KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A school district's Board of Education has to handle many aspects of public education from finance and operations to performance and outcomes.
Candidates for the Fort Osage school board will run for three open seats.
Each candidate will serve a three-year term.
Five of the six candidates, Kress Cambers, Dustin Schnakenberg, Kelly K. Scott, David Shrout and Stephanie Watson, responded to KSHB 41’s questionnaire.
Kyle A. Leeds declined to fill out KSHB 41's questionnaire.
Answers have been lightly edited for AP style and grammar, but we hope the answers help voters better understand the issues and candidates ahead of the April 4 primary election.
Why are you running for the Board of Education? If elected, what will be your priorities?
Kress Cambers - I realized there were no parents on the board and decided it was unacceptable that there was no parental representation on the school board. First and foremost, we need to prioritize our students. Students need a safe and productive learning environment to thrive. No student should be afraid to ask to go to the bathroom during the school day. Another priority should be to make up for the time and learning lost during COVID. As a parent, I watched my kids struggle during the pandemic and fall behind. We all did the best we could during that difficult time, but now we need to get back on track.
Dustin Schnakenberg - I am running for the Fort Osage School Board because I would like to bring a fresh, new perspective to the Board. I believe the Board could use a parent of two young children that will be growing up in the district. This allows me to be plugged into the current issues that are going on throughout the schools and sports. If elected, my priorities would be to have an open mind and a new perspective from which I believe the Board would benefit. My top priority is ensuring parents, students, teachers, administrators, and staff feel heard and valued. There are a ton of issues that need to be addressed, from toilets to student safety, and I believe open communication is what it's going to take to address things in a manageable way.
Kelly K. Scott - I am a retired Independence fire captain and have worked in public safety my entire adult life. After I was forced to retire in 2011 due to on-the-job injuries, I saw the Board of Education as a way that I could continue serving the public. I am well aware of the issues involving bureaucracies and how to work to make them run as efficiently as possible. I have always been vocal in asking tough questions others haven’t asked. I have already served over 10 years on this Board, and I hope to continue to utilize my experience to assist the district. My priorities include student and staff safety, fiscal management, and monitoring "woke agenda" issues.
David Shrout - To serve students and my priority is student success.
Stephanie Watson - I have volunteered in our district for several years and want to make a larger impact. My priorities will be to bring relief to our teachers and staff and partner with them to improve our low test scores that resulted from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Is there a particular issue that motivates you to serve on the board of education?
Kress Cambers - There are several issues that motivate me. As stated above, getting our kids caught up academically and ensuring a safe learning environment is at the top of my mind.
Dustin Schnakenberg - As a parent and a lifelong citizen of the Fort Osage community, I want to serve on the Board to be a part of the solutions as they arise in our schools. I have no specific issue motivating me to be on the board, just that I want to make the Fort Osage school system better for everyone.
Kelly K. Scott - Continuing to serve my community.
David Shrout - To serve my community and impact the youth of today.
Stephanie Watson - The students and staff motivate me! I want to help partner with district leadership and other board members to move our district into the future.
What experiences or skills have prepared you to serve as a board member?
Kress Cambers - I have extensive experience as an executive committee member of a volunteer organization and chief advisor for two State Representatives, Jeff Coleman and Aaron McMullen. Rep. Coleman is also a school board member in Grain Valley and I have learned a lot from assisting him. The most important experience I have is as a parent. No one knows what is best for kids better than their parents, and right now, that is a perspective this school board is sorely lacking.
Dustin Schnakenberg - I think the biggest skill that has prepared me to be a board member is being a part of this community since I was an infant. As I have matured as an adult, a father, and a professional, I have gained valuable communication skills from each aspect of my life that help me navigate my way through the good and the hard conversations that need to happen. Humility is a skill I have really improved over adulthood, I recognize in some situations that I may not have the answer, and that's OK. It is the follow up and contacting the appropriate people to solve the situation that matters.
Kelly K. Scott - I have worked in public safety my entire life and in several different agencies. I have a good understanding of how to work within the bureaucracy.
David Shrout - 36 years on the Board of Education.
Stephanie Watson - I have been involved in the school’s PTO for several years, being president for most of those years. I have also been involved in multiple other committees and non-profits in our school district.
What differentiates you from the other candidates and/or board members?
Kress Cambers - If elected, I would be the only parent on the school board, which immediately sets me apart from the other members. I have three children in the school district. I come from a blue-collar union background.
Dustin Schnakenberg - I can respectfully disagree on situations and have the discussions necessary to come to a solution that serves the school best. I work well with others regarding compromises and getting all the information out for the discussion to happen logically and respectfully.
Kelly K. Scott - I have gained a lot of experience as a board member. I have always been able to look at issues in multiple ways, and I have no problem asking questions when necessary (even when they are uncomfortable).
