The following is an official transcript of questions and answers from the VFTA’s Meet the Candidate Night held on Tuesday, March 26 at Van-Far High School.
The Vandalia Leader’s General Manager/Editor Ron Schott was the moderator of the event held in the school’s cafeteria.
VFTA President Taryn Dameron gave the official welcome to the event before questions were asked to school board candidates Christy Nelson, Charles Scrogin, and Kevin Motley.
Candidates gave an introduction of themselves in the order as their names appear on the official election ballot. Candidates then rotated their responses as each question was provided.
Questions gathered included those from The Vandalia Leader and submitted questions sent to the VFTA.
Question 1: What do you feel is your role as a potential board member?
a. Candidate Scrogin-My role is to represent the school, the students, the staff, administration…see that the student get the best possible education that they can without any great disruption. To give the staff and teachers all of the support I can.
b. Candidate Motley-The board members are more or less the guardian of the district. It’s our job to watch over the money, make sure it’s spent wisely, to best enable our staff, teachers, and administrators to educate our students to the best of their ability. We are a go-to, to the superintendent. I know a lot of times people will come to the board members before they talk to the teacher or the principal or the superintendent and I think it’s our responsibility to keep the chain of command informed. Don’t express an opinion that your not going to be able to back up before you talk to the teacher or the principal or the superintendent. Listen to everybody carefully. Everybody has their own feelings and their own opinions about the school district and how it should be run but just be fair with everybody.
c. Candidate Nelson-The board is elected to the position and their job is to hire the superintendent as well as to create policy and to make sure that policy is followed. We are there at the will of the patrons of the district and therefore we should always keep in mind the best interest of the community and the students.
Question 2: Define where the duty of a board member stops and that of an
a. Candidate Motley-I think the duties of the board member stops when a question or a problem has been presented to the board member and they take it to the appropriate building administrator whether it be a building principal or a superintendent…I don’t think as a board member we are administrators. We are the go-between, between the patrons of the district and our building principals and…I don’t think a board member’s duty is to overrule teachers, principals, or superintendents.
b. Candidate Nelson-The board members are to create the policy and it is the job of the administrators to make sure that the policy is followed. As Kevin said, we are the go-between, between the patrons, and the community, and the administration. We need to make sure that we allow the administration and the faculty and staff to do their jobs and always encourage patrons to, as Kevin said earlier, follow that chain of command.
c. Candidate Scrogin-The board being elected by the citizenry and the patrons of the school district…And we get numerous calls at our residence or get flagged down on the street or people want to talk to us about a problem their having at school. We diligently listen to what they’ve got to say then we take it to Mr. Felmlee or Mrs. Pirch or the new superintendent and see what they can get done about it. That’s when their problem starts is when we take it to them and ours is not finished. I think we need to follow up and make sure whatever problem they have is addressed in a speedy manner. But again we’re not administrators as Kevin said, we’re just school board members and we just listen and pass it on.
Question 3: What do you think you can do as a board member on a school board to ensure faculty morale and retention?
a. Candidate Nelson-Well, it would be nice to give everybody a big raise every year. And as much as we can, we do try and do that however given the economic circumstances from time to time we don’t always give them as much as they deserve, none of them makes what they deserve. Within the finances that the district has, making sure that they have the best salary possible and the best benefits that we can.
b. Candidate Scrogin-We’re here to look at a problem and try to help solve it. And we only have so much financial responsibility that we have and the professional and the superintendent makes a suggestion to us what they feel would be an adequate raise or whatever to the staff. There’s so many variables. Like Cindy said, none of our teachers are receiving the moneys that their due. That’s just the way the game plows. We’d like to see everybody get a decent raise on a yearly basis but it’s just not going to happen that a way cause we just don’t have the funds from the counties and the state and the federal government to be able to do all of that. We have so many other issues we have to take into consideration but we do try to show appreciation and make the staff and teachers proud of our school system.
c. Candidate Motley-I think we have an excellent staff here at Van-Far and to prove it just look at our test scores over the last three or four years. If we didn’t have dedicated administrators and dedicated staff our test scores would stay stagnant or maybe even go down. And I think we’ve got a really good blend of veteran teachers and some younger teachers coming along. And I see that working together. Some of the younger teachers are bringing in some new ideas that maybe some of the veteran teachers haven’t you know had the training to explore these new ideas. And our veteran teachers that have been around many years, they’ve encountered probably all of the problems that our younger teachers are encountering their first couple of years in a classroom so they have somebody they can go to, just kind of help mentor them along. And I think we have really strong building principals they can also go to for guidance. And I’m like Christy and Charles, I wish we could pay you guys a million dollars a year but that’s one of those things, the state and federal government pretty much controls our purse strings.
