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 Harrisonville school board will run for three open seats.
Each candidate will serve a three-year term.
Four of the six candidates, Michael Culpepper, Ashley Franklin, Benjamin Johnson and Nancy Shelton, responded to 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?
Michael Culpepper - I am running in support of my community. My family has deep roots in Harrisonville. My parents met and graduated from Harrisonville, where they then raised their family. I met my wife while attending Harrisonville, where we now raise our children. This community is a wonderful place to raise a family and the school district is a big part of that. I devoted over 10 years as an educator in our school district, and although I have paved a new career path, my dedication and passion for this school district run strong. I have seen both sides of the story, being a parent and community member, as well as working firsthand with our students and teachers in our district. I am running for the school board to ensure that those who wish to raise their families here can count on the Harrisonville School District to provide a marketable education.
Ashley Franklin - My heart is to be an advocate for our students and parents as national/social agendas are sweeping through our schools. I also feel it is important to support our teachers, who strive together daily to help our kids develop into responsible adults who can make wise decisions as they pursue their hopes and dreams. Lastly, I am proud to say that I am an alum of the Harrisonville School District and my husband and I have the privilege of raising our two boys in this community/school district, so I have a personal interest in improving the quality of our school system and serving my community.
Benjamin Johnson -
- Students first
- Teacher support
- Common sense best practices
First and foremost, our district exists for our students. As a teacher for 17 years, I always tried to put the needs of the students first. While I was a band teacher, I always believed that I taught kids through my class. I wanted them to be good people and band was my teaching method. This comes from a different outlet for many students, which is perfectly okay. We must ensure that our students are supported and cared for in all activities and educational areas. This will ensure they are prepared to be productive members of society and whole and complete individuals.
Providing teachers and staff support is vital to taking care of our students. Teachers and support staff are the main points of contact for most students. Our teachers and support staff need to know the district is there to support them, so they can continue to support our students best. As a teacher, I was in many situations where I felt very well supported; however, sometimes, I felt under-supported. I can guarantee that my students had a better experience when I felt supported. It’s the adage, “you can't pour from an empty cup.”
Transparency is another big goal of mine regarding school finances and policy. I can’t tell you the number of times my fellow teachers and I felt like we had no idea what was happening above us in the district. This is true of many school districts. It always seemed like school policy and financial decisions were decided behind closed doors. While I realize public records and policies are in place for transparency, I think we can do better. Parents, students, community, and school employees have the right to know everything in the district at every level within district policy and state laws. It helps to create an honest and open environment which in turn goes back to being able to best care for our students in all areas.
Next, common sense should prevail. There is no “one size fits all” in public education. We must create policies and procedures that allow for flexibility in many situations. There are many policies in place that are great policies and need to be in place; however, as a district, we should be able to make adjustments as needed to ensure the maximum benefit for all students at all times.
We should always consider the best practices. I believe teachers are the experts in their field and we should allow them the freedom to teach their subject. We should provide ongoing training and professional development relevant to each teacher and their subject. This may look very different for a math teacher than a music teacher. Let’s work together to provide each teacher the support they need to be experts in their subject area and best educate our students.
I strongly believe if we work together, we can continue with policies that have made the district strong and can begin to implement new policies to improve our students' quality of education. As I stated before, I was a teacher for 17 years. I was not a perfect teacher. I was human. I made mistakes. However, in those 17 years, I always tried to put the needs of the students above everything else. I kept good relationships with the students, parents, and community. I believe most of my students would agree that my number one priority was their well-being and quality of education. Together we can keep the Harrisonville district strong and improve in areas that need improvement. If I can clarify any stances or answer any questions, please contact me at BenjaminLJohnson@yahoo.com. I will promise you an honest response to my position. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but we can get there working together. Let's make the Harrisonville district the best district in the area.
Lastly, I am running as a non-partisan candidate. I have no financial backing from any organization or group.
Nancy Shelton - To continue the positive role I’ve established concerning district objectives. My priority will be increasing our test scores.
Is there a particular issue that motivates you to serve on the board of education?
