Ava School Board Candidates Interview

Questions for School Board Candidate Vernard (Vern) Deatherage

Question #1: What’s your take on the current relationship between the Ava School Board and Bus Drivers, and how will you work to improve it?

My take on the current relationship between the Ava School Board and the Bus Drivers — Sad!

It is a result of miscommunication, rumors, mistrust and personal conflicts between some members of both parties involved. I feel that the only way to fix this problem is with your vote on June 2nd. I believe that, with new board members who can be open, honest and fair, this problem can be resolved very quickly and fairly for both the bus drivers and the school board.   I feel that board members should not let personal vendettas or personal dislikes rule the way they vote. Board members should vote for the best solution that benefits the students, school and the majority of the voters/taxpayers.

Question #2: What other specific initiatives for improving Ava Schools will you propose if elected this year?

After talking with several voters, teachers, board members, parents and students, I feel that there are several areas that need attention, one of which is school lunches. I believe that the contract that was just renewed should be revisited.

Another area that I believe needs reviewing is teacher-vetting and the procedures for hiring, firing and resignations.

I also believe that the school’s CPA contract that was recently voted on, at a cost of $5,000 more per year than a local CPA firm’s bid, needs to be addressed.  That is $25,000 (over five years) that the school could be saving for the very same service.

Upon signing up to run for the Ava School Board, I was asked by two of the current board members “if I was for the bus drivers” which I felt was a very odd question, coming from them. As a matter of fact, I am not only for the bus drivers, I am also for the students, teachers, school district as a whole, and yes, you, the voters/taxpayers of the Ava School District.

I wish to thank the Douglas County Herald for the opportunity to address these questions.

Please vote on June 2nd.

Questions for School Board Candidate Troy Tredway:

Question #1: You were part of an Ava School Board that was able to renegotiate contracts and come to a working arrangement with the school bus drivers. What’s your take on the current relationship between the two parties and how do you propose to resolve it?

The current relationship between the Board of Education and the contracted bus route owners is as bad as it has ever been. The contractor’s trust in the Board is at an all-time low, and with good reason. The Board of Education agreed to negotiate, but they never negotiated. The two delegates the district sent told the contractors they were not speaking for the Board or the district, which ended any kind of negotiation talks. The Board would rather not negotiate, but instead take words out of the contract and twist them into a different meaning to try to get rid of the bus route owners. I spoke to the Superintendent and volunteered to go before the Board and explain what the original writers of the contract,which including myself and other past members, meant when constructing the contract including the conversation held with the contractors when the legal and binding contract was agreed upon and signed. The Superintendent never told the Board of my offer, as he had told me he would. The Board of Education, acting on behalf of the district, has put the district in danger of a lawsuit by the tortious interference of the route owner’s contract they have with the district. This unlawful action has not only threatened the actual binding nature of the contract, but has affected the actual profit and livelihood of each owners business with loss of the value, the interest of future sales or transfers of routes, and loss of income which can be easily proved in a court of law. Thankfully, these contractors do not want to be any part of a lawsuit, but they are being forced to look at this as an option because of the inappropriate action of the Board.

This question’s second part, of how do I propose to resolve it, is an easy answer. If I am elected along with the other likeminded candidates, we will have a working majority.  This common sense majority will, in our very first open session meeting, hold a discussion between the Board and the representatives of the bus association. Through negotiation of both parties we will create an outline for a legal document to be written by a lawyer that will allow the district to install the equipment they own on the contractors’ privately owned buses. To achieve this there will need to be legal wording making the district solely responsible for the equipment, it’s stored data, and any lawsuit action that might become of it to the district or the owner of the vehicle or the driver. There will need to be agreement on an on-off switch that can be turned off when not transporting students and not receiving pay, and there will need to be compensation for time and travel to bring the bus in for district equipment repairs and data retrieval when necessary. An agreement will need to specifically state what the cameras are to be used for, in addition to what reasons to look at data, when to look at data, the location to look at data, who will be present when data is viewed, and how data is kept safe without tampering or viewing from unauthorized persons. These are the issues that have not been addressed properly or legally. The present BOE knows this but refuses to negotiate.  On the first meeting, we will also discuss the cost of our transportation system, past raises which have been missed, and actions that will be taken for correction of such matters.

Question #2: What other specific initiatives for improving Ava Schools will you propose if reelected this year?

