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North Kansas City school board candidates weigh in key issues

Posted at 2:30 PM, Apr 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-03 15:30:32-04

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. Hear from candidates for the North Kansas City schools.


Why are you running for the Board of Education? If elected, what will be your priorities?

Karee Gleason - I want to keep my current position on the NKC Board of Education because I strongly feel I bring a balanced voice that considers all viewpoints. I feel the Board of Education must be an unbiased body that makes decisions based on the good of the students and is not driven by political ideology or agendas. My motivation is solidly based on wanting to continue to make a difference in our community at a time when the perspective of a parent is needed on the Board of Education. Giving back has always been important to me, and ensuring that each child receives a quality education is my most important contribution to my community.

Brian Mercer - After serving North Kansas City Schools as the NKC Schools PTA council president for the past eight years, I would be honored to continue serving our students, teachers, staff, parents and community at the School Board level! To put it in simple terms, I love our North Kansas City School District and I love public schools!

If elected, my priorities will be to continue strengthening our diversity and inclusion within the district. Make sure our teachers and students are given the best and most up-to-date technology to teach and work with. Make sure every part of the district is fully staffed, from teachers and staff to food service workers to transportation employees and more. Strengthen and extend our district communications so all students, teachers, staff and parents are always fully informed.

Laura Wagner - I am running for the North Kansas City School Board for three reasons:

1. The students: Students are the focus of every school board's choice, and I want to see that priority continue.
2. The teachers and staff: Individual schools are short-staffed and losing experienced teachers. We need to show our teachers how much we value them in our choices at the board level. We need to show students why a teaching career is a good choice.
3. I take the role of Board Member seriously. I will show up and work for the people of the North Kansas City School District.

Is there a particular issue that motivates you to serve on the board of education?

Karee Gleason - Providing an equitable education to each student is my biggest motivation for serving on the board. My most sincere hope for the North Kansas City School District students is that EACH student receives an equitable education in every school by giving them what they need to succeed. I believe that race, gender, family crises, mental health, lack of healthcare, coming to school hungry, homelessness, and language barriers. All of these are barriers to equity in our district. The first step is to recognize these challenges in order to work to resolve them. We must evaluate the needs of individual students in order to provide the support necessary for each student's academic achievement and educational success.

Brian Mercer - The issues that motivate me the most include diversity and inclusion, communications, technology, and staffing. With our district's growth every school year, we must ensure every student gets the best education and educational experience they can and that every teacher is given the best resources to teach!

Laura Wagner - I think the North Kansas City School District is doing a good job, and I want to see that continue. I know staffing is one of the major challenges and I want to make sure we can address it for the students.

What experiences or skills have prepared you to serve as a board member?

Karee Gleason - I am a current North Kansas City BOE member. In my three years on the board, I have navigated this district through some of the most controversial topics this school district has seen. I attended NKC schools from 1984 until I graduated from Oak in 1995. My family has strong roots in the Northland. I worked for my dad, David Gleason, at Northland Legal Services for many years. It is here that my passion for helping others became real. I was in Clay County CASA and a volunteer counselor for the Metropolitan Organization to Combat Sexual Assault. I was a mentor for the Jackson County Juvenile Justice Center. I have a daughter who graduated from Staley High School last year after attending K-12 in NKC Schools. Currently, I have a sophomore daughter at Staley and a first-grade son at Bell Prairie.

Brian Mercer -

  • NKC Schools PTA Council President 2015-2022 
  • NKC-NEA 2015-2016 District Advocate of the Year 
  • Missouri PTA Regional Director 2016-2017 for NKC Schools, Park Hill Schools, Liberty Schools and Platte County Schools 
  • NKC Schools 2020 District Volunteer of the Year 
  • Oak Park High School 2019 District Volunteer of the Year 
  • Greater Kansas City Association of School Librarians 2021 Advocate of the Year 
  • Social Media Club of Kansas City 2020-2021 Vice President 
  • Girls on the Run Serving Greater Kansas City Planning Development Committee 2017-2020 
  • NKC Schools 2017-2022 Main Five-Year Strategic Planning Committee Member 
  • 2020 Co-Chair NKC Schools Bond & Levy Committee (The committee helped to pass an important bond with historic numbers during a pandemic) 
  • Created and implemented the “Student Led” NKC Schools Board of Education Candidate Forum 
  • NKC Schools Education Foundation Board Member 2015-2022 
  • Inducted into the Liberty High School Hall of Fame in 2021 for my volunteer leadership work  

Laura Wagner - I have been volunteering with the district for years. I served for five years on the NKCSD Education Foundation Board, including one year as chair, and helped put $500,000 in grant and scholarship funds in the hands of teachers and students. I currently serve on the Industry Executive Committee to support the “Pathways” program, which introduces students to future careers. In my day job, I work with the public and have served on other boards with large budgets. I have worked with the trades, introducing people to a job with a future. On the school board, I will utilize all of these skills.

