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Ray-Pec R-2 school board candidates weigh in key issues

Posted at 2:45 PM, Apr 03, 2023

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 Ray-Pec R-2 School Board.


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

Ruth Johnson - I am running to continue making a positive difference in my community. I will continue to be a voice for the district's parents, students, staff and community members. I have the time to commit to the Board of Education. My priorities will continue to be those of the district. The newly approved strategic plan is the driving force and direction of all the district strives for. Therefore, that should be the priority of any Board of Education member.

Ashley Jones - I’m running for the Board of Education because I enjoy serving my community and being a voice for our students, staff, parents, and community members. My priorities, if elected, would be to provide quality education to ALL students through creating a competitive pay scale to obtain and retain quality staff members, continuing to build a strong career and technical education program, and focusing on expanding district programs and infrastructure as we continue to grow.

Janet Jones - Our children are the future leaders of our community. We must ensure they receive the best education possible. I want to preserve and improve opportunities for all students in our district. Advocate for public education and competitive pay for our staff.

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

Ruth Johnson - There is not one motivation that drives me to continue. It’s not about ME. It is about the 6,500+ students of Raymore Peculiar School District. We should strive to give them the best options and resources to go out into the world prepared to make a positive difference.

Ashley Jones - The biggest issue that motivates me to serve on the board is student education and preparing our students to be productive members of society upon graduation. We need to ensure that our students have the tools necessary to be able to further their education, obtain and retain a job, and be citizens with positive character traits.

Janet Jones - No, I just want to do what is best for our district's students, staff, and community members.

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

Ruth Johnson - My experiences as a parent and board member have equipped me to serve my community. With my own children, we experienced private, public, alternative and homeschool options. Education should not be a “one size fits all” system. I have attained the highest level of certification from the Missouri School Boards Association. I also serve as president-elect of the association. I strive to stay up to date on legislative issues and, multiple times a session, go to Jefferson City to talk with our legislators.

Ashley Jones - I have previously had the pleasure of serving on the school board from 2018 to 2021. I am also in my 14th year in public education. I currently serve as a special education coordinator in the Raytown School District and have been in this position for seven years. Prior to becoming a coordinator, I was a special education teacher for seven years. I have my bachelor’s degree in cross-categorical special education, my master’s degree in secondary school administration and my specialist in school superintendency.

Janet Jones - With over 15 years of experience in banking, finance, and management, I decided to start a development company in 2018, despite being told it would never succeed. Managing office operations, recruiting and retaining employees, problem-solving, and business development and growth has not been easy, but the challenges and struggles have helped me grow professionally and personally. I understand how much time, effort, negotiating, and dedication it takes to turn an idea into a reality while staying within budget.

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

Ruth Johnson - I have experience, institutional knowledge, and years of training. But the first thing that comes to mind is I was made to do this. My passion and drive to see our district flourish is first and foremost. My schedule allows me to be an active, engaged board member who can and does make a strong presence throughout the district.

Ashley Jones - I believe that my experience differentiates me from other candidates that are currently running. Along with my understanding of education, specifically public education, I worked as a special education coordinator in the Raymore-Peculiar School District for one year during the 2021-22 school year. I had the opportunity to live the life of a staff member and see what the day-to-day operations look like from an employee’s perspective.

Janet Jones - With over 15 years of experience in banking, finance, and management, I decided to start a real estate development company in 2018, despite being told it would never succeed in a male-dominated business. Managing office operations, recruiting and retaining employees, problem-solving, and business development and growth has been difficult, but the challenges and struggles have helped me grow professionally and personally. I understand how much time, effort, negotiating, and dedication it takes to turn an idea into a reality while staying within budget.

Clarity of Purpose

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

Ruth Johnson - Some of the factors I use when making decisions: The institutional knowledge I have gained over the years while on the board. Again, I go back to the strategic plan for guidance. What do I know that I have heard and seen from my community, other elections, personal conversations, comments from other board members on what they are hearing, etc.?

Ashley Jones - When making decisions or voting as a school board member, the thought that is always in the forefront of my mind is, “Is this what’s best for students?”. As a previous board member and current educator, all my decisions have been and currently are driven by answering that question. A board member must always be thinking about the long-term effects their decisions have on student success.

Janet Jones - I will review the facts/data provided, discuss with the administration and other board members, and listen to the community and staff about their concerns or support for the issue. All decisions will be made in the best interests of all students in the district.