Michael Culpepper - Recruiting and retaining high-quality staff. This includes offering salaries and benefits that are competitive.
Ashley Franklin - My motivation is to help the Harrisonville School District be a safe place for our students to receive a high-quality education for academics and life skills. Overall, I want to see our schools return our focus to providing our students with the education they will need to be successful in adulthood. This should be the goal for the BOE as a whole. My priority would be to collaborate as a team to accomplish this for our students.
Benjamin Johnson - I want to see what is best for all students of the district. I want to put students first in all decisions made by the district. I want to see every student have a chance to be successful.
Nancy Shelton - I want our district to be the best it can be and utilize all of its capabilities.
What experiences or skills have prepared you to serve as a board member?
Michael Culpepper - I was born and raised in Harrisonville. After finishing college, I returned home, where I taught and coached for over 10 years. Now my kids attend the Harrisonville School District. I have a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in educational administration. Throughout my time here, I have formed numerous positive relationships with people in the community and school district.
Ashley Franklin - I am a proud parent of two boys in the Harrisonville School District. In addition, I have worked with the public daily over my 20+ years of professional life. Each school has its own unique needs and I want to ensure that all voices are heard to reach agreements and offer solutions for the benefit of our students. One of the major keys to my success in my current position as the Branch Manager of Hawthorn Bank has been my ability to build and maintain a team that can work together to provide solutions for our customers’ wide variety of needs. This has allowed our branch to become a top performer in our region for many consecutive years, as well as a top performer in the company as a whole. As the branch manager, I work alongside my team to help them understand that unity is better than division in reaching our goals.
Benjamin Johnson - I have a bachelor’s in music education and a Master of Science in education. I also have 17 years of teaching experience and was awarded “Educator of the Year” in 2018 by the Harrisonville Chamber of Commerce. I believe my experience as a public educator makes me a great fit for a school board position.
Nancy Shelton - My previous five terms, which equates to 15 years as a school board member, including two terms as president and my current term as vice president, give me a unique historical perspective of the district as well as being a local business owner with my husband.
What differentiates you from the other candidates and/or board members?
Michael Culpepper - I was born and raised here. I was an HHS graduate and I have 10+ years of teaching in this district.
Ashley Franklin - I believe that what I bring to the table is a strong desire and ability to bring a team together to create solutions in the present instead of pushing issues farther down the road.
Benjamin Johnson - Except for one other candidate, to my knowledge, I am the only candidate running with experience in the classroom setting for 17 years. I also have two degrees in education. I am good at working in the best interests of the students and have a good idea of what students need. I also actively lobby politicians in Jefferson City to do what is best for public education.
Nancy Shelton - What differentiates me from other candidates is being a business owner for over 30 years and my length of board service.
Clarity of Purpose
What are the factors on which you will base your decisions as a school board member?
Michael Culpepper - I will always base my decisions on student success. We must also involve our local stakeholders, collaborating with them often and talking/surveying parents to gather their concerns.
Ashley Franklin - In every case, we have to consider what will be the best for all our students. Plain and simple.
Benjamin Johnson - This goes back to the four cornerstones of my platform: Students first, teacher support, transparency, and common sense best practices. All of my decisions will be based on these four cornerstones.
Nancy Shelton - I will base my decisions on facts that are presented and whether it is good for all students and financially feasible.
What specific steps would you take as a school board member to improve transparency and make school district information more widely available?
Michael Culpepper - I believe our district does a great job of publishing the board of education’s monthly meetings. There is time allotted for community members to speak in front of the board. As a board member, I will always offer a chance to listen to our community's questions and concerns. My contact information will be available and I will always share any appropriate, open-session information. Although we may disagree on the topic, I will always believe that every student who walks through the halls of Harrisonville School District deserves the best education possible from the best teachers.
Ashley Franklin - In researching other school boards, I believe that the Harrisonville School Board is transparent in comparison to others. The community is welcome to attend meetings and can watch online if they cannot attend in person. Respectful communication between parents and teachers needs to continue to be a priority. Our approved curriculum should be available to the public so parents can access everything their children learn. We already have a well-defined means of mass communication with the parents in the district through weekly and/or monthly emails and texts. We should continue to evaluate that to ensure we continue sharing any and all information parents want and need to know.
