. There will be times that as an individual board member, we may not agree with leadership decisions or a vote of the board. To remain effective, board members must be committed to support the majority decision and continue to participate in the work of the board.”

Mendez — “This is quite simple. A Board member is one of seven elected officials whose primary effort is to oversee student achievement and engage the community in that effort. We are to establish district policy that maintain an environment where dedicated faculty and support staff can enjoy their work in helping our children to learn the skills necessary to move on with their lives whether that be by continuing their education or entering the work force. Once these policies have been established, we hire a superintendent who will enforce them. We must never micromanage the superintendent. We have hired him with the expectation he will do his job — the day to day work of the district.”

Smith — “A key to serving as a board member is recognizing the body of the whole is the decision making body. As individuals we bring different perspectives to the board to set policy and oversee the operations of the district however as individuals we have no authority. Board members should fulfill commitments by attending and doing the necessary homework to understand recommendations and proposed actions. It is also extremely important to maintain objectivity by listening and considering varying viewpoints on issues before the board. Board members should ask questions and make sure the focus is a sound educational program. Also attention should be given to what students will be learning while giving attention to making sure personnel have the resources, materials and involvement in system decision making.”

4) Explain how you, as a board member, would work with the incoming superintendent, Destry Brown, to ensure the district operates efficiently and effectively.

Biggs said — “As a board member I would work well with incoming superintendent, Destry Brown. Destry is a hard-working, genuine person that truly cares about the people he serves. I have no doubt that information will flow freely from the district office under his leadership and that all board members as well as the people of Pittsburg will rally behind such a good leader and man. Destry is very approachable and has the type of character that makes people comfortable bringing questions and concerns to him without consideration for, or burden of, political ramifications. With this type of leadership in the Superintendent’s office we can all expect great things from our district. His honesty and kindness are not weaknesses and I know that he possesses the courage to make tough decisions and that what’s best for the children will be his final arbiter. The bottom-line is that we both listen well.”

Clark — “We are fortunate that our incoming Superintendent is familiar with this area, our district and our current administrative staff and I believe those factors will shorten his transition time. As a board member, I would work to make sure Superintendent Brown is given the appropriate time to assess, evaluate and educate himself on the details of our programs and operations. I would be available for any questions, suggestions, concerns and opportunities for improvement. Communication is a key component that will be critical to a successful transition. After being involved in the interview and selection process, I only see us becoming more efficient and effective after his arrival.”

Fields — “I am fortunate enough to have worked previously with Destry Brown while serving on the Westside S.I.T.E. council and was on the committee involved in the search process for new superintendent. I am confident that he will ensure the period of transition is handled smoothly and appropriately. I will work with my fellow board members to provide Destry with the support needed to lead the district forward in attaining the visions and goals set by the Board. Allowing our new superintendent the time necessary to fully acquaint himself with our district and its unique needs, traditions and culture will be important. Listening to Destry, or any individual, with an open mind as suggestions and recommendations are made to improve our district.  

McNay — “The superintendent is the educational leader for our district. Mr. Brown comes to our district with a proven record of student achievement, employee and parent satisfaction and effective community collaboration. The board of education needs to give Destry the time to understand our district, its operations and opportunities. In order to do this, board members will need to spend time, early on, to understand the superintendent role vs. the board role. This is key to effective operations. We are very fortunate that Mr. Brown is already becoming acquainted with our district and working with Dr. Dexter and Mr. Gibson. My commitment to his success is open communication and giving him the support to do his job.”

Mendez — “There must be good will and trust between the Board and the Superintendent. Trust is developed and strengthened as relationships are created and nurtured. There is a fine line between the relationship needed to foster trust, and being too close to evaluate performance. During the hiring process I enjoyed the privilege of checking Mr. Brown’s references. I was impressed with his credentials and his ability to get to know the individuals he works for and  with. I have every reason to believe he and I will develop the professional relation needed to foster trust. I strongly feel we will work well together to help the children of our district. I will allow him to do the work he has been hired to do without meddling in the day to day workings of the district.”