The second question about new initiatives for district improvement is what I am most interested in because the transportation system has been fixed it is just that the incompetency of the Board has made a mess of things…  While I was on the Board a couple years ago, I saw a need to not only change the pay of all teachers, but to increase the starting pay on the first step even more for their first few years . I worked hard to help get a special type of salary adjustment through that was one of the best pay raises and benefit packages the district has seen in decades. Since that time, Governor Parsons has recently sent advice to DESE and all Missouri School Districts that Missouri Schools are below standards and there needs to be more done. I have formulated a plan to correct our pay scale and fulfill  the wishes of the Governor. Also, insurance cost to the employees has skyrocketed and I would like to  lower health insurance by 50 dollars a month per employee. I would also like to see fair compensation for vacation, personal, or sick days not used. All of this will not only help us reach goals that the Governor has requested, but definitely it will make our district a more desirable destination for teachers looking for a place to invest their future in.

I would like to work to implement a higher education program in which the district will help with funds to assist a teacher working towards their master’s degree. With a simple contract signed by the teacher stating they will stay with the district 5 years I would like to see the district help with at least 50 percent of the expenses. There are already schools to the west of Ava doing this, and it will benefit the teachers, their families, our community, and the district.

I am also a member of a group of board members who have a desire to advance and expand our vo-tech education program. This program expansion would not only include more skills being taught such as nursing and a teaching program among others, but also it would have a certification certificate that would be recognized and helpful for a student to start at a better career after High School or with a better preparedness to go into a technical college or trade school. The Governor also has great interest in this topic, as he already recognizes not all students go to a four-year college after graduation. Our plan would be to send two or three Board members to Jefferson City to meet with the Governor to see if there is or will be extra grant money for expansion in this type of rapidly growing education. We would also look at the option of bringing other schools into the program if we can offer a vo-tech program exclusive to Ava, with a possibility of evening classes for adults for the surrounding community.

Of course, most people know that I would be moving immediately in a direction to eliminate OPAA from our district cafeteria program. I, along with other board members, have researched other districts, attended conference meetings on this topic, and believe without a doubt that we can implement a district-run program like the majority of the schools in Missouri already have that will serve our district with better food for our students and a better way of life for the workers in the our cafeteria.

Bullying will also be a topic discussed with great emphasis and I am not talking solely about student bullying. It is near impossible to expect the student bullying to stop when there are adults in the school system who have the same problem of bullying others. This issue must be addressed and stopped.

Troy Tredway

Questions for School Board Candidate Michael Stewart:

Since joining the Ava School Board in April of 2017, you’ve voted:
– Against renewing contracts with the bus drivers.
– 1 yes / 4 no on  bus driver pay raises.
– 0 yes / 3 no against hiring Transpar to analyze the Ava busing situation.
– 3 yes / 2 no on bus route sales and transfers.

Question #1: Can you help Douglas County voters understand why you’ve voted this way, and talk about your vision for a safe, affordable busing solution going forward?

I have learned a lot over the last three years.  I have seen first-hand that we have some of the best teachers and staff in the state.  They are hard-working, caring, and make our students their number one priority.  With each vote that I have cast, I voted for what I felt was best for the students while being conscientious of taxpayer dollars.  You have asked me to justify how I voted on 13 different situations over 3 years, all of which deal strictly with transportation.  This would be too complicated and lengthy to explain in a write-up for the paper.  School board videos are available for viewing online. I encourage anyone who has questions to watch these videos in which each topic is discussed and my opinions expressed.

As far as my vision for a busing solution going forward, I would love to see cameras on every bus.  Most school districts in the state of Missouri already have cameras.  These cameras monitor student behavior, help minimize bullying and bad behavior, can aid in identifying drivers who disregard the stop arm, and track when and where each student boards and exits the bus.  I think a good transportation system is one that includes cameras. These cameras would be paid for by the Ava School District and would be of no cost to the drivers.  Unfortunately, a majority of our bus drivers have filed a lawsuit to try and prevent this from happening. A few drivers have chosen to have cameras installed and already the cameras have proven to be useful. I hope we can put cameras on every bus soon.

Question #2: What other specific initiatives for improving Ava Schools will you propose if reelected this year?

I feel that over the last three years we have made some great improvements.  We have added a school resource officer, added security cameras around campus, drastically increased the number of computers available to students, and increased internet bandwidth tenfold just to name a few. I want to continue making improvements to our school district. One thing I would like to see are more teachers hired so that class sizes can be reduced. We know that students learn better in small classes.  I would also love to see an expansion of the vo-ag program. I believe giving students trade skills is important for preparing students to become productive members of society.