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

Ruth Johnson - We strive to be transparent as board members and as a district. Since COVID-19, we now record and download all meetings on YouTube, all board meeting agendas and related materials on our system Boarddocs for all to see. Our budget in its entirety, along with a one-page synopsis, is posted on our website. These are just a few of the ways we strive to be transparent.

Ashley Jones - I would begin by asking for more feedback from staff members in the district. Often, and not just in Raymore-Peculiar, school staff feel that if they voice concern to the board about something happening in the district, there will be negative repercussions if the administration finds out. I want to ensure staff that this is not the case and we welcome and encourage feedback, suggestions, and opinions.

I also feel like school boards, not just RayPec, receive information that is not transparent. Board meetings are the time for open and honest communication to happen. It’s where all information, good or bad, should be shared. The superintendent, board members, and district administration have a duty and obligation to be solution based and take all information in with the understanding that the conversation needs to be constructive and that all members share a common goal, to create the best learning environment for all students.

I would also be more visible in the school buildings. It’s important for board members to be in the schools and see what is happening daily, not just on the days they are there to serve breakfast to the staff. It’s our duty to be informed and it is not the responsibility of district administration to provide us with information. It’s our responsibility as board members to go get it and be involved. It’s also our responsibility to share that information with the appropriate people, including the community.

Finally, I’ve realized as a parent that in the district’s effort to keep the community informed and share information, we have become inundated with information and it’s difficult to keep up, especially if you have students in multiple buildings within the district. I would like to suggest looking at other ways to share information or create a one-stop information hub for parents, specifically those with students in multiple buildings.

Janet Jones - I believe our district is very transparent with information. We could always better communicate to the community how to access the district's available tools.

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

Ruth Johnson - Sometimes that is not possible if it is a closed-session topic. I listen to my fellow board members for their input during the meeting, especially if it somehow relates to an area of their strength. I have a few trusted advisor friends that are in different sectors of the business world that I know will give sound, truthful and necessary feedback. I also have a couple of former board members that came before me that give me historical context if necessary or helpful. First and foremost, however, I pray for wisdom and guidance in all decisions we make as a board.

Ashley Jones - All stakeholders should have a voice when making decisions. This includes parents, students, staff, city officials, and community members not tied to the district. It’s imperative to understand that all decisions have a ripple-down effect in some way on every person listed. Everyone should get a voice. There also needs to be an understanding that even though your input and advice were solicited, that does not always mean that everyone will favor the decisions made. Again, this goes back to making decisions that are best for students.

Janet Jones - Request facts/data from the administration, hold conversations with the administration and other board members, and listen to the community and staff about their concerns or support for the issue. All of my decisions will be made with the best interests of all students in mind.

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?

Ruth Johnson - We are in the early phases of the 2023-24-budget process. Again, the strategic plan drives most of the discussions about the budget. We should be providing the funds for the priorities laid out in the plan.

Ashley Jones - I believe that the Raymore-Peculiar School District has always been thoughtful in how they spend money. RayPec continues to do a great job of getting feedback from the community about how funds are spent. They also spend appropriately to maintain current buildings and expand only when necessary. The purchase of the LEAD Center was fantastic, and a significant amount of time and effort was given to ensure that the district was not overspending to expand. The district continues to maintain its fund balance above 25%. Also on the ballot on April 4th is Prop RP1 which allows the district to shift 50 cents from the debt service fund to the operating fund in an effort to provide more money to fund an increase in teacher salaries. I would determine budget priorities based on what the district has currently identified as areas of need and through feedback from the stakeholders.

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

Ruth Johnson - Our greatest capital needs are currently being addressed with the construction of the LEAD Center, Ninth Grade Center, and Performing Arts Center and building upgrades and maintenance.

Ashley Jones - I believe the district is currently addressing its greatest capital needs with the addition of the ninth grade center, the expansion of the Performing Arts Center and the procurement of the LEAD Center. RayPec continuously looks at the current buildings and school sites to identify those with the greatest need for renovation or replacement and makes those a priority when determining how to spend funds. I believe the district should continue this process to determine how to budget appropriately for its capital needs.

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?

Ruth Johnson - I have always believed and stated that everyone in our district should care about the schools. Thriving communities happen in part because of great school districts. A business wants to come into a growing and flourishing community, again due in part to the schools. It takes all three parts: schools, businesses and home values (thriving home sales). If one part is lacking, it will show in all areas. If you don’t have students in the building, you want high property values for your biggest investment, your home. We are also raising the next generation of leaders. Our district has great community members who immediately go into action to support their schools and ballot initiatives. Also, we keep standing committees primarily made up of local patrons and use them in many ways.