What differentiates you from the other candidates and/or board members?

Karee Gleason - I am the only incumbent candidate. That past experience on the board is important for a deeper understanding of policies and solid relationships with district leadership, community partners and other stakeholders. I have been and will be an effective school board member because I am a team player and I respect my fellow board members, regardless of whether or not we agree on an issue. I have a clear vision for the district, I use data and policy to make decisions, I am accountable and collaborative, and I am committed to public education. But most importantly, my focus is on student achievement and being a relentless champion for each student.

Brian Mercer - Everything I listed above and my everyday posts and tweets for the past eight years, spreading the positive word about our district and all of our schools while still informing our community of everything happening in the district.

Laura Wagner - I am a parent in the district and see the school experience from the students’ and parents’ perspectives. I am a union member and understand the teacher’s union perspective. I have served with other North Kansas City Schools committees and see the adjacent opportunities. Because of the committees I serve, I see public schools under fire from various House and Senate bills at the state level. I am not sure there is another candidate who is paying attention to every one of these concerns.

Clarity of Purpose 

What are the factors on which you will base your decisions as a school board member?

Karee Gleason - Taken from the district’s strategic plan that I helped draft:

I will base my decisions on what is best for each student.
I will value individuality and treat all people with dignity and respect.
I will communicate honestly, clearly and openly.
I will exercise responsible stewardship of district resources.
I will not compromise my commitment to excellence and equity.

Brian Mercer - Every decision will be based on the betterment and absolute best extraordinary educational experiences for all students, teachers, staff, parents and community.

Laura Wagner - I will always ask: Will this benefit the students?

What specific steps would you take as a school board member to improve transparency and make school district information more widely available?

Brian Mercer - More staffing for communications, improving current ways of communicating while also adding new ways of communicating, “Parent Universities” for every school, and town halls or PTA summits for each feeder system at least twice per school year.

Laura Wagner - I believe the NKC School District does a great job now with communication and transparency. Every board meeting is live-streamed and recorded and is available online. Meetings are on the school calendar and anyone can attend. School communication with parents is excellent and so are the district communications overall. The district held community listening sessions previously, and I would like to see them continue in the coming years.

As a school board member, from whom will you seek advice or input in weighing key decisions?

Karee Gleason - As a school board member, I look to parents, students, community members, and district leadership to give me the information and input I need to make decisions.

Brian Mercer - I will seek advice from my fellow School Board members first and during School Board meetings with the superintendent and district leadership. I will also be open to listening to our students, teachers, staff, parents and the community at School Board meetings for open community conversation.

Laura Wagner - I will seek advice from students, teachers, staff, parents, and members of the community as well as the Missouri Board of Education and academic testing scores.

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?

Karee Gleason - I am confident that our current and proposed budget for the North Kansas City School District strongly supports our 21,000 learners and 3500 employees. Our budget priorities are determined by our 10-year facility plan, five-year strategic plan, and annual scorecard spelled out by the Board of Education.

Brian Mercer - Our Board of Education has always handled the current and past budgets well. I would determine my budget priorities by discussing those details with my fellow board members and working as a team for our students and community.

Laura Wagner - The current budget is in pretty good shape now. Staffing needs may change some of this, but the North Kansas City School District is one of the better-paying employers for teachers in this area. Additional staffing in cafeterias, transportation, para-professionals, etc., will still need to be addressed and is a priority.

What are the district’s greatest capital needs right now? How do you think those needs should be addressed?

Karee Gleason - Accomplishing the district’s goals that are laid out in our 10-year facilities plan is key to allowing the district to move forward by improving aging facilities and helping manage growth. Collaboration with the board, the superintendent and the finance department is the answer to understanding current and future revenue and expenditure trends and projections.

Brian Mercer - Our greatest capital need is to continue our historic growth of building new schools and renovating older schools while also ensuring every student is included and every teacher, parent and staff member is listened to for their needs and future goals.

Laura Wagner - The no-tax bond passed last April benefited some of the main capital needs issues, including the future school near Hodge Park. The district continues to grow and capacity is being monitored annually.

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?

Karee Gleason - As I have done on past successful bond campaigns, I will work with fellow board members, district leadership and community stakeholders to effectively communicate the importance of communities supporting their public schools. Strong schools are essential to thriving neighborhoods. Demographic and economic data consistently shows that vibrant, successful schools are assets to their communities, increasing property values, attracting investment and benefiting neighbors.

Brian Mercer - I was proud to either chair or co-chair NKC Schools Bond and Levy issues in 2018, 2020 and 2022. All three were successful with community members, parents with students in public schools and voters and taxpayers with no children in public schools. Our Board of Education also makes live streaming available for every Board of Education meeting for anyone to view who chooses to do so. I’ve made myself accountable to our community daily for the past eight years and would do the same as a School Board member.

