In the final part of a three-part question-and-answer series, candidates identify a fiscal issue the district faces and comment on the district's emergency preparedness.
1. What do you think is the most challenging fiscal issue that currently faces the district? 150 word limit.
Selynn Barbour: The recent flat-lining of our property tax base is our most challenging fiscal issue. We generate about 50% of our current budget from our local property tax receipts. This past year we realized a slight decline in receipts as conclusive of our nation's economy.
As you realize, not many costs of living have remained the same nor have decreased. We have kept the levy the same for 10 and plan going forward 11 years. We curtail expenses teaming with our staff how to best steward your monies. We haven't created new positions because of this past trend as personnel is our largest expense.
We are hopeful for the future but are mindful of the past to keep our costs below our receipts. Rest assured, thanks to prudent fiscal discipline we have a bit of a reserve to tap into if need be.
Courtney Hulett: Reduced funding at both the state and federal levels is our most challenging fiscal issue. This poses a problem because the school needs to provide the same quality services and competitive benefits with reduced revenue. No one wants to see programs cut as a result of reduced funding. As mentioned in previous articles, we are going to have to get creative and energetic in order to secure the funds that cover these services.
These services are not only vital to the growth of our students and staff, but also to the continued growth of our community. When businesses consider relocating to this area, school performance is a high priority. Business owners will not bring industry to this area if we have a mediocre school. Being a part of this community means we have a role in seeing Camdenton Schools succeed, and all ideas regarding funding should be considered.
Joe Ridgeway: Salaries and benefits make up anywhere from 70% to 80% of school budgets. I would consider health insurance a top priority in the Camdenton School District. Camdenton R-3 is a self-funded district which basically means the district assumes the responsibility of collecting premiums and dispersing claims and eliminates a third party insurance administrator. The district must make sure that they have enough funds collected and enough in reserve should the claims exceed the premiums. Basically the district assumes all the risk. I have heard that claims are exceeding the revenue collected for premiums. I would look at other options that would include plan choices for the staff rather than only offering one plan.
No matter what plan is offered if they are over-utilized by the participants, insurance premiums will continue to rise. The staff must make sure they make healthy life-style choices to help offset the cost of rising premiums.
Mindi Sales: There always seems to be fiscal challenges facing school districts, so choosing one is not easy. For me, one issue that concerns me deeply is the cost of the new school in Osage Beach, and the renovation to Hurricane Deck. I am concerned about the overages. I understand that the schools were needed. I am just not sure how the district will be able to come up with the money for the overages that are already coming in, along with staffing a bigger building without raising the levy. Those are important issues that need to be addressed. Let me be clear: I will NOT vote for a levy increase without a vote of the people.
Jackie Schulte: Fiscal responsibility remains a priority for me. Regardless of our environment in both good and bad economies, we have to be wise stewards of district funds we have available and find the largest return for our investments. We cannot make promises or spend funds that aren’t available. As a district, we have seen a small downturn in the counties’ assessed evaluation last year. We have also seen the expiration of our 21st Century Grant supporting programs like PASS and robotics. With reasonable and appropriate trade-offs, we can find ways to fund these programs that are so vital to our community. Using common sense and putting education first, we can avoid being in a position like other districts considering teacher layoffs. Changes in funding are challenges, but they can be met with solid and sound fiscal measures that maintain the quality of education we expect for the children of our
2. Do you think the school district has taken sufficient steps to ensure student safety? Is it adequately communicated with parents?
Selynn Barbour: Steps is a wonderful word as we're always climbing our journey of safely educating our youth on their path of life. We utilize vast methods and technologies to ensure safety of our students and staff by the letter of the law. We utilize cameras on campuses, in the buildings and in our buses. The Camdenton Police report at our last board meeting gave professional credence that this is working to empower our staff to teach.
We employ professional student resource officers. They are highly visible while monitoring cameras from within their cars, direct bus traffic plus walk our halls. We offer student drills, counselors give classroom lessons, anti-drink and drive live docudramas and active shooter training for staff.
With the passing of our bonds we are constructing secure entryways at all buildings.
Policies are communicated extensively in each student's handbook. Both student and parent/guardian sign a contract stating they have read and understand protocol.
We communicate from call-reach phone calls, website, district newsletters to in-person conversations. Times may change. The need for safety won't. We will adjust our sails accordingly and propel straight to the shore of safety and excellent education for our youth!
Courtney Hulett: Unfortunately, school security has become a necessary priority in recent years, and I believe that the Camdenton school district has given this topic its due diligence. They have earmarked money out of the “no-tax” bond increase for securing entrances to all schools. We currently have three full-time school resource officers, which has proven nationwide to deter school shootings. Our district has completed active-shooter trainings, bus driver training, and bus safety instruction for all elementary students. Safety committees were also formed to stay abreast of safety issues on all campuses. It is also comforting to know that all assistant principals complete extensive safety training. I believe with the changing face of crime, these projects will be a constant work in progress. We must stay current and vigilant for the sake of our students and staff.
I believe if our patrons are interested in safety-related topics, the information has been available to them. Safety information has been discussed in recent board meetings and published in the school’s newsletter. Increased security information is still warranted because it is both viable and is what our community views as newsworthy.
Joe Ridgeway: Honestly, I am not aware of all the steps the district has taken to ensure student safety or if it has been adequately communicated with the parents. However, in light of previous school shootings including Sandy Hook, districts across the nation have examined and heightened their security measures for entry into buildings and protocol for intruders who have breached building security.
I would want to make sure that our buildings are not easily accessible to anyone without authorized access to the building especially during school hours. I would like to see the district continue its practice of providing intruder response training to the staff and students in conjunction with outside agencies such as local police, the sheriff’s department, highway patrol, fire department, ambulance district and others.
I believe the Camdenton School District is working diligently on these issues to provide a safe a secure environment for the students and
Mindi Sales: Yes, I do think the district has taken sufficient steps to ensure student safety. It is unfortunate that we live in a time where we need to keep our school doors locked to keep our kids safe, but it is realistic and the right thing to do. Between the new security at the schools, the information given to parents in the handbook, the school reach calls, and now the text messaging from the school, I think the district is doing a good job keeping the students safe and the parents informed about their student's safety.
Jackie Schulte: When I send my three children to Camdenton R-III schools, I understand the urgency and importance that safety plays at their school. As a parent and citizen, I also understand the balance of utmost precaution without creating prisons. The district has taken the right steps towards both maintaining and improving student safety. Using funding of the district bonds, we were able to rearrange entryways to provide more secure building access points. Our district also partnered with the Camdenton Police Department to apply for the "Secure Our Schools" grant which we received. This allowed us to expand our video surveillance capabilities on all our campuses, while school resource officers are able to monitor multiple cameras from a laptop. Officer Williams coordinates an "Active Shooter Drill" with local law officials allowing law enforcement and school staff to prepare for any unforeseen shooting incident scenarios that could happen in one of our buildings. The communication plans have created a formal mechanism that parents like me are informed of any events ranging from weather to criminal. Learning from the school tragedies across the US, I am confident our school district has proactively worked to create a safe, but open environment for our kids.
*Editor’s Note: Candidates responses were not altered in any way. Candidates were provided a word count for answers. Some responses exceeded the requested word count and were cut off.