De Soto school board candidates talk teacher retention, pay ahead of election

Education

DE SOTO, Kan. — Ahead of the general election on Nov. 2, FOX4 is working to help voters get a better idea where candidates stand on issues impacting residents in the metro. FOX4 sent out a questionnaire to candidates in more than 50 races in Johnson County.  

In November, Brandi Jonasson and Emily Carpenter will go head to head to fill a seat on the De Soto school board. 

Here’s a look at what the candidates had to say:   

Q: Do you feel the district’s COVID response has been adequate? If elected, what metric would you use in deciding district COVID precautions in the future?  

Carpenter: I do not believe our district’s response THIS school year to Covid was appropriate. The role and responsibilities of the school board do not include making medical decisions for students and staff. With that being said, masks and vaccines are both medical products. With any medical product, the decision to use such products is a personal decision, left up to each individual and their own medical provider.

Current school vaccine requirements come from state legislation and allow for the appropriate exemptions. I also believe our current “exclusion due to exposure/close contact recommendation” policy is completely unnecessary and harmful to students’ education. See the attached flow chart. 

Jonasson: No one voted for the pandemic. I believe our current school board did the best they could with the information they had in responding to the pandemic. I did not agree with every decision that they made, but I believe they acted at all times in ways they thought would be in the best interest of students and staff. So, yes, I do think their response to the pandemic was adequate.

Going forward, I would listen to expert guidance in determining COVID mitigation protocols. I look forward to the time when experts tell us that community spread has been reduced to a level that masks are no longer necessary as a piece of the COVID mitigation plan. Parents know what is best for their own children. But, the role of a school board member is to take into account what is best for all 7,400+ children in the district. I will never put my personal beliefs or my own children’s needs above what experts say is best for the community as a whole. We always need to think about the most vulnerable in our community and do what is best for them.

Q: How can the district address learning loss students may have experienced during the pandemic? What initiatives would you support to prevent students from falling behind? 

Carpenter: Our district has already received just under $2.4 million in ESSER II funds, which is to be used towards the learning needs of the students. Our district expects to receive an additional $4.2 million in the third round of federal ESSER funds. All these funds are allocated to be spent in a certain way. I also believe our current exclusion policy definitely has impacted students’ education in a negative way and needs to be changed to a symptom-based exclusion policy. 

A symptom-based exclusion policy keeps sick kids home and allows healthy kids to continue to receive an in-person education. I do not have all the answers, but I want to listen, ask the questions, and start conversations about the issues. I want to make sure ESSER funds are spent on rebuilding students’ learning loss and help prevent any further learning loss in our district.

De Soto School Board Candidate Brandi Jonasson

Jonasson: It has definitely been a challenging time as the school district has navigated a global pandemic. I believe the role of the school board is to advocate for students, staff, parents and the community. I do not believe the role of a school board member is to micromanage the day-to-day work of district administrators and educators.

If elected, I would listen to staff and support proposals by those who are in the front line in the buildings that best address students whose education was impacted by the pandemic. I know that the district has already hired additional staff to provide targeted instruction in core areas. This is a great step and I support it.

I also believe the social and emotional health of our students is very important. I would support hiring additional social workers and/or counselors to support students.

Finally, as a district, our staff needs to continue to analyze the data and trends in student achievement and make adjustments where necessary to address areas in which students may need extra help. It will take everyone working together to come out of this pandemic strong.

Q: What plans do you have to help the district attract and maintain qualified staff?  

De Soto School Board Candidate Emily Carpenter

Carpenter: Our district has a current shortage of paraprofessionals and substitute teachers which needs to be addressed. We need to provide school staff with the support and resources they need and the pay they deserve. Students, staff and education need to be the priority. Staff need to feel appreciated, supported and valued. I believe if our district does the above, USD 232 will attract and maintain qualified staff. 

Jonasson: Increasing teacher and staff retention in our district is one of my top priorities. I also want to recruit the best and brightest to work in our schools.

We need to increase salaries and give teachers and staff the resources they need to do their jobs effectively. We also need to encourage teachers to continuously bring new and innovative ideas to the classroom, and we need to give them the flexibility to implement those ideas. I supported the district’s recent decision to increase pay for our paraprofessionals and student nutrition staff. It is important to me that we pay those employees a living wage.

From talking to paras in the district, I understand that it is equally important to them to have the resources and training to do their jobs. I am a strong supporter of providing those resources for our paras. Finally, I would like to bring awareness of the significance of the USD 232 school district to this community. According to the site Niche, our school district is 2nd in the state of Kansas for the best public schools. We should use this in recruiting new teachers and staff to our district. 

Q: What changes, if any, would you like to see in the district budget?

Carpenter: If elected, I would set up a time to go over and discuss the budget with the current board representatives designated to the budget and finance committee, John Gaignat and Rick Amos. I would need to fully understand the impact of any potential changes to the district budget before proposing any changes.

Jonasson: A budget reflects priorities. I have been actively involved with Prairie Ridge Elementary School’s PTO for 7 years and served as co-president for 3 years and vice-president of fundraising for 3 years. I understand that when operating with limited funds, it is important to spend wisely.

One of my top priorities is retaining teachers and staff. To do that, we need to increase salaries and give teachers and staff the resources they need to do their jobs effectively. I would also like to expand the opportunities at the new Cedar Trails Exploration Center for students, particularly for students who want to pursue trades and vocations and not necessarily college.

CTEC is a unique facility in that it offers classes to students from both De Soto High School and Mill Valley High School, and brings those students together to learn from some of our district’s most innovative teachers.

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