This is the fourth in a series of question-and-answer articles on the candidates for the Hays Unified School District 489 school board. The same questions were emailed to each candidate and they were given several days to provide their answers. Answers appear here in full, unedited. Four seats are open on the school board, each consisting of a four-year term. Other candidates are Paul Adams, Cole Engel, Alex Herman, Jessica Ann Berg Moffitt, Luke Oborny, Craig Pallister, Allen Park and Tammy Wellbrock.
Lori Hertel has lived in Hays since 1978, except for short periods when she lived in Great Bend and Salina for job experience. She earned a Ph.D. in Health Psychology from Walden University, as well as a Master of Science in Resource Counseling and Bachelor of Arts in sociology from Fort Hays State University.
For 2.5 years, she had a grant-funded safety coordinator position with Felten Middle School in Hays, but much of her career has been spent providing therapeutic services, including substance abuse counseling, in Hays, developing programs for the district court and completing psychological and other evaluations.
Hertel is married and has three children, two of whom have died. Her surviving child is 22, and two of her children attended USD 489 schools.
After her daughter, Ana, died at age 17, Hertel has worked on different memorials in her name, including Ana’s Gift, the Dolly Parton Imagination Library and a scholarship. Hertel has also been on the developing board of CASA, Big Brother Big Sister, and First Call for Help. She helped develop such programs as juvenile intake and the Citizen Review Board with the district court. In 1994, she received the “Women of Distinction Award” through Soroptimist International of Hays.
1. Why are you running for school board? What experience or qualities do you have that will benefit the board and district?
I made the decision to run for the school board because I believe I can make a difference for the children who attend school at USD 489. Not only am I qualified through education, experience, and parenting, but I believe that I have insight through all of those to be a voice of reason for a variety of issues.
I believe that all my education and experience will help when making decisions for USD 489. But working at the school and parenting two children who attended USD 489 is invaluable experience. As a parent with a child with special needs, I was able to see inside the school with different eyes and ears. I became vastly aware of services offered through the school district and came to appreciate the staff and their work both in and out of the classroom. Having the opportunity to be a part of a site council, I became aware of the needs of students, teachers, and maintenance. They all function together, as one affects the other. The challenges of mental health are apparent at the school. I believe that with my education and experience, I can be an asset to the school in providing understanding, support, and education regarding available community resources that can provide needed mental health services in the schools. In summary, I believe all my experiences are an asset to the school district when making decisions that involve children.
2. What do you see as the three biggest challenges USD 489 will have in the next five to 10 years?
I believe that although the governor provided the schools with additional funding this year, there is no guarantee that that will continue. And even with this funding, USD 489 has basic needs that need to be cared for, such as maintenance needs to maintain our buildings. The buildings are getting older and the maintenance needs will increase each year. The school district needs to be able to pay for the repairs. It’s a basic requirement to ensure that our children are in well-kept buildings. It’s not only a maintenance necessity, it can (if not taken care of) become a safety risk for our children.
Hays Middle School is “busting at its seams.” There are so many students now, it is difficult to give the students the time allotted to eat in the cafeteria. In the future, there will be a need for a larger middle school and possibly high school. It’s difficult to consider this and what the cost will be, but in the future, the middle school will not be able to provide education to the number of students that are enrolled there. Overcrowding brings a lot of problems including safety issues. I am concerned that if our staff are not able to control the large population of students, there will be some safety risks to our students and staff.
Finally, I believe mental health issues with our students will expand in the next five to 10 years and we better be ready. Students are abusing alcohol/drugs, have mental health issues, openly vaping, bullying, and other issues that are only going to expand and get worse. Parents are less supportive of our staff and at times not supportive at all. There are numerous problems at home that these children are enduring and have no way to escape. The foster care system is full of children who have been horrifically traumatized and with this history, they are enrolled in our schools and expected to act like nothing happened. Although the schools are not mental health facilities, they will most likely have no choice but to offer mental health services, as there are not enough services outside the schools to serve these children.
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 have attended all of the USD 489 meetings since I filed for school board but have not been allowed in the contract negotiations. My knowledge on this subject is very limited, so I hate to provide information which I am unfamiliar with. I do believe, however, that there is always a solution to an impasse. Both Hays NEA and USD 489 have excellent points in this situation and the way to a solution is going to be very difficult. I prefer to be more informed before making further comment.
4. What priorities should the district put on projects for facilities improvements and how should they be funded?
I would like to say that facility improvement is not that important, but I believe they are, and the need is getting even higher. It is always important to maintain buildings especially those that our children are receiving educational services from. Our buildings are aging and with that, there will be facility improvements.
Our children are attending a middle school that is almost too small to hold the number of students enrolled and priority will need to be given to that issue soon. This matter affects our children’s education, as without proper maintenance or a learning environment, children cannot learn properly or even remain within that classroom. It also becomes a safety issue.
Funding issue is difficult. How should something that affects our children on a daily basis be funded? Facility improvements affects student’s ability to learn, their ability to remain within a classroom setting, their ability to receive proper education, and it places them in a safety risk. That to me is essential and it needs to be funded. What I’m hearing from the school board and the financial officer is there is little money to support facility improvements. Then, there is little choice but to request that the community fund a bond that will support facility maintenance for years to come. It is difficult to ask the community to come forward and help. But they are not helping the school board, they are funding a future for our children, something that is essential for them to learn and feel secure. That is worth the request.
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?
I believe that putting money into a contingency fund is a good strategy. My understanding from attending the meetings, the money would be utilized when something in maintenance for example happens that is not otherwise budgeted for. Anything that happens unexpected, it would help pay the cost of the expense. I believe it is not only a good strategy but is financially smart to do so.