Ashley Jones - Often, voters and taxpayers who do not have children in the school district do not understand how bond issues and/or public school spending affect them and their community. Providing opportunities such as community breakfasts or Q&A sessions and creating opportunities for community members to see how bond money is spent/needs to be spent by allowing opportunities to come into the buildings and see projects or the need for projects would provide more open communication.

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?

Ruth Johnson - We are working towards improving our teacher/staff salaries with Proposition RP-1. Every district in the state is looking to address this same issue and we are all in the same boat, trying to be creative on measures to accomplish this. We are currently attempting to approve moving 50 cents over three years from debt service to operational funds.

Ashley Jones - When teachers are looking to apply for teaching jobs, other factors are taken into consideration other than pay. Things include health care and professional development opportunities, current teacher feedback, administrative support to teachers, health and wellness support, and workload. Raymore-Peculiar School District, as well as all Missouri school districts, are always looking for ways to increase teacher salaries. Until salary increases can be made, the other attractors for teachers that cost significantly less money must be amplified and promoted. For example, the Raytown School District has its own wellness center (workout facility and pool) that is free to employees. Also, if the employees have the district insurance, there is also a doctor’s office connected to the wellness center that employees can utilize free of cost. Programs such as this greatly benefit staff and are attractive to potential teachers.

Performance and Outcomes

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

Ruth Johnson - We constantly strive to include our community in our schools. Whether it be through volunteering, sponsoring or a client-connected project, we are striving to find ways to work with our community.

Ashley Jones - The public’s view of education and the public school system often comes as second-hand knowledge. Those who are in the school building daily or frequently truly have an understanding of what is occurring in public schools. Allowing the students and staff to speak with community groups would provide them with better information about what is occurring in our schools and what improvements need to be made. This can be done by having them speak at city council meetings, rotary club meetings, or talk to our Fox Ridge community citizens.

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

Ruth Johnson - Last year has been great for rolling out the LEAD Center and district-wide capital improvements. We are constantly looking for more ways to help our kids find their niche and be prepared when they walk out our doors. I would say one area to improve is to continue educating our parents on opportunities our students have access to. Like any organization, we are constantly looking for ways to be more efficient and effective.

Ashley Jones - Over the past year, I feel Raymore-Peculiar has done a terrific job planning for district growth and expanding our career and technical education programs. Areas where the district could make improvements are in the resources offered to struggling students and students in special education. I also feel more emphasis should be placed on reading intervention and re-teaching in our secondary schools.

How should the district address underperforming schools?

Ruth Johnson - I would hope we address an underperforming school very specifically and individually. With the NWEA testing that we utilize, the teachers can immediately see when a student needs more help and can make adjustments right then. With this type of testing, we should not get to be an underperforming school. I don’t believe this should be addressed necessarily from a state level because they don’t know our students. State testing is just one piece of the puzzle teachers and staff use to determine effectiveness.

Ashley Jones - The district should begin by reviewing the data and comparing it to schools in the district that are performing adequately. Then a team needs to be involved in hypothesizing, based on the data, what the potential reasons are for underperformance. That team needs to identify specific goals for the building and create an action plan to reach those goals. Finally, those action plans need to be implemented with fidelity, and consistent data must be collected to see if the action plans increase student performance.

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

Ruth Johnson - Boards should evaluate and monitor student performance on a regular occurrence. MAP testing is not an effective way to do this. When the district gets the information back from the state, those students and sometimes teachers have moved on. It has been referred to as an “obituary” by some due to the lack of usability of the information. Again, we utilize our own measures for more consistent growth information.

Ashley Jones - School and student performance are more than just numbers and scores from state and district-wide assessments. There are tons of other pieces of informal data that can be reviewed to evaluate performance and growth truly. Data from multiple sources need to be collected and assessed. This data should also be compared to previous years to determine our district’s trend. If necessary, further board and administrative conversations may be required to make plans for how to increase school and/or student performance.

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?

Ruth Johnson - We have a scorecard for each of the measures of our strategic plan. Those scorecards are constantly monitored and updated when appropriate. Also, one of the key jobs of a Board of Education is to evaluate the superintendent yearly. In this process, we monitor his goals from the strategic plan. These measures help to determine if a program or decision is successful.

Ashley Jones - Currently, the district uses a scoring guide for every department. Each department sets goals for the year and then rates itself using data to determine if they’ve met that goal or not. They use that information to create new goals for the following year. I feel like this rubric is a fantastic way to monitor growth. I would suggest more open discussion and involvement from other members outside of the department in creating the goals.