Two years ago, I served on a committee created to address the needs of our struggling readers who had characteristics of dyslexia. This committee researched programs and decided to begin using the Barton Reading and Spelling Program. This program is used with elementary, middle and high school students.  It has been very successful in helping students become better readers.  I am very proud to have been a part of this process and look forward to taking it to new levels.  The last three years have gone by fast and it has been a privilege to serve on the Ava R-I School Board. Thanks.

 

Questions for School Board Candidate Mark Henry:

Since joining the Ava School Board in April of 2017, you’ve voted:
– For renewing contracts with bus drivers.
– 2 yes / 3 no on bus driver pay raises.
– 1 yes / 2 no on hiring Transpar to analyze the Ava busing situation.
– 4 yes / 1 no on route sales or transfers.

Question #1: Can you help Douglas County voters understand why you’ve voted this way, and talk about your vision for a safe, affordable busing solution going forward?

I always vote for what I believe is fair and best for the students of Ava.  Weather [sic] it is a decision regarding the budget to ensure using our tax dollars wisely to give our students the best educational opportunities possible in a safe environment or staff issues that can only be discussed in closed session, I always vote for what I believe is best for the students.  This question asks about more than 13 different votes over the last three years that only involved transportation.  I considered every vote carefully and always voted for what I thought was fair and ultimately best for the students.  There were different situations in every vote and I do not think I can explain that in a write up for the paper.  However, my opinions were stated in open session and on video for everyone to watch which included discussions and my opinions stated in open session.  I encourage everyone that has questions to watch these board meetings.

Moving forward I believe bus cameras for student and driver safety should be on every bus.  The school district has already budgeted and purchased these cameras for all school owned and contractor owned buses.  These cameras would be at no cost to the contractors.  The school has covered the cost of buying and installing these camera so the contractors would have no added expenses.  All the school owned buses and a few of the contractor owned buses have cameras installed already and they have proved to be useful in a few cases.  These cameras include stop arm cameras to aid in police investigations for motorists that fail to stop for the stop arms along with cameras in the bus monitoring student activity.  The camera usage agreement presented to the contractors is very much like and even more detailed than the usage agreements that were signed more than three years ago when radios were installed on the buses.  I think a safe transportation system would be one with cameras considering most school districts in Missouri already have them and have proved to be valuable for student and driver safety.

Question #2: What other specific initiatives for improving Ava Schools will you propose if reelected this year?

If re-elected I will do what is best for the students as I always have. That should be the priority for a functional school board.  Over the last three years I have learned a lot and have been very proud of the amount of student accomplishments.  Ava athletic teams, band, choir, FBLA, FFA and many other Ava clubs have worked hard to obtain some remarkable achievements. They make everyone proud to be an Ava Bear and have paved a road for upcoming students to set their goals high.  I cannot wait to see our students in action again.  I have also been proud of the quality of teachers and staff that we have in the Ava R-I school system.  Each one working hard to provide the best educational opportunities for our students in a safe environment. I will continue to make Ava Schools a good work environment for them and continue to recruitment and retain quality teaches [sic] and staff.

A couple great things that have been accomplished since I have been on the board is the addition of a school resource officer which has proved to be very valuable in student and staff safety.  Also, we have added extra efforts in diagnosing dyslexia and assisting students with dyslexia read at high levels.  Those are just a couple of the great things accomplished over the last three years.

My specific initiatives for improving Ava Schools if re-elected will start with the upcoming budget in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. I will work with Dr. Dial and the rest of the board to develop a school budget so students and teachers are able to continue a new school year with as minimal impact as possible. This is a challenge every school is facing now. Some answers are still uncertain pertaining to the school funding sources and these are situations school districts have never faced. We would all like to see school open at the beginning of the fall semester with every extracurricular opportunity available for our students while following new guidelines set by the state.  This will include working to develop new protocols for safety to align our school with these guidelines regarding this pandemic.

Questions for School Board Candidate Lowell Strong:

Question #1: You were part of an Ava School Board that was able to renegotiate contracts and come to a working arrangement with the school bus drivers. What’s your take on the current relationship between the two parties and how do you propose to resolve it?