Smith — “First of all I’ll be there to listen. As a board we can provide an invaluable service by understanding where Mr. Brown wants help and advice. The board can and should be there to support and assist the new superintendent where he asks for help. That is best done through open, honest communication. Our goal should be to make him the most successful superintendent in USD 250 history. If he succeeds then the district succeeds in moving forward in a positive and productive direction. As board members we serve as a team with the superintendent and successful teams work together focused on the same goals and objectives.”

5) Why should you be elected to the board of education?

Biggs — “‘The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people’ — Woodrow Wilson. I want to be the voice of the people and when you talk, I’ll listen.  I understand the traditions and future of the district as well as have an awareness of the challenges facing USD 250. I have a connection with people from all walks of life in our community and won’t represent the wishes of just one group. I’m approachable and was taught at an early age to put my conscience above what any person thinks of me. I can also tell you that I come from a long line of fair, open-minded people who have always demonstrated the strength to object when they see that something is wrong, stand up for those who need defended, and discern what is worth fighting for. You can depend on leadership and straight answers from me.”

Clark — “I grew up in Pittsburg, attended Pittsburg schools and have experienced first hand the benefits of being educated in a supportive and pro-active environment. I have a genuine interest not only in my four children who attend those same schools, but also in the success of all district students. I have been actively involved in school booster associations and planning committees. I am an active member of and have served on the board of directors for several business and civic organizations including Pittsburg Noon Rotary, United Way, YMCA, Chamber Foundation, USD 250 Foundation, and the JL Hutchinson League. In addition to my experiences with these organizations, I believe my professional background in public and private accounting will be valuable to the district as we work to set priorities, establish policies, and evaluate outcomes of district operations in an effort to support effective and efficient learning environments for our students.”

Fields — “I moved to Pittsburg in 1999 from NH and will bring no preconceived ideas to the board of how the schools need to run. I believe in open communication and have shown my dedication to USD 250 and the Pittsburg Community. I have experience in the business community having worked full time in community banking for over 20 years. I have been involved with Parent Teacher Organizations, Booster Clubs, S.I.T.E. councils and District Committees since choosing to live in Pittsburg. I have been in leadership roles both professionally and in the civic community. I understand the issues facing the majority of households in Pittsburg and want to bring that perspective to the board along with my care and concern for all students and staff in the district. I want and appreciate your vote on April 7th because I believe my experience and perspective will be an asset to the board.”

McNay — “I have valued my time on USD 250's Board of Education and it has been a privilege to serve. As I examine the overall tenure of the board, and the challenges ahead, I feel that my experience will benefit. The next years will test our creativity and commitment. With a new superintendent and board members, the Board of Education will be stronger with members of varying degrees of experience. The district has accomplished an incredible amount of work in the past 12 years and I would like to be a part of the next years work. I feel we can continue to enhance our district as a student centered organization. My experience on the board, and in the community have afforded me a thorough understanding of the students and families we serve. I have proven record of stewardship and collaboration and would like to continue to serve the families in our district.”
Mendez — “Quite frankly, what you see is what you get. I have never had an agenda or an ax to grind. I have absolutely no ties to any other board or organization in southeast Kansas. This should be reassuring to the patrons of USD 250 that all decisions I have made were done purely with the education of our children in mind. When elected, this will continue to be my goal. Anyone who knows me, knows that I take the work I do very seriously; whether it is professionally, or on this Board. As with all aspects of my life, I will joke and kid, but I put thought and effort into all my decisions. I am serious about the work I do, but I do not take myself too seriously. I feel to do otherwise would jeopardize my ability to see the big picture and cloud my judgment.”

Smith — “USD 250 has many successful programs, great students and an outstanding staff. I bring an objective experienced understanding of school systems with a strong desire to make sure community students are receiving the best education they can. I believe all our children deserve the same opportunities as all other students in Kansas. You know a school district is doing a great job when the community says they have a great district. Over the years I have worked with USD 250 and I want to continue by serving as a committed, objective and responsible board member. The staff at USD 250 does an outstanding job educating the youth of our community and I want to work with them and our community for the best school system possible.”

Tuesday — Frontenac City Council
Wednesday — Girard City Council
Thursday — Arma City Council