Kansas City, Kansas, school board candidates run for office

Several candidates are running for the Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Education in the general election Tuesday.

Polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

For information on voting, see the website, http://www.wycovotes.org/, or voters may call the election office at 913-573-8500.

For past stories about the election, go to the Wyandotte Daily’s Election 17 pages, http://www.wyandottedaily.com/category/election-2017/.

Candidate forums are online at https://www.youtube.com/user/KCECable/.

Running for the Kansas City, Kansas Board of Education, regular terms, are front row, left to right, Maria Cecilia Ysaac, Maxine Drew, Incumbent Irene Caudillo, back row, left to right, Joseph Straws III, Stacy Yeager and Wanda Brownlee Paige. Forum moderator Murrel Bland was at the left. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)

Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools regular terms

Three of six Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools Board of Education regular term candidates will be elected at the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

The candidates include Incumbent Irene Caudillo, Maxine Drew, Wanda Brownlee Paige, Joseph A. Straws III, Stacy Yeager and Maria Cecilia Ysaac.

Caudillo, president and CEO of El Centro, and vice president of the Kansas City, Kansas, school board, went through the Head Start program, and was in a family of nine children who valued education. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri at Columbia and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Missouri at Kansas City. She has two children in the school district. She serves in many community groups, including the Community Housing of Wyandotte County board of directors and Healthy Communities Wyandotte Steering Committee.

Caudillo’s top campaign issue is academic achievement for all students. She favors closing the achievement gap, so every graduate is ready for college and careers.

While the candidates will talk about the challenges the district has, including funding, closing the achievement gap and hiring minority teachers, she said at the forum she wanted also to talk about the success the district has had. That includes a bond issue that 80 percent of the community supported for district buildings, and the Diploma Plus program to help prepare students for college and careers.

Maxine Drew taught 35 years in the Kansas City, Kansas, school district, including 33 years at West Middle School.

“I have come forth to be a voice, not only for the students, parents, teachers, and even for the district,” she said at the candidate forum Oct. 18. “We teach our kids to have a thirst for knowledge, but we have to help them also to the pathway that will lead to a favorable outcome.”

She said she favored transparency, including transparency for parents and staff. Only if they work collectively together can they bring about change, she said.

Maria Cecilia Ysaac, a parent and business owner, ran for school board two years ago and was first runner-up.

“I pledge that I will be a bridge for all parents in our school district, especially those that can’t communicate in English fluently or proficiently,” she said. She will help the parents who don’t speak a second language to engage immigrant families, she said. She favors school events to bring the children and families together.

While it is wonderful that the schools are teaching English and math, she asked if the students are being taught compassion, understanding, success and confidence.

Joseph Straws III said he would try to bridge the gap between the board, administration and the parents.

As a parent of five children, including two graduates of the Kansas City, Kansas, public school district and three others in the district, he said he is a proponent of education. He said he has done extensive volunteer work in the district for 20 years.

“We have got to understand what these students are going through on a daily basis now,” Straws said.

Education has changed, and the board needs to be connected to the ground level of what students are going through, he added.

Stacy Yeager said she is a business owner and mother of students in the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools. She is a graduate of Wyandotte High School, and holds a doctorate degree. She said she wants to put passion back into the legacy that Kansas City, Kansas district has.

“I am passionate about bringing us up to date with technology,” Yeager said.

The district does not have to wait until students are in the upper levels to bring them into contact with technology, and to learn about education and the school board. Students from kindergarten through 12th grade need to see the importance of what the board does, she added.

Wanda Brownlee Paige, who worked in the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools district for 30 years, said she would work for the voters.

“It takes commitment, somebody willing to get up in the trenches, to open any door, we have to make it work,” Paige said. “You’ve got to hold me accountable, I’m going to hold you accountable, I’m going to hold your students accountable.

“It takes accountability to make it work,” she said.

In answer to a question, Paige said the recent Kansas Supreme Court decision on the Gannon case, finding the state inadequately funded public schools, reminded her of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision. Paige, who has taught history, said the courts in the Brown case said the schools should be integrated with “deliberate” speed. In the Gannon case, the courts gave the Legislature until spring 2018 to come up with a new school finance plan.

“They need to have a special session, they need to deal with the issue,” Paige said. “That’s the problem in our society today, we don’t want to deal with the issue.”

“Our kids can’t afford to lose time, we have to be about the business of giving them the best possible education, effectively, and to use the tax dollars wisely,” Paige said. “It’s not fair for them to say, we’ll give them a little time and in time they’ll get it done. Time just keeps going on and not much is done, and we’re still in the same situation.”

Yeager said not many parents actually know about this delay.

“The reality is, action and accountability would have already resulted in contacting our legislators,” Yeager said. “I do not agree with them pushing it back. I am a strong advocate for writing letters and making phone calls. What needs to be done is additional awareness and call to action.

“The only way we will force their hand is by unity,” Yeager said.

Straws said he did not agree with them pushing back the date for compliance until next spring.

“We should not be getting a different education in Shawnee Mission, Blue Valley and Overland Park, than we do right here in Kansas City, Kansas,” he said. “They’re going to have to make sure we’re getting adequate funding here in KCK.”

Teachers and staff need to know they have job security, and don’t need to hear every year that they don’t know if they’re going to open their doors. “We need to get it fixed, and we need to get it fixed now,” he said.

Ysaac said the best way to make sure schools fail is to cut the budget.

“People are working against us,” she said. “Our legislators have an agenda. They want to get rid of public education. They want to keep certain people down and certain people elevated. We can’t be distracted as far as what’s going on with the budget.”

The residents need to elect people who care about the schools’ success. Schools will need to make do with what they have and not complain, she added. The schools also need to engage businesses in town, working with them, getting grants and providing job opportunities.