Benjamin Johnson - The first thing I would do is share my contact information with everyone in the district and answer questions as transparently as state and district policy allows. In general, I would like to make budgets and spending more publicly accessible so that the public knows exactly where their tax money is being used.
Nancy Shelton - I believe our district is currently transparent. All open meetings are filmed and available for viewing.
As a school board member, from whom will you seek advice or input in weighing key decisions?
Michael Culpepper - I believe that a board, although it may disagree on certain issues, must strive to be a professional, student-oriented group whose underlying focus is student achievement. As a board, we must seek advice from each other, as we have a wealth of knowledge on our current board. We must also have conversations with our central office staff, who are tasked with gathering information at the building level. I will also seek advice from our local community and use their questions and concerns when weighing key decisions.
Ashley Franklin - First, we need to consider the BOE and superintendent's collective thoughts and experiences. Secondly, we need teachers and administrators who are on the front lines of our education system to share their insights on the needs of our students. Last, and certainly not least, our parents' voices always matter, and we need their input to make sure that we are also meeting the needs of the student body.
Benjamin Johnson - Community members, teachers, administrators, and students should all participate in the decision process. My goal is to represent the community and students while supporting the teachers by carrying out good policies put in place by the administration.
Nancy Shelton - Discussion happens during the decision-making process at board meetings. Then, I consider all the information presented and make my decision.
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?
Michael Culpepper - I appreciate that Harrisonville is acknowledging that our enrollment is declining, but I am interested in seeing how we will deal with the enrollment in the next 2-3 years. We must have a long-range plan in place before the enrollment decrease hits. COVID-19 funds are going to end and when they do, I wish to work with the current superintendent on ways to counteract this.
Ashley Franklin - Until I am on the board and can see the bigger picture, I can honestly not offer an informed answer on our current budget proposal. However, after speaking with a number of teachers and educators, I believe we need to prioritize teachers’ salaries and benefits. If we want to attract and retain high-quality teachers, they need to know they are valued, as are their everyday contributions to the education of the students in our district.
Benjamin Johnson - It is difficult to answer this question without seeing the budget. I propose to budget in a way that supports all students to the fullest extent the budget allows. I believe schools should budget in a budget-neutral way. We should not operate in the red or black but fully use the resources given to us by the local, federal, and state governments to benefit our children and students best. This should be done responsibly, allowing for future budget needs as well.
Nancy Shelton - Our current and proposed budget align to keep our reserves above 25%. Our priorities are staff salaries and curriculum.
What are the district’s greatest capital needs right now? How do you think those needs should be addressed?
Michael Culpepper - Harrisonville just completed quite a few capital projects around the district thanks to our amazing community, who saw the need for improvements. But we still have buildings needing attention. We must look to the future, create a long-range plan, and set priorities for repairing or replacing our rooftop HVAC units, boilers, parking lot maintenance, aging buildings, etc. These needs can be addressed by our superintendent and assistant superintendent working with our skilled trades around the metro area to create maintenance schedules. A district our size can take the hit of one or two rooftop units going bad but cannot bear the financial burden of an entire school needing new HVAC units.
Ashley Franklin - I can say that, after having the privilege of touring the school buildings (Harrisonville High School, Cass Career Center, Harrisonville Middle School, McEowen Elementary School, Harrisonville Elementary School and Harrisonville Early Childhood Center), our district has come a long way in ensuring that our buildings are secure and adequate for advancing the quality of our students education. As a parent and community member, I am very thankful for this. Going forward, we need to make sure our schools maintain the standards we have set forth with all of these improvements while also looking for new ways to provide the very best for our district and community.
Benjamin Johnson - A capital need generally relates to building facilities and upkeep. The passing of Props I+N a few years ago has put our district facilities in a much better condition, and in general, our buildings are in good condition for an educational setting. I would like to see continued improvements in areas that may still be substandard such as older classrooms that did not see benefits from the local bond issues.
