Note: This is the last in a series of articles profiling candidates for Hays USD 489 school board. Candidates were emailed the same questions; their answers have been edited only for grammar, punctuation and style.
Sophia Rose Young has lived in Hays since 2013 and wants to give back to a community that she said has given much to her.
She was born in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., but grew up in Lenexa. She has a bachelor of arts in communication studies from Fort Hays State University and is employed as donor communications manager for Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas.
She has two children, Theodore, 3, and Valerie, 9 months. Their father, Brahaya Rivera, grew up in Hays, attending Lincoln Elementary, Hays Middle and Hays High schools.
Why do you want to serve on Hays USD 489 school board?
I want to give back to this community because it has given so much to me. With my energy, knowledge and tenacity, the USD 489 school board is where my service will be best utilized. I was one of those kids that woke up most days excited to go to school and saddened when the bell rang to go home. I think as adults, we don’t always realize or remember that the public school system is where a lot of kids feel safe, loved, listened to, and have structure when compared to their lives at home. Running for a spot on the school board feels natural and right. It feels like this is what I am supposed to be doing with my life right now.
Throughout the bond issue this year, the matter of trust in the school board has been brought up. Where do you feel the level of trust with the board might be weakest? As a member of the board, what could you do to ensure trust in the board with the public and/or district staff?
Trust has been an issue in the past because of decisions that were made by the board and administration, but that is not unique to USD 489. In any district, it often happens that a member is elected who has good intentions but unfortunately doesn’t completely understand his or her role. This results in meddling into parts of the district they don’t need to be, bringing up irrelevant matters to be decided upon, pretending to be education experts when they are not, or making promises they can’t keep. To ensure trust with constituents to USD 489, I plan to be transparent and ask questions when I do not understand something. It is my goal to be the best liaison between the community and the administration as possible by basing my decision-making off of facts, logic and the community’s vision. I will not hide behind meaningless board minutes.
Do you believe the scope of the proposed bond is adequate, or does it encompass too much? What would you change about it?
There is a lot in this bond, which can cause a lot of assumptions. I think the community should be clear that the school board did not develop the bond and make all the decisions for it — it was a group of experienced professionals and committed volunteers. I have been just like the rest of the community learning about it as articles are written and board meetings are held. I have asked questions and talked to many persons involved with the bond, and I went from skeptical to impressed. It is undeniable that USD 489 needs a bond to fix all its issues, but it is just a matter of what the bond will look like. I do not think it encompasses too much just because this is USD 489’s only chance to have a bond this large. A Kansas law was passed limiting the financial size of bonds, but because USD 489 has not had a bond in a very long time, the district receives a free pass to have a larger bond. If I could change anything about the bond, it would be how it’s funded. I would support a sales tax to help with the bond for a couple reasons. First, as Kansas taxpayers, we help other districts pay off their bonds; however, USD 489 doesn’t get that type of assistance due the wealth in the area. So asking visitors to the area to help pay for our bond through a sales tax isn’t unfair and could alleviate some of the burden of a higher mill levy. Second, there are many families in the district using the schools but don’t pay mill levy because they rent or do not own much property. They could contribute through a sales tax.
If the bond issue fails, what steps should be next for USD 489 to address issues of infrastructure and class size?
If the bond fails, the Vision Team behind the bond would come back with another proposed bond retailored to those who did vote no. The district does have the Capital Outlay Fund that helps pay for capital projects, so that should continue as planned. If a bond keeps on failing year after year, that Capital Outlay Fund would have to be re-evaluated to make sure the greatest needs are being addressed.
If the bond passes, where do you think the new elementary school should be located? Why?
I am still open to where it should go. I have heard very compelling reasons to why it should and shouldn’t go on the district's property next to the high school. I would want to get more of a grasp on what areas of Hays have the biggest potential for future residential expansions. I think a strategically placed elementary would have a positive effect on economic growth, and I want to make sure the right decision is made. The one area I do not want an elementary school is by I-70 for multiple safety reasons.
Other than issues addressed by the bond, what would be your priorities if elected to the school board?
A priority of mine would be fiscal stewardship. I do need to rely on the administration and listen to the community on what issues need addressed, but it would be my goal — on behalf of the community — that tax dollars are being spent the way we want and help to make sure decisions are made in the interest of student learning and community growth. Teacher salary is something a school bond cannot help boost. I know what it feels like to be underpaid, so I know it can affect performance quality. Teachers need to be satisfied so that our children get a quality education. iPads won’t make our children smarter humans, but a fulfilled teacher will.