Question 4: The way most of the kids in the district arrive to school is by way of a school bus. Unfortunately, Van-Far’s fleet has an average age of 11.76 years, which is up from 6.8 years of age 12 years ago. Missouri’s average age of fleets statewide is 7.6 years. Van-Far’s newest units are already 4 years old. What would you propose to do to reverse this trend and when should the district start with your proposal?
a. Candidate Scrogin-This has been an ongoing situation, we have a school bus fleet we know have to do something about it. But finding the funds, and it’s going to get to the point that we have to find the funds, we find the funds for school busses, we’re going to have to make cuts in other areas. The repairs is pretty excessive as Mr. Stroker would probably agree. But we do need to replace some of our school busses, whether we do it on a lease purchase, or a lease program, or an outright purchase. This has all got to be looked at by the board and the administration. Hopefully we can get our school bus fleet upgraded.
b. Candidate Motley-I would agree that our school bus fleet is definitely aging and I think that the last year that I was on the board we looked at busses and for a 72-passenger we were looking somewhere around $85,000 for a bus. Okay, if you take $85,000 out of your budget to buy a new school bus which is greatly needed where are you going to make the cuts. I want us to have a good bus fleet that is dependable. I don’t want our kids stranded out on the road anywhere at any time but I hate to take education dollars out of the classroom to improve the bus fleet. I don’t know you know there’s some school districts that trade busses every couple of years and you know you could maybe find some quality used busses for a decent value. That’s something we might have to explore down the road.
c. Candidate Nelson-It is a problem that we have with the bus fleet. It needs to be addressed. I don’t know what the answer is. It’s going to take some research in looking into it. That is one of the things that we need to look at and consider. We may need to go lease purchase, we may need to try and pass a bond to do that, I would hate to think that we would have to do that but it may come down to it. Somewhere the money is going to have to come because eventually, it’s going to be an absolute necessity to replace a bus. I wish I had the answers…
Candidate Scrogin added: If we can get our legislators to quit cutting our school budgets and taking out of transportation every year, we might be able to do something. Candidates Nelson and Motley agreed with Candidate Scrogin’s comment.
Question 5: In the last school board meeting, the board had a discussion on drug testing students in extracurricular activities. Do you think it’s good for the district to implement drug testing? Please explain your answer.
a. Candidate Motley-We discussed this a couple of years ago. I feel it’s an excellent idea. You cannot walk into my place of business or any business in town or Mexico and get a job without taking a drug and alcohol test. I don’t think it needs to be just limited to athletes either. I think it should be random. I think a certain percentage of the student body should be tested. If you just pin it on one group you might have an individual student that says well I don’t participate in sports, there never going to check me so there’s never going to be any consequences. It’s another one of those things that would be very expensive but I think if you can catch a child young and maybe their having drug and alcohol problems you might be able to help them and maybe curtail them where they don’t have the problem as they grow into young adulthood.
b. Candidate Nelson- I think it’s a good idea if for no other reason but to give a student a reason to saying no, to not take drugs. I’m not advocating drug testing to go out there and say gotcha to a student. We need to give them a reason to not start.
c. Candidate Scrogin-I have agree with my two opponents. There’s no reason we should not be doing drug testing. I’m like Kevin, I don’t think it ought to be strictly to extracurricular activities. I think that if you’re going to do a drug test that it ought to be school wide or on a random basis. If we can prevent some kid from getting started into drugs or alcohol, look at what we’re going to accomplish. We’re going to have better students, better citizens. Like Kevin said, there’s no place you can go and gain employment without doing a drug and alcohol test.