Nancy Shelton - Having just completed a capital campaign, our project list has been reduced. There’s always the need to build up that fund for renewable expenses i.e., parking lots and HVAC. Those needs are addressed by being prudent in determining the upcoming year‘s budget.
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?
Michael Culpepper - Voters still need cashiers at the grocery store, doctors at the hospital, and mechanics to work on their cars. A healthy public school system benefits everyone, but we must be good stewards of taxpayers' money. As a former teacher, I can speak to and garner support for sharing my experiences from the classroom and how important educational initiatives and public school spending increases student achievement.
Our school proves itself every day. In the classroom, performing in the theater, or with our student-athletes performing throughout the week, our students deserve the utmost from our community. Our school board can prove itself accountable by being transparent about the issues at hand.
Ashley Franklin - One of the key aspects of a thriving community is a thriving school district. It provides jobs, equips students to serve in the community, and brings healthy growth to the community. The school board can prove itself to be accountable to those citizens by continuing to be transparent in everything they do.
Benjamin Johnson - A well-educated community is a productive and successful community. Our youth being well-educated is vital to the future of our society and local communities. I also believe that community involvement plays a huge role in support. The community should be invited to all appropriate school events and work hand in hand with the school. The best schools and communities work together seamlessly. I would strive for this relationship between the Harrisonville School District and the community.
Nancy Shelton - I believe the success of our last bond issue and levy led by our current superintendent speaks for itself.
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?
Michael Culpepper - As things currently stand, we will struggle to keep and attract high-quality staff. Due to Harrisonville’s location, a teacher with a master’s degree and 20 years of experience can drive a few extra miles and increase their yearly salary by $10,000-$20,000. Saying this, our current administration has strived to increase teacher pay on a year-to-year basis, but we must work with our local and state representatives to find ways to increase the tax revenue in our great city.
Ashley Franklin - Yes, as stated above, this is an issue. We need to get involved at the state level with our local state representatives first, getting them on board to go to bat for us in Jefferson City. I recently had the opportunity to speak at length with one of our state representatives on this issue. They agreed that correcting this is of utmost importance. Making these connections as a BOE will show our State Government that we are committed to initiating these changes, not only for the sake of our own communities but for the sake of all Missouri communities.
Benjamin Johnson - This is an issue that needs to be addressed. Period. I will continue to lobby the state for teacher support, as I have for the past 17 years. As a former teacher, having a good work environment can help make up for salaries that don’t compare to other professional fields. I believe teachers need to feel supported by the school and the community to stay in the district long term.
Nancy Shelton - By providing other benefits, such as health insurance, a good working environment and a supportive board and staff.
Performance and Outcomes
How will you engage the community to improve public schools in the district?
Michael Culpepper - Harrisonville does a great job of collaborating with our city council and local civic organizations to highlight the great things that are happening here. I will strive to continue this collaboration and find other avenues to showcase our students’ talents and knowledge to our city, state, and beyond.
We must continue searching for ways to engage our students’ families in their education. Harrisonville’s elementary schools do a great job with Family Fun Nights throughout the year to bring families into the schools. The staff stays late to help organize activities and connect with their student’s families. If elected, I will work with our district and community members to find other ways to get our families into our schools.
Ashley Franklin - We need to continue to offer opportunities for the community to be involved in the schools, such as “Family Fun Nights” at the schools, public fundraising events like “Culver’s Night,” hanging student art in the local businesses in the community, promoting after school activities such as “The Vault” for Harrisonville Middle School students, just to name a few. As someone who works hand in hand with the community, I feel Harrisonville understands that the school district is a good investment, and it is our job as a BOE to continue to bring more of these types of opportunities to our citizens.
Benjamin Johnson - I plan to be accessible to all community members. My email and phone number will be made public so that anyone can contact me with any concerns at any time. As I stated earlier, I think the school and the community should work hand in hand to form a strong school and community relationship.
Nancy Shelton - Our community has always been very supportive of our district and we include them whenever possible.
In your view, what has the district done well over the past year? In what areas could the district improve?
Michael Culpepper - Our district did a great job of showcasing the capital improvements around our district. Through social media and in-person tours, our teachers and the central office staff did an outstanding job and took a lot of time out of their day to allow our community into the buildings.
