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High school students grill Wichita school board candidates on their experience, visions for district

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, March 27, 2013, at 10:51 p.m.

Wichita school board candidates faced questions Wednesday about budgets, priorities and their vision for the district.

The people questioning them? High school students.

About 100 students participated in a lunchtime forum and voted in a mock election, the results of which will be announced Tuesday on Election Day. The event was part of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council, or SuperSAC.

Participants included both candidates for the District 2 seat, Joy Eakins and Scott B. Poor, and the three vying to represent District 5, John Crane, Peter Grant and Mike Rodee.

Incumbent board member Betty Arnold, running unopposed for re-election from District 1, also participated. Board President Lynn Rogers, unopposed in District 6, was not able to attend because of a business obligation.

Students asked candidates about their experience, passions, reasons for running and more.

“The state of Kansas has an absolute obligation to provide equity in educational opportunity, and that concern for equity should control all our decisions, whether it’s facilities or budget or program,” said Poor, an attorney and affordable-housing developer. “That’s our core obligation.”

Eakins, his opponent, said her experience in mentoring and tutoring Wichita students sets her apart.

Asked how she would encourage more students to attend college, Eakins said: “It’s not a program, it’s one-on-one, talking with students and helping them have a vision for their future. … Many of our students, they haven’t had someone help them have that dream yet.”

Rodee, who owns and operates South Central Sealing and Paving, said his background as a business owner would inform his decisions regarding the district’s $628 million annual budget.

“I had to learn to budget my money so that I could make it through the recession successfully and still stay in business,” Rodee said.

Crane, a retired police officer and former school resource officer, said: “I’m not a business owner. I’m not a financier. I think that my personal experience as a father, as a leader of a home, gives me some direction.

“I think budgets, whether they’re big or small, get operated in the same way,” he said. “You have to think about what’s important, where you put your money and how you spend it.”

Grant, a casino table games dealer making his fourth run at a school board seat, said the district should take parts of successful college-preparatory programs, such as those at Northeast Magnet High or East High’s International Baccalaureate program, “and emulate them at the other schools to promote academics.”

Arnold, who has served on the board since 2007, said open-mindedness is perhaps the most important quality for elected officials.

“You cannot sit on a board believing that you know the answers to all of the questions and all of the issues that you might face,” she said. “You have to be able to listen. You have to be able to change your mind sometimes.”

Superintendent John Allison commended the candidates for running and encouraged students to register and vote when they turn 18.

“What you heard today is, they’re running for the right reasons,” Allison said. “They’re not running for a single issue. You didn’t hear any of them talk about that this is a step into their next political career.

“What you heard them talk about is a passion for our school district and for you all.”

Keison Walker, a junior at Northeast Magnet, posed one final, impromptu question to the candidates: “I’m looking for a prom date,” he said. “So if y’all know anyone, let me know.”

Reach Suzanne Perez Tobias at 316-268-6567 or stobias@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SuzanneTobias.

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