David Shrout - My experience.
Stephanie Watson - I am just a regular mom wanting to do great things for our district. I have two children currently in the district and am a Fort Osage graduate. I am very invested in making sure our students and staff are successful.
Clarity of Purpose
What are the factors on which you will base your decisions as a school board member?
Kress Cambers - Since I am a parent of three children in the district, (if elected, I will be the only parent with kids attending school serving on the board), it will be easy for me to make decisions based on the best interests of the kids.
Dustin Schnakenberg - Facts and logic on what is best for Fort Osage students, teachers and administrators. Understanding that everyone will not see eye to eye in situations, there needs to be a respectable conversation between all parties involved to come to the best decision possible that satisfies all parties to the best ability that they can.
Kelly K. Scott - I utilize my personal experiences for all decisions and listen to the community, staff, and students. With all that collective data, I then ask any and all questions that have developed before making decisions.
David Shrout - What is best for students, staff and our community as a whole.
Stephanie Watson - First, with district leadership that we have entrusted to run our district effectively. Second, teachers and staff members. These folks are our “boots on the ground” and can give a great outlook on potential changes. And third, listen to parents and community members. As a school board member, ensuring you’re taking all information into perspective when making decisions is important.
What specific steps would you take as a school board member to improve transparency and make school district information more widely available?
Kress Cambers - I will use every channel available to me, including social media, to communicate with and update my constituents.
Dustin Schnakenberg - I think there needs to be more available communication with the students/parents and the Board. The Fort Forward committee is a wonderful start to this, but I think it could be improved with more board member support that could allow great discussion and topics covered. A monthly or quarterly town hall with the Board and the public could be really beneficial for all parties to discuss current issues.
Kelly K. Scott - I think we need to open our policy on patrons addressing the school board. Current limitations are intended to correct problems that do not currently exist. For example, suppose a taxpayer has an issue they feel is important enough for them to attend a board meeting with. In that case, I believe that it is our responsibility to listen to them and not cut them off after three minutes. If a patron has questions or concerns, I will always be willing to listen and then forward those questions to someone who can answer them if I can't.
David Shrout - We are transparent with decisions and school district board meetings are open to the public. Our agendas and minutes are posted on the district's website for anyone to view.
Stephanie Watson - The school district should use one communication method to communicate with families. Currently, some schools use SeeSaw, email, Facebook groups, and the Fort Osage app. We need one area where information is stored and families can quickly access it.
As a school board member, from whom will you seek advice or input in weighing key decisions?
Kress Cambers - The parents and the students are the keys to a successful school and district.
Dustin Schnakenberg - Anyone and everyone. I don’t pretend to know it all and I am not ashamed to say I don’t know. I have always leaned on mentors and other individuals to guide me in difficult decisions. One of the main sayings I live by is, “you don’t need to know it all, you just need to know where to find the answer,” and the next step to that is always following up with those who you said you would.
Kelly K. Scott - I always try to discuss issues with other board members. I talk regularly with patrons of the district. I often talk with board members of other school districts. I talk with staff members/teachers of the district. I sometimes have talked with students concerning issues affecting them. Lastly, I always talk with the superintendent so that there is no misunderstanding between my information and his.
David Shrout - My fellow board members.
Stephanie Watson - I want to ensure I get a wide array of input from people before making key decisions. For example, teachers, staff members, experts, district leadership, etc.
Finance and Operations
What are your thoughts on the current and the proposed budget for your school district? How would you determine your budget priorities?
Kress Cambers - First, I would prioritize school safety by allocating money to an additional resource officer to keep our schools safe.
Dustin Schnakenberg - I do not have all the financial details to answer this question properly. What I can say is that I approach every financial decision with all the information available and have the appropriate people involved in those budget discussions to make sure the decisions benefit the students and school as a whole in the best way possible.
Kelly K. Scott - The district has successfully maintained an excellent fund reserve account, which could provide for any short time needs. It is imperative that a highly qualified staff be maintained.
David Shrout - We provide our patrons with a balanced budget. We prioritize students' needs and balance that with teachers' and classified salaries the best we can.
Stephanie Watson - Our district does a great job communicating budget information with the community. Our budget priorities should always be staff and student-focused.
What are the district’s greatest capital needs right now? How do you think those needs should be addressed?
Kress Cambers - The district is actually going through a renovation project that was well needed. We just completed a new district office and are in the process of building a new gym. I feel like the district is on top of the capital needs and improvements.
Dustin Schnakenberg - When I think of capital needs, I think of construction and buildings, and I believe in upgrading facilities to benefit the students and staff that have been lacking. Bathrooms and classroom upgrades have been a huge topic lately and our Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations, Dr. Steve Morgan, is addressing several of those issues in the summer of 2023.