Question 6: The safety of the district’s students weighed heavy on the hearts of many district patrons after the tragedy in Connecticut. Some safety measures were quickly implemented at the Van-Far R-I School District. Do you support the measures taken and what more should the district do to ensure safety for its students?
a. Candidate Nelson-We have instituted a policy where we have one door open to the public in each building and patrons and students are only allowed to go in and out of that one door. In the high school it’s down by the superintendent’s office and in the elementary it’s the front door. And we are looking into getting some speakerphones, video cameras to allow the secretary in the office to buzz in patrons where people will have to ask to be admitted. It’s very important that we keep the children’s safety foremost. It’s terrible that that tragedy had to happen in Connecticut and we hope it never happens here. We need to do all that we can to make sure that it doesn’t happen.
b. Candidate Scrogin-This subject is near and dear to my heart. We need to be able to control the ingress and egress from our schools. Bringing in buzzers to the doors and cameras to the outside is a start. And some way or another we need to have a school resource officer. We do not have one now and the possibility of getting one is pretty much limited due to the expense the sheriff wanted to charge us for a resource officer to use between here and R-VI. The price was just outlandish and well, just couldn’t afford it. I have some ideas that I’ll discuss with the new superintendent and Mrs. Pirch but we just have to (…[unable to determine audio on tape]} and pray to God that we don’t have any situations like that in Connecticut. That situation in Connecticut wouldn’t have done no good for an officer to have been standing there at the door. That boy come with murder on his mind and good ol’ will, and he shot his way into school and killed two people before he got inside the school. If an officer have been there he could have very well been a victim like those folks were but it would sure deter from random acts of violence.
c. Candidate Motley-I agree that student and staff safety is an utmost concern for not only board members but staff and citizens of the district. These kids see this stuff on TV and they know what happens. We have made a few changes with the locked doors and everything and yes I would like to see maybe a two door system where they can come into an enclosed area with a camera and then have to be buzzed into the main part of the building. Are you going to prevent somebody like Charlie said that has ill-will against people on their mind for pulling out the deeds that they want to do? No. But you need to do as many things as you can to slow the person down. If they hit a double locked door, they might think this is not worth my effort and maybe leave you alone. The tragedy out east you know I still think about that quite a bit. Some districts have talked about putting armed staff in the building. Is that the right answer or not? I don’t know. I think that’s every district’s option to look at out there if they would have armed staff on hand, would they have stopped that young man? No. Could they maybe of lessened the number of fatalities he created? You don’t know. I just want to keep all of our kids and all our staff safe.
Question 7: As a board member, you are asked by a close friend or a staff member to share with them information from an executive session. What is your response?
a. Candidate Scrogin-Well, it’s going to be published in the newspaper down the road so why should we tell them anything. It be known to not divulge any decisions made in the executive session cause it’s made public.
b. Candidate Motley-My answer to that is No. If you want to know what goes on in executive session, get on the board and you’ll know.
c. Candidate Nelson-And again No. We have I believe it’s 72 hours before documents have to be released to the public. Typically the minutes are made up fairly quickly and distributed to the papers and things like that. Again, I don’t divulge information over what goes on during closed session.
Question 8: It has been said that a board member’s job is limited to oversight of the budget, hiring administrators, and managing policy. Do you agree or disagree with this? Explain.
a. Candidate Motley-I mostly agree with that. Um, yes that is our primary job but we live in a small community where we’re very reachable. People come in our places of business, see us in the grocery store and they know they can talk to us. And our job is when we get approached in the public is to take it to the appropriate administrator, building principal, superintendent, pass the information along and let it go from there. I know a lot of people think that the board member’s job is to take their complaint and take care of it when actually the board is the last step in the chain of command to rectify a problem that a student, or a patron, or a staff member is having within the district.
b. Candidate Nelson-For the most part I agree with the statement. We are there to make policy, we are there to hire the superintendent, we are there to make sure the finances are in order but we do live in a small town, it’s a small close knit town. We know the greater majority of people and actually there probably more people out there that know me than I know and we do get approached in public or in private, people call you up. They want to know what’s going on and how can they take care of this problem that they’re having. Part of it is making sure that we follow through and make sure that the right person gets the information that we try and solve the problem as best as we can if it is possible and if it is appropriate. But people need to remember that we are one of seven. One person cannot do anything on the board without having other people on the board that are like-minded. We might be concerned about their problem but yet it might not be something that everybody else has the same concern with.
c. Candidate Scrogin-I completely agree with Christy and Kevin. We are overseers of the school budget, school system. The group, the superintendent and the principals of the buildings, are the main stay in the school government. If we have a problem or if someone brings a problem to us, it is our responsibility to take it to the superintendent and to the principals and then follow up on it later on and see where it went. It’s not our job to go out there and coral some teacher cause somebody’s said something or they made somebody’s kid mad or whatever. We can only do so much. We have to follow as they say the chain of command. And take it to the proper people and see where it goes.
