This is the first in a series of question-and-answer articles on the candidates for Hays USD 489 school board. The same questions were e-mailed to each candidate, and they were given several days to provide their answers. Adams' answers appear here in full, unedited. Four seats are open on the school board, each consisting of a four-year term. Other candidates are Cole Engel, Alex Herman, Lori Hertel, Jessica Ann Berg Moffitt, Luke Oborny, Craig Pallister, Allen Park and Tammy Wellbrock.
Paul Adams is running for re-election, having been first elected to the school board in 2015. He has lived in Hays for 23 years and is dean of the College of Education at Fort Hays State University, Anschutz Professor Education and a professor of physics. He received his bachelor’s degree at Heidelberg College, Tiffin, Ohio, his master’s degree at Washington State University, Pullman, Wash., and a doctorate at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind. He is married to Cheryl Shepherd-Adams, a science teacher at Hays High School. All four of their children are USD 489 graduates.
1. Why are you running for school board? What experience or qualities do you have that will benefit the board and district?
I believe supporting quality public education is one of the most important roles for local government. Without an educated workforce it is difficult to attract new employers to a community. I believe my background in education, trained as a teacher and currently working to develop the next generation of teachers, has helped me develop a sound and reasonable approach to making decisions to allocate resources for the district. I am seeking the position because I am a member of this community and believe being on the school board provides me the opportunity to help shape its future.
2. What do you see as the three biggest challenges USD 489 will have in the next five to 10 years?
A. Infrastructure: I truly believe that we need to address our infrastructure. We have great teachers and students. But, as I look at facilities like 12th St. Auditorium I am embarrassed that we consider this to be an acceptable facility.
B. Recruitment and Retention of Faculty and Staff: This is really a statewide issue. I do not believe there is any specific thing that makes our district unattractive. A few items that could help: identify or support affordable housing in the community; develop a “grow-your-own” program within the school; consider “signing bonuses” for critical or hard to fill positions; work closely with the university; coordinate earlier retirement declarations in order to be able to commit to earlier hires.
C. Financial Planning: The district does not generate its own funds; it must make use of effective planning on both short- and long-term scales to assure that all obligations and future plans can be addressed.
3. USD 489 and the Hays NEA have reached impasse on contract negotiations for two years in a row. What steps need to be taken — by both sides — to help smooth the talks and improve relations between the board and the teachers’ bargaining unit?
I believe our current negotiation process is ineffective. Collectively — both HNEA and the board — have become entrenched in their positions. This leads to impasse and unintended ill will. It is time for a restart by moving to interest-based bargaining. Interest-based bargaining will move the focus from what each side wants and feels they must have for a win to what are the common interests where both sides win. For example, currently both sides want to lower insurance rates. The change would put the emphasis on the joint negotiation team to find an acceptable plan that would then be presented to each party. It is a true team effort rather than each side holding to a position that must be met to win. The philosophy shifts to both sides should win. I believe this is essential as our current process has lost the focus on the mission of the school district — quality learning for every student.
4. What priorities should the district put on projects for facilities improvements and how should they be funded?
Simply put, we need to upgrade our facilities. Even if we go back to the drawing board for new ideas or to find the right formula, it is the responsibility of the board to address this in order to fulfill our mission of providing “a quality learning experience for every child in every classroom every day.” I have visited other districts and seen what can be done with the infrastructure. It is amazing how a remodel or new construction does change the classroom environment and can promote learning and the development of workforce skills. We have a great example of this through the use of capital outlay with our new facility to support our youngest learners. Yes we need a new elementary school. Personally I feel we also need a new high school. With these two items we could then eliminate buildings past their prime and remodel to move students out of boxes into classrooms that allow each student to maximize his/her potential. It should be funded with a combination of long-range planning through capital outlay and a bond issue.
5. The school board and administration have recently put an emphasis on building a contingency fund, adding $300,000 last year for a total at the end of fiscal 2019 for $1.2 million. Is this a good strategy, or should that money have gone for other use?
We do not have much in terms of contingency reserves should a problem occur or if the state has a shortfall. This needs to be balanced against teacher compensation — where compensation is not just salary but salary and benefits (insurance plus retirement). I often feel that the focus on the total benefit package — and the cost of such — is lost in public discussions. The efforts to “right size” salaries and benefits for all employees, while continuing to bring cash reserves to the recommended level will require nuance, but will provide a stable financial platform.