Kelly K. Scott - We have worked hard to improve the buildings and vehicles in the district. These issues need to be constantly addressed, with maintenance and schedules for updates in place. Without monitoring these issues, you can quickly fall behind. Monitoring and anticipating problems is much easier than playing catch up.
David Shrout - We are currently addressing them with the support of the bond & levy our patrons so graciously approved. We have built a new district office and renovated buildings. We are working on a new gym facility and countless other projects to improve our district.
Stephanie Watson - We need to remodel a lot of our older elementary school buildings, specifically the plumbing and HVAC systems.
How will you enlist support for bond issues or public school spending from voters or taxpayers with no children in the public schools? How can the school board prove itself accountable to those citizens?
Kress Cambers - The community as a whole benefit from a good quality school system. Good schools mean better property values, for one thing. Some voters without children in the district may even benefit from the community service our students engage in.
Dustin Schnakenberg - Even if voters and taxpayers don’t have children in the school system currently, I would appeal to them to keep their local school district in great condition (facility and staff-wise). The students in our district are the future generation, and if we don’t care about our local children and their education, who will?
Kelly K. Scott - Maintaining transparency with the taxpayers is always important. When someone has questions, we have to have a way to provide answers. The current superintendent has maintained the information flow with public communications, including all social media channels. We have utilized focus groups and invited target taxpayers to get as much information to the public as possible. Anytime I have observed inaccurate information being discussed, I have attempted to correct it. The superintendent is always available to answer any questions or clarify any issues.
David Shrout - Our district needs community support since we are industrially underfunded. Our community sees the need and addresses what is best for students. We, as a board, are fiscally responsible and do what we say we will, which promotes confidence.
Stephanie Watson - A good school district increases property values, so it’s in the homeowners’ best interest to support the school district. I will do everything I can to enlist support for bond issues, including marketing on my social media pages, calling friends and family, giving folks my personal email and phone numbers to discuss it, etc. To have a great community, we must support our schools and it’s important to ensure a collaborative relationship exists.
Teacher starting salaries continue to be an ongoing discussion here in Missouri. How will you be able to keep and attract staff despite having some of the lowest salaries in the nation?
Kress Cambers - One thing to consider is the cost of living and quality of life. Teachers in California may have a higher salary in absolute terms, but their cost of living is so high that it’s nearly impossible to get by there. We benefit from having very low costs of living here in Missouri.
Dustin Schnakenberg - This is one of the most important issues that is impacting Fort Osage right now. I believe that teacher salaries need to be addressed, teacher support from the administration needs to be addressed and overall appreciation of our teachers from students and parents needs to be addressed. Even though I am not a teacher, I can completely recognize that teaching is one of the hardest and underappreciated careers a person can pursue. This will be a very important issue that I plan to improve if I am elected to the Board.
Kelly K. Scott - While salary is and will always remain a critical issue, our district has successfully maintained a "Fort Family" community. We are one of the few districts that maintain health insurance at no cost to our employees. The base insurance is at no cost, but upgrades are also available. Salaries are a major part of every decision made.
David Shrout - This is a state problem that we are doing our best to band-aid until the state addresses this as a whole. We are constantly looking at our salary schedules and making additions that fit our budget constraints.
Stephanie Watson - I greatly advocate that school districts can do other things to show appreciation and support staff. Of course, we will always hope the state will fund our district better, but with funding limitations, it’s important to think outside the box. First, be supportive and engaged in each staff member’s life and their challenges and obstacles. Second, it’s important to give feedback often to support their efforts. Third, keep the career ladder because it allows teachers to make extra money.
Performance and Outcomes
How will you engage the community to improve public schools in the district?
Kress Cambers - I have held town hall events in the district while campaigning and will continue to do so after I am elected.
Dustin Schnakenberg - Be present in the community and have town halls where issues can be brought forward and parents can be heard and respected. I will have good and hard conversations with teachers, principals, parents and students so that people can voice their concerns, worries and happiness with the school.
Kelly K. Scott - I encourage the superintendent to continue to utilize focus groups, committees, and social media to disseminate information. I answer questions or research data when requested. I fought unsuccessfully to make it easier for the taxpayers to address the school board when additional restrictions were implemented.
David Shrout - We engage our community through “Fort Forward” meetings and continue to invite our families in for district-sponsored events. Community engagement is necessary to ensure the success of our students.
Stephanie Watson - I volunteered in the community for many years before running for the school board. Fort Osage has a strong community and because of that, we have great schools. I will continue to advocate for our schools by contacting our community members.
In your view, what has the district done well over the past year? In what areas could the district improve?