Laura Wagner - I supported the no-tax bond last year and I anticipate the need for an additional one in the next seven or more years based on the district’s growth. I will continue to advocate publicly as the district grows and testify at the State level against any efforts to strip funds from public schools.

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?

Karee Gleason - Growing, retaining and diversifying the teacher pipeline is one of my top priorities as a board member and will continue to be. Salary is certainly a major factor to consider. However, valuing a teacher’s expertise, giving a teacher autonomy to demonstrate that expertise, and then recognizing their value are all integral to creating a culture that attracts and retains outstanding teachers and staff.

Brian Mercer - Next school year, we’ll implement more professional development days for teachers and staff members to collaborate with their fellow teachers and staff for added or improved resources. I would also do my best to communicate weekly with them to ensure they’re getting every available resource for their classroom and their physical and mental well-being. Keep discussing teacher salaries every chance I can with those in Jefferson City and around the school district. Change may not happen overnight, but it will never happen unless it’s discussed daily.

Laura Wagner - We need to be creative. Pay is important, but so is flexibility. Whether that is a job-share option or allowing less rigorous testing to add the joy of learning back into the classrooms for both teachers and students, we need to consider what makes teachers want to teach and students want to learn.

Performance and Outcomes

How will you engage the community to improve public schools in the district?

Karee Gleason - I will continue to support programs and opportunities that bring community stakeholders into the district, such as our industry executive council and pathway advisory boards who work with the district in our college and career pathways.

Brian Mercer - Strive for community feedback through town halls, “Parent University,” email feedback, phone calls feedback and every form of communication I’ve used over the past eight years.

Laura Wagner - We have an excellent PTA. Individual schools do a good job with communication and parent outreach, which will likely increase as many administrators have that initiative in their goals for the coming years. The Board should support these outreach efforts from individual schools as well. People care about the specific schools in their neighborhood, and that focus makes sense. This issue should be approached neighborhood by neighborhood.

In your view, what has the district done well over the past year? In what areas could the district improve?

Karee Gleason - The thing that I am most proud of that came out of the last year is our district’s 5-year strategic plan. This process included parents, teachers, principals, students, administration and students. The process was smart and collaborative. The result was a strategic plan that embodies the mission of this district to be relentless champions for all students.

The areas I feel we can improve are the diversification of our staff and our district leadership. I feel there should be as much representation of the district as possible reflected in our teachers, staff and leadership.

Brian Mercer - The district has very much improved diversity and inclusion along with communications in the past year, but there is a long way to go in trying to perfect both.

Laura Wagner - The NKC School District does many things well. The “Pathways” program helps tailor the curriculum toward future careers for students. The “Catalyst” program helps connect high-achieving, economically distressed students to college opportunities, where some students have up to 95% of their college expenses covered. Staffing is one of the biggest concerns for the district, and all districts, right now. Race relations, inclusion overall, and student mental health issues are also challenges.

How should the district address underperforming schools?

Karee Gleason - My most sincere hope for the North Kansas City School District students is that EACH student receives an equitable education in every school by giving them what they need to succeed. I believe that race, gender, family crises, mental health, lack of healthcare, coming to school hungry, homelessness, and language barriers. All of these are barriers to equity in our district. The first step is to recognize these challenges in order to work to resolve them. We must evaluate the needs of individual students in order to provide the support necessary for each student's academic achievement and educational success.

Brian Mercer - Send all the resources needed to those underperforming schools. Whether it be extra teachers and staff, extra leaders, or specialized help, make those students and their schools a top priority.

Laura Wagner - The district has taken a year-round school approach with two elementary schools in low-performing areas and has seen some success with this effort. There isn’t the “lost time” over the summer that sets students back, and this type of schooling approach may be rolled out in the future at other schools.

How should school board members evaluate school and student performance in your district?

Brian Mercer - By working with the superintendent, district leadership, individual school leadership, teachers, staff and parents as a team, with everyone having input to make the best evaluation.

Laura Wagner - There is a balanced district scorecard that measures the results of the goals set each year. This effort helps track how close or far we are from what we had hoped to accomplish.

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?

Karee Gleason - I lean heavily on the district scorecard and trust the reports given to the board regarding the progression of these goals. I appreciate this process. I also was part of the strategic planning committee that formulated our strategic plan. This strategic plan, combined with our scorecard, is a carefully crafted system and I stand by it.

Brian Mercer - You know a program or decision is successful when all students succeed and when teachers and staff succeed in teaching. The district and Board of Education have a metrics system that works very well to attain key goals.

Laura Wagner - The balanced district scorecard is a good measurement tool. Hearing back from students, teachers and the community during district listening sessions as well as surveys and testimony at board meetings, all help us understand areas that need improvement or places we are doing well.