Question 9: What is the vision you have for the Van-Far School District that you hope becomes a reality if elected to a three year term?
a. Candidate Nelson-Well, the vision I would have is that all students in the district learn everything they could possibly learn. It sounds trite but that’s what they’re here for. They’re here to learn. We are here to make sure the climate is wonderful for them, that they have the ability to sit down and pay attention without distractions, and I would love to see our schools have 100% of everybody doing everything they’re suppose to do and meeting all of our test scores.
b. Candidate Scrogin-As far as a vision, I don’t have any specific of visions of what’s going to be done. But I just hope and pray that we have a school system that’s compatible and everybody gets along, and they can gain knowledge and education from preschool and all the way up to the 12th grade. As it stands right now we’ve got a bunch of programs going on in our school system. Mrs. Pirch starting the PLATO program, a very good program. It’s got some people graduated because of her efforts and we should all thank her for that. There’s a lot of angst in the elementary. We need to set them up a resource room of some kind that can take care of their problem children. You don’t have any way to separate them from the rest of the elementary kids and let the rest of the kids learn because apparently some of these kids don’t care about learning, don’t want to learn, don’t have no respect, never been taught respect. I would vision that Van-Far just continue to grow as a school, as a district…We’ve just got so many enroads to build on and we have the people that can do it.
c. Candidate Motley-I think as long as you see gradual progress with scores continuing to rise, I’d rather see gradual progress over three or four years than a huge spike in progress next year and then we fall off the year after that. Keeping well trained staff is utmost important. If we don’t have the best, our children won’t receive the best. And I agree with Charlie, you know, we have some students I bet they come to school so they don’t have to stay home. And we need to try and reach those students and stress to them that in here make the most of it. What you learn here is going to get you further down the road in your life whether you want to go to college, go to the military, and vocational education. We only get them for eight hours a day and all of that is not instructional time so we have to do the best we can with them while they’re here.
Closing Remarks-Why should
voters vote for you?
a. Candidate Scrogin-I guess they should vote for me because my name is on the list, I’m one of three. Gosh, I don’t know. I want to be able to represent the school, the staff, the students in this district. And we have so much going for us and so much that we can do here with the students that we have. It’s not a chance deal it’s because of the dedication of all our staff, starting with the preschool all the way up through the 12th grade again. We have some of the best instructional staff members in the state of Missouri. They’re dedicated, they have the kids in heart. And we need to support them, support the school, and support the administration. Kids first though.
b. Candidate Motley-Well, I think you have three very dedicated hard working people sitting at this table tonight. Do I want to win? Yes, I want to win that’s why I put my name on the ballot. But if the vote doesn’t turn out that way and the patrons choose my two fellow candidates, I have no problem working with them. We worked together previously when I was on the board. We had our differences of opinion but at the end of the day, we were all on the same page. We all want what’s best for the kids of our district. I don’t think there’s a single one of us on here, you know sometimes you hear people run for the board because they have an axe to grind, I don’t see any of us up here with any axe to grind. We just wants best for the kids and the staff and everybody here. Where no matter who is on the board, we’re going to be working with a new superintendent. He’s going to have to learn us and we’re going to have to learn him. It will take us a month or two to learn his ways, that there not going to be Mr. Felmlee’s ways and we understand that. I think that the seven current board members is what stays the same, I’ll support them. I think if I get on I’ll have the support of two former candidates.
c. Candidate Nelson-I signed up initially to run for the board because I was very interested in the school system at making sure that all students in the district, including my own kids, got the best education that they could get. I’ve been on the board for seven years now and it’s been a really interesting experience. I’ve learned a lot, probably have made a few mistakes along the way, but I’ve always kept the best interest of the kids at heart. And I know that I don’t have any axe to grind. I just want to make sure that we have the best school system around. I know we have a great staff and I know they’re making great strides with the kids with learning. The kids are learning a lot. It’s showing in our test scores and I want to be a part of continuing that and continuing that into the future.