Drew said she agreed that the legislators needed to meet and make some changes. It is the students who will suffer because the schools do not have the finances, she said.

“The more we talk about it, the more we have to wait,” Drew said. “Talking about it doesn’t help, but putting some things into place, into action, will bring about a change.”

Caudillo said she is grateful that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the school district, which was one of the plaintiffs in the Gannon case.

“They made the right decision to understand that we are not adequately funded,” she said.

However, she took a practical approach to this issue. Caudillo said she believes that legislators would take from tomorrow until April to figure out the issue, if a special session was called. This might result in a lot of overtime pay for them.

“So are we going to pay legislators to do the work they should have done years ago?” she asked. “We want our legislators to do their job when they’re supposed to do the job, with what we’re paying them and elected them to do.”

The legislators will be considering how to find the revenues for the budget, as well as how it should be spent with a school finance plan. Caudillo said she believes legislators probably will take the whole session to figure it out, completing it in April.

Rep. Valdenia Winn, D-34th Dist., who was in the audience Oct. 18, and who also serves on the school board, said after the forum that only the governor could call a special session, and the Democratic leadership has already asked for one. Public pressure could work toward getting something done.

Rep. Winn said the court’s decision on Oct. 2 came after the school districts had already started their school years. The districts already had a budget in place then. The court’s decision was strongly worded in that it would not give more time than next spring for a legislative plan.

“I know the Legislature understands their seriousness,” Rep. Winn said. “There will be no more playing around. The message was clear.”

The Kansas News Service reported last week that an 11-member legislative committee has been created to meet for three days before the 2018 legislative session starts in January to work on school finance. The panel will work on the foundation for a long-term solution to school finance, according to legislative leaders, the KNS story reported.

Several other issues were discussed at the Oct. 18 candidate forum. To view a video of the Oct. 18 candidate forum at KCKCC, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfBJEMEzkbs.

Candidates for unexpired terms on the Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Education include, left to right, Harold Brown, Incumbent Janey Humphries, Korri Hall Thompson and Incumbent Rick Behrens. They were at the Oct. 18 candidate forum at KCKCC. (Staff photo by Mary Rupert)

Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools, unexpired terms

Four candidates, Rick Behrens, Harold Brown, Janey Humphries and Korri Hall Thompson, are running for two unexpired terms for the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Schools Board of Education.

Behrens, an incumbent, said at the Oct. 18 candidate forum that he was honored for the past two years to fill the position formerly occupied by the late George Breidenthal. Behrens said he received his education in Wyandotte County.

Behrens spent 35 years as pastor of Grandview Park Presbyterian Church, where he said he supported educational opportunities for youth surrounding the church.

“When the opportunity came to apply for the position to be appointed to the school board, I jumped at it, because I felt it was an opportunity for me to go even deeper into this gift of education that we are to be giving to all of the kids in our community,” he said.

Behrens said diversity is a gift and also a challenge, and there needs to be a way to make teachers more culturally competent. There is a need to find more minority teachers, he added. The board has been discussing this issue. The teaching fellows program is a way to increase the number of teachers who are culturally competent, he said. There is also a need to welcome newcomers in the community, including refugees, he said. The district is now working on a welcome center, he added.

Korri Hall Thompson said education is in her heart, and there are many educators in her family. A graduate of Schlagle High School, she graduated from Kansas State University. She taught at Schlagle and Coronado Middle School for 10 years, and is currently an employee of a federally funded program at the University of Kansas that works with school district students on college preparedness.

“I want to be a leader of this village we call District 500, because it takes a village to raise a child,” she said.

Thompson, who also ran in 2015, said training and education needs to take place to bridge the language barriers in the schools.

Career shadowing, college experiences, the Diploma Plus program are all programs the district can be doing to help students in their future planning, she said.

Better communication with parents is another goal, she said.

Janey Humphries, an incumbent, has lived in the district for 40 years, and has four children who graduated from district schools. Humphries helped raise funds to build the South Branch Library, and also promoted the campaign to pass the district’s bond issue. She has been very active in school organizations, in her neighborhood association, serves as the vice president of a credit union, and is on the Kansas City, Kansas, Public Library Foundation.

“A few years ago, Mrs. (Gloria) Willis came up to me at a board meeting and said, Janey, why don’t you run for the open position on the board?” she said.

While she didn’t win the election that time, Humphries applied for an open position after Willis died, and was appointed in April of this year.

“She is like a mentor to me still,” Humphries said. Willis used to ask, “Is this what is best for our children, do our children need this?” Humphries said she asks the same questions, remembering Willis’ dedication to the children.

“Our children of today will be the leaders of our city and country in the future. I believe all children deserve the opportunity to receive a quality education regardless of where they live or which school they attend,” Humphries stated. “They need the academic skills and experiences necessary to compete for the job of their choice in the world economy.”

She stated she supports the Diploma Plus program and the current direction the district is moving in to make sure students are prepared for the future.

Harold Brown, a Wyandotte County resident, attended school here, graduated from Wyandotte High School and received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Washburn University. He received a Master of Business Administration while working in the Los Angeles area.

Brown has four foster children, and said he interfaces with the elementary schools. He is an advocate for the children who are voiceless and need someone to navigate through difficult times, he said.

“We all understand the value in having a good public education,” he said. Education is the foundation from which all have benefited, he said.

Because most of his time has been spent in the private sector, he will look at things a little differently than others on the board, he said.

From a business perspective, the board needs to understand what they’re spending and how they’re using that money, Brown said.

A primary was not required in this contest.

The candidate forum Oct. 18 was sponsored by Business West, with other neighborhood business revitalization groups.

To see a video of a candidate forum with the Kansas City, Kansas, Board of Education unexpired term candidates, and to hear their opinions on some other issues, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2htUgbbLeQ.

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