Kress Cambers - Communication from the district, the schools and the teaching staff is incredible and very informative. Just a few areas the schools can improve are our school safety, students vaping and bathroom usage.
Dustin Schnakenberg - I think Fort Osage has done a great job navigating the waters coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. COVID-19 created unprecedented situations and setbacks. Fort Osage has done a great job re-engaging with the programs that halted during the pandemic.
Kelly K. Scott - The district has successfully maintained an excellent fund reserve account, which can provide for short time needs. We have been successful in maintaining a highly qualified staff.
The district recently modified policies to include both “sex” and “gender.” I specifically asked, and no one could tell me the difference. The majority voted to make the modifications. I hope to be able to continue to watch for further changes and at least be able to voice concern for their inclusion.
David Shrout - The district is family-orientated, with multiple generations growing up here. When you hear “Fort Family,” it is real, and we need to continue to provide a welcoming, stable and inclusive environment for all students, families and community members.
Testing continues to be a point of contention for our district. We are constantly working to address student needs early to help them be successful and improve our scores.
Stephanie Watson - The district does a great job engaging the community. Fort Osage has a small-town feel and that’s because of the relationship that they have with the community.
The district needs to improve by adding intervention (reading, math and behavioral) teachers. A lot of our kids are behind due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shows in our test scores. We must work harder to bring each student where they need to be. If a child receives a one or a two on their progress report, then a plan should be implemented with the student, parent, and intervention teacher to improve the student’s understanding of the material.
How should the district address underperforming schools?
Kress Cambers - Since Fort Osage is a rural district, we don’t have any underperforming schools.
Dustin Schnakenberg - Those situations should be discussed internally first—conversations with the administration and principals, and then with the principals and teachers. I would look at what tools that district is giving the school to be successful and if those tools and systems could be improved. I think getting information from everyone involved is KEY, from the admins to the students and parents. I never want to set up a person to fail and want to make sure that person (school) understands the expectations that are wanted from the district.
Kelly K. Scott - With proper monitoring, we should never encounter an underperforming school. Problems must be identified before the issue affects the entire school. If something should happen to slip through the cracks, then immediate action must be taken to identify and remedy those problems.
David Shrout - Ensuring leadership is aware and has a plan of action when necessary.
Stephanie Watson - If a school in our district is underperforming, district leadership will get involved to see what area(s) we need to improve. Thankfully, we have a lot of fantastic educators that can serve as mentors to these schools so that we can quickly address and mitigate these issues.
How should school board members evaluate school and student performance in your district?
Kress Cambers - The current state standard is the Missouri Assessment Program. The district and other schools in Missouri follow the same standards.
Dustin Schnakenberg - The school board should work hand in hand with the teachers and administration to discuss performance and what goals the district has. Having all the appropriate people and information is imperative to discuss such matters.
Kelly K. Scott - The board should be given access to test scores and data. The board must also be informed of any issues that might affect performance. Fort Osage has many checks and balances in place to monitor performance constantly, and the board is kept informed regularly. While test scores are important, monitoring other issues affecting our students is also important. Our goal is to educate our students to become the best person they can be, preparing them for their adult lives.
David Shrout - We receive a monthly report from the buildings in our district to help us know what our buildings are doing, how they are being successful and what challenges they are facing. We are responsible for evaluating our superintendent, and his job is to ensure the district is performing to the standards that have been set.
Stephanie Watson - I am not an incumbent, so I do not know how the board currently evaluates performance. However, I would not base all the performance on test scores. There must be equal parts of test performance and classroom work. Currently, the school district uses i-Ready at the elementary school level. This program is computer-based and it can be difficult for students to remain focused for long periods. Therefore, these test scores are not always indicative of skill level.
What metrics will you use to assess district leadership’s attainment of key goals? How will you know when a program or decision has been successful?
Kress Cambers - Who comes up with these questions? Ultimately the outcome of any program will tell us if it was successful or failed. If it achieves the stated outcome, it is successful.
Dustin Schnakenberg - By comparing the results with the goals that were put in place at the beginning.
Kelly K. Scott - We review the superintendent's evaluation quarterly and expect that he does the same with his administration. He is very open to providing updates and the success of new programs and decisions, even if the information might not be what we would like it to have been.
David Shrout - Testing is an obvious metric, and that would be successful as test scores rise. However, other programs are not necessarily metric-based and provide success within the district. “Real Word Learning” has been a key focus for us, and we have successfully implemented it. Providing students with avenues of success that are not tied directly to a test score is sometimes hard to see, but it creates a lot of opportunities that some students would not normally have.
Stephanie Watson - Surveying key stakeholders is a great way to know if decisions have been successful. I want to ensure teachers and community members know that I represent them as a board member. The decisions being made affect them directly, so their thoughts on policies and decisions are a great way to assess success.