Eleven candidates running for the Wichita school district's at-large seat say they want to increase student achievement, tackle budget cuts and thoughtfully consider divisive issues such as school attendance boundaries.
But their backgrounds and viewpoints differ greatly.
Chris Colvin, a 30-year-old MBA student, says the board needs someone young and tech-savvy who still knows what it's like to be a student.
Susan Kiefer, a mother of three, says she's running because "we need board members with kids in the public school system."
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Sheril Logan, a former teacher, principal and assistant superintendent, says her background and knowledge in education would be vital, while local businessmen Steven Flesher, Matt Smith and Phil Neff say business experience gives them an edge.
And 22-year-old real estate agent Carly Miller?
"More than anything," she says, "I'd like to bring a different voice to the school board than has been there in the past."
This year's at-large race is all about perspective.
A March 1 primary will narrow the field to three candidates. They will face off in the general election April 5.
At-large board member Kevass Harding will finish his second term on the board this summer and is not seeking re-election.
School board members set district policy and oversee a budget of $632 million for a district with about 50,000 students — the state's largest. Members serve four-year terms and earn no salary.
The Wichita district faces several difficult issues. It is looking to cut as much as $30 million from its budget, negotiate a new teacher contract, and redraw school attendance boundaries.
It is an urban district with a poverty level of more than 70 percent, measured by children receiving free or reduced-price lunches. The number of Wichita students for whom English is not their first language has grown nearly 80 percent in the past 10 years to more than 6,000 students.
School leaders recently voted to re-examine a $370 million bond issue after the loss of state and federal money they had counted on to help finance construction projects.
"We have problems," said Martin Libhart, the district's chief of operations, when he addressed members of a bond oversight committee last week.
"Everything we are dealing with in the district is so interrelated.... Decisions we make related to the bond have implications on boundaries, and vice versa."
Kim Bush, 28, a former contract negotiator who moved to the district about three years ago, said you don't have to have children to care about schools or offer suggestions. While working on a master's in political science, Bush researched the effect of the No Child Left Behind law on students in Kansas and Missouri, she said.
Measures she supports include merit-based pay for teachers, virtual classrooms to allow high school students access to the same courses, and cutting the district's transportation budget.
"The biggest thing for me is making sure money goes to the classroom and to retain quality teachers," she said.
Two candidates, Mary Dean and Peter Grant, ran for the at-large seat in 2007 but did not advance past the primary.
Dean, a retired Boeing employee who has school-age grandchildren, said her top priority is closing the achievement gap between minority and white students and eliminating zero-tolerance policies that "rely on law enforcement for discipline that could be handled at school."
Grant, whose younger son is a freshman at East, said he wants to bring a parent's perspective to the board and "shake things up a bit."
Margarita LaFarelle Hunt, a longtime activist for Wichita's Hispanic residents, said she wants schools to teach basic skills and "provide a safe and nurturing environment for our children."
Smith, 29, sales director for ATG Sports, an Andover-based company that designs outdoor stadiums, said he's intrigued by the education process and wants to bring a business perspective to the board.
So does Neff, a 69-year-old civic leader who has volunteered several years with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.
"I've been able to spend time in schools in a variety of different settings," he said. "It's been an eye-opener for the challenges that kids have today, and particularly kids who live in poverty."
Flesher, a former airport development director who helped lead the Fair Fares initiative that brought discount airlines to Wichita, said he envisions similar public-private partnerships in schools.
"We're at a real crossroads," he said. "The school system is faced with performance mandates and dwindling resources. That's a huge challenge."