When discussing the top priorities for USD 250 over the next five years, a reoccurring theme appeared in each of responses from the six candidates for the district’s board of education.

When discussing the top priorities for USD 250 over the next five years, a reoccurring theme appeared in each of responses from the six candidates for the district’s board of education.
“This roller-coaster of funding is going to continue,” said incumbent Dawn McNay. “We’re living year to year not knowing what our funding is going to be.”
Incumbent John Clark also said educational funding is a main priority.
“We are going to have to manage the district with less money,” he said.
Challenger Todd Biggs said “funding is the key issue.”
Each of the six candidates — McNay, Clark, Biggs, Joan Fields, Al Mendez and Howard W. Smith — said funding will be a main issue over the next three to five years, especially as the state government continues to debate how to adequately fund public education while also making up for major shortfalls in revenue.
The candidates met at Pittsburg City Hall on Wednesday night for a candidate forum sponsored by The Morning Sun, the Pittsburg Area Chamber of Commerce and the Pittsburg Area Young Professionals.
Along with expressing what they believe will be the top priorities for the district, the candidates were asked why they wish to serve on the board, what the district’s strengths are and were asked their view as to the role of a school board member.
Questions from the audience included inquiries about programs for high-achieving and gifted students, areas upon which the district can improve and the candidates were asked what special job skills and community contacts would help them while on the board.
Along with funding issues, the candidates also placed the district’s academic curriculum among the top priorities.
McNay said it’s important to “know what the students are learning” and “knowing what kids need to be successful.” Clark said educational programming and student technology advancements are vital to the future success of the students. Mendez also cited technology as a priority, while also stressing the importance of attracting and retaining “a good pool of teachers.”
Smith said “maintaining a comprehensive curriculum” should be a main priority, while adding that keeping quality teachers also is vital to the district’s future. Biggs said receiving and listening to “input from the people” and “taking care of all students” are priorities on his list. Fields said retaining quality educators and “maintaining and utilizing” district facilities are important aspects for the district to take seriously.
All of the candidates cited strong community support as a strength of the district. They also said the commitment of the district administration and staff, including support staff, is a key component of the district’s success.
Responses varied on the question of areas in need of improvement.
Biggs said the district staff, students and the local community need a stronger “sense of ownership” in the district. Fields said communication between the district and the community should be improved. McNay said the district needs to do a better job of providing teachers with “the tools to make a difference at the student level.”
Mendez said the district needs to be “more forward-thinking” and to look at what the “ideal student” should look like. Smith said an updated strategic plan is needed and should be implemented in a “transparent atmosphere.” Clark did not mention a specific area that needs improvement, but said that there are many issues the district is facing and said there are several areas that need improvement.
As to the role of a board member, the candidates agreed that the role is not to “micro-manage” the district. They each stressed the importance of developing and setting district policy, while also hiring quality staff and letting them “do their job,” as Biggs put it.
Fields, Clark, McNay and Mendez are all vying for the three four-year terms available on the board. Along with McNay’s and Mendez’s seats, the seat of board member Mike Joy also is up for grabs. Joy chose not to seek re-election.
Biggs and Smith are challenging for the lone two-year term on the board. That position represents the remainder of former board member Mark Cole's term. Cole resigned his seat in August because of residency conflicts. Clark eventually was appointed to fill Cole’s seat.
The winner of the two-year term will be up for re-election in 2011. Biggs and Smith both have expressed intent to run again in two years should they be elected on April 7.
Wednesday’s candidate forum was the third of its type this week. Candidates for Pittsburg City Commission will debate at 7 p.m. tonight at Pittsburg City Hall.