Our district responded well to the COVID shutdowns and continues to gather feedback from students, teachers, and community stakeholders on the best way to move forward post-COVID.
A few items that must improve is how we schedule the repair and replacement of critical components, such as HVAC units, all the way down to the toilets and sinks in our restrooms.
Ashley Franklin - There are several things to list.
The district is very open to community support through Bright Futures, booster clubs, and fundraisers, to name a few.
The district is engaged in keeping students active with a great variety of extracurricular activities, clubs, and organizations, as well as great resources for early vocational training.
The district has a consistent and effective communication process in place to keep parents informed on big-picture outlooks as well as day-to-day happenings around our schools.
Again, I feel that the biggest improvement we need to focus on is retaining our teachers by improving their salaries and benefits and making sure that they have support from the administration.
Benjamin Johnson - The district has some fantastic teachers that are making all the difference for some of our students. The district has also made many improvements related to facilities and has attempted to compete with other surrounding districts regarding the pay scale. I think the district needs to be more transparent with all aspects of operations so that the community fully understands what is going on in the district. I also think that the administration and school board needs to listen to the concerns of the constituents of the district.
Nancy Shelton - We have increased our fund balances through the diligence and commitment of our superintendent and board the area we could improve is our test scores.
How should the district address underperforming schools?
Michael Culpepper - We must work to develop a detailed academic improvement plan. The school board can best serve the community by supporting and holding the district accountable to the goals set within the plan.
Ashley Franklin - We need to set specific performance goals and set forth a means of accountability to parents and the administration for meeting those goals. Improving our curriculum and removing the distractions of the many social agendas trying to infiltrate our schools are the first steps in this process.
Benjamin Johnson - Generally, I think Harrisonville schools do very well. I take great pride in the district and what it provides academically. There is always room for improvement. We need to make sure teachers have the full support of the school board, administration, and community to be as successful as possible.
Nancy Shelton - After researching the issue, I’d give staff the tools they need for improvement in the classroom.
How should school board members evaluate school and student performance in your district?
Michael Culpepper - We must work with the superintendent to monitor and evaluate the goals included in the academic improvement plan. We must also make sure that these goals are realistic and responsive to the community of Harrisonville.
Ashley Franklin - The school district’s success doesn’t just rely on scores alone. It relies on whether the students have been adequately prepared for their next step in life, whether attending college or trade school, enlisting in the military, maintaining a home and family, starting a business, etc. Don’t get me wrong, we absolutely need to be concerned with scores. We need to ensure that we properly teach our students through a solid, education-centered curriculum. However, we also need to make sure that we are offering them the opportunity to learn life skills and experience that will help them after graduation.
Benjamin Johnson - It’s all about student success. We need to make sure students are prepared for whatever is next for them. That could be college, technical school, or the workforce. Each student needs a different type of support and success is measured differently with every student.
We also cannot ignore state evaluations, which are tied closely to accreditation and funding. An appropriate emphasis should be based on state standards with the understanding that these are not one size fits all for all districts and students.
Nancy Shelton - By using statistical data that compares apples to apples.
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?
Michael Culpepper - We can find valuable information from screeners, benchmark testing, and MAP data. As long as the metrics we use can be standardized and the goals are realistic and aligned with the needs of our community, success can be easily found. We must involve our district and community stakeholders and trust the process, not abandoning ship too quickly.
Ashley Franklin - This is really fairly simple. When we set a goal, we have to set attainable steps to accomplish those goals. Are we completing those steps? If so, leadership is doing well. If we aren’t, why not? We need to reevaluate our steps and decisions to make sure we are heading in the right direction.
How do we know if we have been successful? Why did we start the program? If the reason for implementing a program is being fulfilled, it was successful. If it isn’t, we have more work to do.
Benjamin Johnson - Are the students successful? That is the true measure of success in a district. Have the students learned and grown as a result of the goal? If so, we have been successful. If not, we need to reassess our priorities and goals.
Nancy Shelton - Statistical evidence and obvious student success will prove a program's success.