I think the current board is unwilling to work with the bus contractors due to unrealistic ideas. The majority of the current board think School Transportation can be done more economical than it’s being done now. All they need to do look at transportation numbers for surrounding districts and they could see we have the most cost-effective transportation system we can have. The road conditions and size of our school district make it a one of a kind and very unique district. Some of the current board members want the district to own the buses, hire drivers, hire a transportation director, hire mechanics and do the bus up keep in house. If this happens the districts transportation cost will go from a little more than 600 thousand to well over a million. The additional cost will come from money currently being used for other things, teachers’ pay, building improvements and etc. As for how to resolve the issue between the bus contractors and the board I think a committee of board members and bus contractors needs to be set up and issues pertaining to contracts, money and disciplinary actions needs to looked at by this committee and the committee brings a recommendation to the board for approval. I think the superintendent needs to be taken out of the contract, money and disciplinary actions negotiations, it’s the superintendent’s responsibility to direct the buses where to go, what time and etc. but it’s the boards responsibility to negotiate contracts, money and disciplinary actions.

I have been told by more than one past superintendent that our district has the most cost effective and trouble-free transportation system in the state, they loved it and said it almost ran itself and gave them more time to do other things. People need to ask themselves what has gone wrong, why is the board, the superintendent and the contractors at odds with each other? The contractors are pretty much the same people, the only thing that has changed is the board members and the administration. It’s my opinion communication is the best way to resolve an issue and it looks to me like one side is no longer willing to listen to the other side.

Question #2: What other specific initiatives for improving Ava Schools will you propose if reelected this year?

One of the biggest things I want to see is better communication between teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers, students, contractors, the public and the board. It’s my opinion the best way to resolve an issue is to talk to others and ask for ideas to not only resolve an issue but also how to make things better.

Another problem we have is the food service. I hear complaints very often from students and parents and have heard complaints from teachers and administration about the quality of food being served. Some students only eat at the cafeteria one day a week the day chicken patties are served the rest of the week they bring their lunch or go hungry. I have been told by parents, teachers and school employees they will not let their kids eat at the cafeteria nor will they eat there. Something needs to be done about this, in the past the board has asked the superintendent to talk to OPPA and for a while the food got a little better but didn’t stay better.  OPPA is a profit-based company maybe it’s time to look at a school-controlled food service.

 Lowell Strong

Questions for School Board Candidate Kenny Fleetwood:

Since joining the Ava School Board in April of 2017, you’ve voted:
– For renewing contracts with bus drivers.
– 2 yes / 3 no on bus driver pay raises.
– 1 yes/ 1 no / 1 absent on hiring Transpar to analyze the Ava busing situation.
– 4 yes / 1 no on route sales and transfers.

Question #1: Can you help Douglas County voters understand why you’ve voted this way, and talk about your vision for a safe, affordable busing solution going forward?

It has been a pleasure serving on the Ava School Board the past 3 years, and I have learned a lot. We have an amazing staff and administration in place that truly care about the kids and make them the top priority. The Herald asked me to justify why I voted the way I did for 13 different times in the past 3 years and only about transportation.  This would be very complicated and way to [sic] long to explain each one and the different circumstances with each vote.  I stand by my votes and feel I was fair and did how I felt best for the students and the school, I understand that sometimes the votes we make may  not be popular with some people or a group, but I have done what I think has been fair and best for all involved.

With moving forward, I would like to see the cameras installed on each bus.  Having cameras are a common practice among school districts in Missouri, they will help with monitoring student behavior, will be able to see what happens when a complaint or behavior problems arise, identify vehicles that violate the bus stop arm when students are getting off or on the bus.  The camera will be a very useful tool that will help to protect and be safer  for the driver and students, that will help to make their job easier while transporting kids.  The cameras and installation are 100% paid for by the school costing the drivers ZERO, and video footage will only be viewed when necessary with the driver and administration present. The majority of the drivers have filed a claim to stop them from being installed, the four routes that do have cameras have already proved to useful and beneficial. As a school board member and a parent, I don’t believe that we can be to [sic] safe and need to do everything we can to ensure the safety of our children, drivers and faculty.

Question #2: What other specific initiatives for improving Ava Schools will you propose if reelected this year?

In the past 3 years being on the school board, I feel we have made some great strides and improvement in the district.  A full time resource officer commissioned by Sheriff Degase, maintenance shed big enough to pull in and work on buses, cleaned up the school campus by purchasing adjoining lots along Mansfield St, added over 700 computers in the 3 buildings and made the high school 1:1 (one student to one computer), approximately $600,000 in numerous capital projects keeping our facilities updated, and upgraded our computer network, just to name a few.

In the next 3 years if reelected I would like to work with the other board members to continue upgrading our facilities to increase student safety and expand opportunities for students to experience exposure to a wider variety of career opportunities, reduce classroom size, keep working on expanding vocational classes, get a budget in place that takes into consideration the state funding cuts while still meeting the needs of all students and keeping all staff at a competitive salary.