This is the eighth in a series of question and answer articles on the candidates for Hays USD 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, Lori Hertel, Jessica Ann Berg Moffitt, Luke Oborny, Craig Pallister and Tammy Wellbrock.
Allen Park is a retired Hays USD 489 principal who currently is self-employed as an insurance agent. He has lived in Hays for 37 years and earned a bachelor’s degree in technology education and elementary education, and a master’s degree in education administration. His wife, Patti, is a fourth-grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary School. They have two daughters in college — one studying at Fort Hays State University, the other at Kansas State University — and a son, a junior at Hays High School.
1. Why are you running for school board? What experience or qualities do you have that will benefit the board and district?
I have worked in education for over 35 years. I have served USD 489 for over 31 years as a paraprofessional, K-12 teacher, coach, migrant director, transition coordinator, and in 2015 retired after 25 years as Washington Elementary School principal. I am now part of the Business Community as a self-employed insurance agent. Serving on the school board will allow me to continue to advocate for the educational needs of all Hays children.
I have had the privilege to work with many outstanding educators that have made a difference in the lives of Hays students and their families. I have also had experience working with educators who have educated my children in our district continuously for over 25 years and counting.
I have worked with educators, past and present, that have helped shape our district and state systems. I believe those relationships, my experience in Hays, and my knowledge about USD 489 will be beneficial. This is important to help provide leadership to bring our district forward to meet the personal and academic needs of all Hays children.
2. What do you see as the three biggest challenges USD 489 will have in the next five to 10 years?
Kansas is experiencing a shortage in teachers. Our district has seen a dramatic decrease in years of experience at all teaching levels and administration in the last decade. We have seen promising young educators leave our district after gaining valuable experience here. Some of our home-grown educators decide to serve other communities and cannot afford to return home because of inadequate salaries and benefits. These realities need to be addressed and monitored to show progress.
Our state is struggling with priorities in funding public education. Although we have seen some improvements in state funding, we need to continue to inform the public and our legislators that more progress is needed. Our next school board will be challenged to be creative with our current resources and look for new ways to fund repairs, new facilities, improve working conditions, and provide a balanced budget.
Our district needs to repair trust and must start in action steps that are visible to our community. Supporting our local businesses will be reciprocated when we ask for support for our educational goals. Our teachers and administrators need to know that their work is valued and respected. The last two years our district has struggled to work with teachers to negotiate a contract that both groups can support. Past commitments that the board has made need to be honored or compensated. The board can make positive steps in this area.
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?
It is not uncommon for employees and employers to disagree on employment terms. It is unusual for school boards and teachers to not agree on a contract two years in a row. Collective bargaining is a process to provide guidelines for both parties to assist in being successful in building a contract.
Positive communication and a willingness to negotiate is necessary from both sides of the table. This process takes a commitment to invest many hours and allow the process to work. This last year it seems the process was negative, rushed, and unsuccessful.
Fair and equitable pay and fostering a culture of teamwork and respect for the work that teachers do would go a long way toward improved morale. The board plays a major role in creating a culture that fosters a positive learning and working environment. If teachers have confidence and trust in the board, employees have less stress and higher energy for their daily tasks. Quality teachers and other employees are recruited and retained by competitive salaries and benefits that reflect the standard of similar jobs in the state. Open communication and recognition for meaningful work helps to demonstrate that their work is valued and respected.
4. What priorities should the district put on projects for facilities improvements and how should they be funded?
Hays has slipped behind in some areas in recent years. We have recently had two failed bond elections. All levels need improvement in facilities, but our K-5 schools have been the most affected and should be addressed soon. I believe our community cares about the schools and have supported public education funding in the past. I was part of two successful bond elections, and I think that involving and informing our community will be a step in the right direction.
Our district needs to be creative. In past years teachers and administrators were encouraged and supported to help support facilities through substantial grants and donations. That culture has diminished and has not been encouraged or realized as often in our K-12 levels.
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?
Kansas law allows every school district a reserve contingency fund. Guidelines to the amounts and how to determine the amount varies between districts. In the past our district has not maintained a large amount in reserve and it can be argued that our district is at risk if faced with a critical situation. A large reserve would be desirable if all other commitments have been met. As a board member, I would need information about the timing, the appropriate amount to reserve, and what the Kansas Association of School Boards recommends to districts.