When Camdenton School District voters go to the polls April 2, there will be several candidates seeking two open positions.
Five candidates have filled to fill the positions currently held by Nancy Masterson and Jim Besancenez, both of whom are running to keep their seats.
Other candidates are Darin Keim, Bill Moulder and Tom Williams.
The Lake Sun submitted several questions to each candidate, and their responses are as follows.
*Editor's Note: The Lake Sun did not edit responses in any way.
Question 1. Is it realistic to believe that the Camdenton School District can continue to maintain current standards, building needs,meet federal/state mandates and provide competitive wages for staff without an increase in the tax levy?
Jim Besancenez: It is realistic to believe the Camdenton School District is able to continue to maintain current standards, meet building needs and provide competitive wages for staff. In a district with an operating budget of $45,940,853 in 2012, ours is a very fortunate district. I believe that we might have to sharpen our pencil and look at areas where we can save, but in this economy that is what most people are doing. Our school district should be no different. Many districts are functioning on much less than what we have grown accustomed to, and they are still serving their students' every need. Meeting the constant changing of federal/state mandates requires careful research, asking questions, and receiving community input in order to maintain standards. (As a retired teacher of this district, I personally would like to give teachers a raise consistent with the current rate of inflation.) I believe we can manage without having to raise taxes while still operating a school district that offers the excellence our constituents have come to expect.
Darin Keim: I don't know that anyone can answer this question with any degree of accuracy. While compromising excellence in education is not an option, and staff wages and benefits packages must be made competitive, we do not know the final costs of implementing the new curriculum and testing that come with the new federal Common Core Standards. There is also the prospect of having a new and larger school to staff and maintain. Finally, we don't know what the level of support will be from state and federal sources due to the cutting or additions of new programs.
Nancy Masterson: Realistically, no, we cannot maintain the status quo and other items mentioned without an increase, but the real question is when we will have to increase the levy. For ten years the School Board has not raised the levy. Requests for supplies and equipment have been cut-back and energy efficiencies put into place. Prices for commodities like food, fuel, and utilities have risen and other purchases like buses delayed. The state school funding formula has never been fully funded by the Missouri legislature, and other reimbursements promised by the state and the federal government has lessened. On the expenditure side, the largest expense is personnel - salaries and benefits. Every year, the superintendent struggles with presenting a budget that calls for us to live within our means and have a small reserve to pay bills if needed the next year and unforeseen emergencies. So the dilemma is this: a set amount of revenue and growing expenses in a school district that wants to maintain quality education programs and give our staff equitable compensation. The only choice if your revenue does not grow and expenses do, is to make additional cuts to the educational program, to staff, or raise the levy.
Page 2 of 5 - Bill Moulder: Yes Camdenton School district can survive with its current tax levy and we can maintain current standards and we can provide competitive wages for staff. Our staff is the life blood of our school and they deserve to be the highest priority when giving consideration to spending. Current standards of education can be maintained if we give our administration goals and work with them as a board to achieve those goals. Building needs can be met however new construction will not be possible, but we can and must fund building improvements for better security. Federal and State mandates have to be met the district has no choice in this matter; however State and Federal grants and programs can help to offset some of the cost. The levy as it is will serve for now but in the future consideration will have to be given to a levy increase as costs increase, but it is the board's job to make certain we are spending the patron's money in the most productive manner before asking for an increase. The voters are the true decision makers on spending they give the school a certain amount of money to spend and the job of the board is to carry out the wishes of the district patrons.
Tom Williams: Without a question, the financial challenges the school district has been and will be facing are daunting. I believe that the school district has done a good job with financial stewardship and can continue to do so without increasing the tax levy. In order to be able to accomplish this, it will be imperative that the Board works together effectively to leverage every opportunity to capture grants and other support that move the district forward positively while finding ways to reduce expenses in ways that will not damage our student's educational experience. These things can only be accomplished in an environment of trust and collaboration.
Question 2: Camdenton high school student is circulating a petition supporting the International Baccalaureate program in response to speculation that there is a lack of support for the program among some members of the school board. Do you support the program? If so, why and what do you see as the benefits? If not, why and what do you see as the drawbacks?
Jim Besancenez: As a concerned school board member, I support as many advanced credit options as we can afford to offer at Camdenton for the college and career readiness minded students. Camdenton School District's teachers are dedicated to educating their students at high academic levels. I believe that in a district this size it is important to offer as many options for all students as possible. With a laser-like focus on "college and career readiness" in the Camdenton RIII School District, I believe it is very important to serve the needs of as many students as possible. We need to offer many diverse options for the students who are looking for advanced credit courses. Advanced Placement (AP) and Dual Enrollment should be offered in equal portion to International Baccalaureate (IB). IB should not be the only option because we cannot put all college and career ready kids in one 'box'. A "one size fits all" curriculum for all kids looking for advanced credit hours and the ability for dual enrollment courses should be a priority. I believe that IB should be one of many diverse offerings in our school while making our priority the equality of educational opportunities for all students.
