Michael Gower said he believes there is at least one thing he could offer Hays USD 489 as superintendent: stability.
“I’m a westerner Kansas guy. That’s where I want to be and I’ve just always admired USD 489,” he said Wednesday afternoon, visiting with the media during a public meet and greet session.
The Phillips County native was the third of four candidates to interview for the top job in the district.
Gower is superintendent for two Phillips County districts — Phillipsburg USD 325 and Logan USD 326. He grew up on a farm near Agra, got his bachelor’s and master degrees from Fort Hays State University. He taught in elementary schools in both districts, served as Phillipsburg Elementary School principal for seven years, then served as both principal and USD 325 superintendent for seven years. He has been superintendent in the two districts, each with its own school board, for the last six years.
He said he’s actually pretty happy in the Phillips County districts and doesn’t intend to look for another job if he’s not selected by the Hays school board, but his daughters encouraged him to apply for the job.
Michaela Gower teaches fifth grade at Roosevelt Elementary and Mindy Gower teaches third grade at O’Loughlin Elementary.
“They spoke very highly of the district, of the teaching staff, administration. They had a great experience all the way through,” he said.
In his tours of district buildings Thursday, though, he did see where there are improvements are needed, such as the cafeteria space at Hays Middle School and the aging Lincoln Elementary.
But of the latest proposal for facility improvements presented to the school board at its last meeting — $29 million financed over 10 years, most of which would add to and renovate Roosevelt so Lincoln can be abandoned — he said it doesn’t go far enough, but he understands smaller projects might be what Hays voters want.
“I personally would think that’s a mistake. If you’re going to be 10 years, it’s going to be too long before you address all those needs. You’re going to get another group of kids all the way through before we get all those needs met, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do,” he said.
“What you’ve got to understand is, nothing’s going to get cheaper. So what might cost $29 million now, what it’s going to cost 20 years from now might be $52 million,” he said.
It’s the superintendent’s job to get the voters, parents, staff and board unified on a bond proposal, however, he said. While building that kind of trust takes time, he said a board that doesn’t always agree is not a bad thing.
Working with 14 people on two different boards might be beneficial in that area, he said.
“Board members are individuals. They’ve got individual personalities, thoughts and ideas. And the more you work with people, the more experience you have trying to bring people together. I’m not going to say it’s always been rosy, but for the most part, we typically were able to come to a consensus in both places,” he said.
“It’s OK to disagree. Maybe you’re thinking of something a different way than the way I’m thinking and that’s OK. But then we talk it out, we hash it out, we find a middle ground. At the end of the night when we’re ready to vote, vote on what’s best for kids, not necessarily if you had a preconceived notion. Hopefully, you were able to glean some information from the administration and make an educated and informed vote,” he said.