This is the fifth 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. 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, Lori Hertel, Luke Oborny, Craig Pallister, Allen Park and Tammy Wellbrock.

Jessica Ann Berg Moffitt received her bachelor of science degree in physical activity and exercise from Portland State University and became a certified health education specialist in 2016. As She is married to Dr. Dustin Moffitt, naturopathic physician at the Riordan Clinic in Hays. They are expecting their first child in December.

1. Why are you running for school board? What experience or qualities do you have that will benefit the board and district?

In 2016, when I received my Certification as a Health Education Specialist, I promised to serve as a resource for education and health in my community. In 2018, I felt that the fuel provided by our community was missing. Searching for an answer, I watched board meeting recordings, read the bylaws, requirements, goals, and the objectives of the School Board, and began speaking with parents. And speaking to community members without k-12 children, or who’s students had already graduated. And I realized the disconnect that existed between these groups of individuals with the voices that needed to be heard and the individuals that are responsible for listening (the school board).

I realized the only way to make education a priority was going to be to give them back their voices. To remind them they are listened to, heard, and valued, to encourage them to speak up. And so, I made the decision to offer myself as a listening ear for the Board of Education. I believe that we need to make a radical change in the way the community values our educational foundation, if we want to see Hays as a community continue to grow and thrive.

In addition to serving as a listening ear, I bring an extensive background in the evaluation of socioeconomics & demographics of a region, conducting needs assessments, grant writing, and program writing & evaluation. I am an educator, a (Soon-to-Be) Parent, a Community Member, a business owner, and someone who firmly believes in the growth and success of the Hays Community.

2. What do you see as the three biggest challenges USD 489 will have in the next five to 10 years?

Speaking to the community members, businesses, parents, and teachers thus far, it is clear there is one goal in mind for all. To help Hays succeed and grow, in a way that encourages students and visitors to plant their roots in our community, and in a way that ensures long-term success of everyone within our community. Hays is growing at a rate that is not currently sustainable in our schools, according to the teachers and staff. Which means we truly need to re-evaluate the way we utilize the current space we have to offer and consider the future need for additional space. Furthermore, our school district includes several well-maintained, but aging, buildings that need maintenance. Which means of the space that currently exists, we are going to need to prioritize the environment that is essential for student success by creating an environment that is both safe, thermoregulated, and conducive to learning. Lastly, we are in a community where our roots exist in our Career Technical Education (CTE), and that is an ever evolving and growing field. While this may mean financial investments, it is not only an investment in the resources needed, but an investment in the future development and sustainability of our community.

3. What priorities should the district put on projects for facilities improvements and how should they be funded?

Scientific Research states that a student must be in an ideal state of mind, body, and spirit for the best form of retention of knowledge. Furthermore, a teacher must also be in this ideal state to be able to best facilitate said knowledge. Therefore, conditions such as classroom size, safety, thermoregulation, properly maintained furniture, etc., must all be of the highest priority, as well as access to quality nutrition, proper physical and mental breaks, and guarantees of safety at the building entrances. One season of ill-education for a student can change their paths to success for the remaining years of their education. Multiply this by the current size of our school district- the need for change exists now. As for funding, there are ultimately two options: use the money we already have or get more money. While option one is most enticing, it is not always feasible. I look forward to hearing more about how we currently utilize funding and searching for ways we can optimize the use of these funds. Option two is more realistic, with the goal being that these funds have as little of a financial burden on our community as possible. This means searching for grants, scholarships, donations, and other fundraising efforts to bring the money into the district without asking for it from those who do not have it. I believe that if we get enough like-minded individuals together, brainstorming these options, we are sure to find a solution that works for everyone.

4. 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?

Ultimately, if we do not have teachers, the students cannot learn. So, keeping their salaries paid, including in times of economic and financial stress, is of the highest priority. However, I feel that the additional funding can be used to strategically improve some of our other areas where we are currently struggling, rather than planning for a potential deficit in the future. If we are strategic in our budget, and strategic in our spending, hopefully we would not end up in a situation where the funds do not exist for teachers’ salaries. I am hopeful that we can make small, consistent investments into our school district with the money we are allocated, while still maintaining a safety net for hard times, as needed.

5. 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?

We must respect and value the work that our teachers put in daily. This means being verbally and financially thankful for their efforts. I have been in their shoes- where financial allocations did not go as planned. Rightfully so, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of individuals when they feel a lack of respect and gratitude. USD 489 has a lot of fresh new faces this year, as will the school board. These new faces come with a fresh set of ears, and hopefully with help the teachers and the district feel as if they are negotiating, and not defending, their current positions within our schools. With an open mind and fresh start to these negotiations, I am certain we will find a solution that works for everyone.