Page 3 of 5 - Darin Keim: I am not for or against the IB program. I have spoken to parents that have students in the program that have done very well. I have also spoken to some that would like to see more AP and dual enrollment courses offered and feel their kids would be better off in a program structured as such. That being said, I think the district should offer as many choices as possible to give every student the opportunity to excel in a way that best suits them. I encourage all parents to do their own research and contact the colleges their children plan on attending to ask the admissions department if the college has a preference. Students can then gear their high school program to best fit the college's requirements.
Nancy Masterson: I do support this program. It is important for us to offer programs that benefit all our student population. Our district goal is Everyone Learning Every Day and that requires differentiated instruction. This method of teaching challenges our highest performing students to delve deeper into subject areas and at the same time refine their researching, writing, presentation skills, study habits, and practical application of the subject they choose to study. This will better prepare them for challenging college coursework. Important benefits for students in IB classes are the teacher has higher expectations for students to go beyond simple learning of facts, and the challenging format teachers utilize to motivate students to integrate what they learn with research, outside reading, and practical application of the subject as a means to thoroughly understand and apply the subject matter. Students take more responsibility for learning and this is preparation for classes they will have in college and situations later in life. I see no drawback in engaging students to reach higher goals. They will be more successful both now and as adults. Additionally, the new state accreditation program MSIP5 requires us to raise the bar for our students. This program helps do that.
Bill Moulder: I do support the IB program it allows those students who are willing to take on the extra work load to obtain credit for college and it creates challenges for the student who elects to enter the program. The IB program allows students to learn on a global scale. I do think the board needs to weigh the number of students served and the cost of the program. It may be possible to pass along some of the cost of the program to the student's family or arrange IB scholarships from benefactors to offset costs the school cannot bear.
Tom Williams: I do support the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. The statistics are clear that IB Diploma Program students are more likely to attend college and persist in college for two years. I believe it is important for the district to offer unique and diverse educational opportunities for students at all skill levels. The IB program is challenging and requires much of the students that pursue it, which I believe develops stronger life skills such as work ethic, time management, and goal setting. This program sets higher bars for student achievement which aligns well with the increasing Federal and State requirements that the school district must meet.
Page 4 of 5 - Question 3: What do you view as the single most critical challenge the Camdenton School District is facing.
Jim Besancenez: I believe that while we hope for an improving economy, it is still a moving target. The challenge for the district will be how to balance the potential for diminished tax receipts in our district as over 80% of our budget per year comes from our local tax base. We are not as heavily funded by the state and federal government as many districts throughout our state. As a result, our local tax base is such an important part of the equation on how we best serve the children and faculty of our district. Being a good steward of all patrons' tax dollars is challenging. This will be an area of critical importance for our district until the economy is back on stable ground.
Darin Keim:In my opinion, the single most critical challenge our district is facing is the implementation of the Common Core Standards. I am always cautious about subjecting our kids to untested programs and betting the farm on the results. One size will never fit all, especially where education is concerned, and if this unproven program does not achieve the hope-for results, it will leave our great teachers to pick up the pieces.
Nancy Masterson: The single most critical challenge is current growth at the elementary level and funding to adequately address this if additional classroom space is needed. This situation is more daunting if the April 2nd bond issue does not receive approval from the voters and we cannot add space by renovating and building at the outlying elementary schools. We are obligated to educate any student who registers, and it becomes especially difficult when they arrive after the school year begins. This situation occurred this year, requiring us to increase class sizes at the elementary level. As more students registered, we were required to open three additional classrooms after the school year started. We retrofitted an entrance area for a classroom at Osage Beach Elementary. If we have a limited number of classrooms to use, our only choice will be to increase class sizes or purchase/rent modular classrooms and place them outside our regular buildings. There is no space to do this in Osage Beach, unless you take up parking or playground space. Research shows smaller class sizes favor student success and we want our students to feel safe and successful as they begin their first years of formal education.
Bill Moulder: In all school districts money is the primary concern administrators and boards face Camdenton is no different. The Camdenton School District needs to communicate its needs clearly to the community and listen closely to the community's response. A board needs to balance the needs of the district with the wishes of the patrons. The community has clearly stated they are concerned about safety of the students. Changes to the buildings can address a majority of these issues and the changes do not have to be extravagant such as locks, hardened windows and limited access by rearrangement of doors and windows allowing staff to see who is in the building. A security audit of all buildings should be conducted to find the needs and locate any deficit.
Page 5 of 5 - In the past few months the Camdenton school board has presented a picture of a divided body a divided body real or perceived does not allow for productive leadership. Leadership must set policy and goals and allow employees to function. Micromanagement destroys moral and causes employees to feel uncertain as they execute their assigned duties. The Camdenton school board needs to immediately address the division and act to correct the problem.
Tom Williams: I believe that the single most critical challenge facing our school district is collaboration and mutual trust among board members. Failure to work collaboratively, with mutual trust, erodes opportunities for critical change and greatly increases the risk of missing key opportunities for growth. This responsibility resides first with the Board. The Camdenton School District plays a vital role in drawing families to our community and bringing students back to our community to raise their families. It is mission critical to the students of our school district and the economic environment of our community that our school Board leads our district in the most positive way. I believe that this begins with mutual trust and collaboration among its Board members.