April Election: Nixa School Board Candidates

Nixa School Board
Nixa School Board(KY3)
Published: Mar. 18, 2023 at 11:41 AM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Missourians will head to the polls on Tuesday, April 4, to decide municipal and countywide issues.

We reached out to the five candidates running to fill seats on the Nixa School Board and sent them the questions below, and their responses had to be within 200 words.

What do you see is the biggest issue facing your school district and why?

Heather Zoromski: The biggest issue facing Nixa, and all districts in my opinion is the increasing politicization of public education. Current proposed legislation regarding vouchers, charter schools, and tax cuts threatens to spread already thin funding even thinner which first and foremost threatens our ability to pay our teachers a living wage. Also, in Nixa, we are experiencing rapid population growth and decreased funding would make it difficult to keep up with physical capacity demands in each building. Both issues would be detrimental to teacher recruitment, retention, and the quality of education we can provide our students

Linda Daugherty: The biggest issue facing Nixa Public Schools is the decline in teacher retention and recruitment. This challenge is being felt across the state and nation’s schools. Research shows that teachers are the single most important factor that contributes to a student’s achievement in the classroom. When we see a shortage of college graduates in the field of education and we see teachers leaving the profession this should alarm everyone, not just school boards. Without strong teachers we won’t have strong schools and without strong schools we won’t have a strong economy. This is not just a public-school issue; this is a Missouri State issue!

Alex Bryant: We are a conservative school district that represents the values of the people of Nixa. Some people don’t like that. Some have an agenda to try and indoctrinate our kids with their woke beliefs and ideology. I’m all for diversity and inclusivity – my biracial family reflects this segment of America. However, I don’t try to force my worldview and beliefs on anyone and I don’t want anyone trying to force theirs on our kids either. Our community is full of people who love all people, but we don’t want to see our kids being exposed to hypersexualized propaganda and racist beliefs that categorizes our kids as either oppressors or victims

Elizabeth Dudash-Buskirk: Nixa Schools are award winning and need to remain that way. Great schools build strong communities and successful futures for students. Currently, some traditions, not policy, are driving Board decisions and those decisions may not be what is best for our schools. For example, Nixa High School is a Blue Ribbon School, this is a national recognition based on diversity and inclusion, educational opportunities, a well-curated library, and some of the most qualified teachers we could hope to have. Yet, the Board has made and justified decisions to restrict books and take the decisions about the library out of the hands of librarians. It has stood by while the school lost teachers and students clubs based on diversity. I want the schools to be as good in 20 years as they are today--that will not happen if this trajectory is not changed. It is time for some new ways of thinking on the Board.

Jasen Goodall: Short answer? The biggest problem in Nixa School District is teacher retention and recruitment.

I think probably the biggest challenge the district has faced recently is the mass exodus of its teachers. I’ve been asked, “How do we stop that and return Nixa to being a highly desirable place for our great teachers to work?”. That’s a tough, yet reasonable question, and something we need to focus on. There are many reasons why teachers leave the district, like feeling they’re being micromanaged, a perceived lack of appreciation, and especially low pay as compared to surrounding areas. Even culture and climate play a role in this. For instance, I’ve also been told that diversity and inclusion are areas in which Nixa Public Schools has backslid recently, and that if we addressed that better then our teacher retention rates would improve. I know we’ve even lost some teachers over the book banning thing. Removing those specific books and the people reflected in them is not representative of what our great district has been about in the past, and some employees are feeling that sort of change in culture elsewhere…

What would you do about it?

Heather Zoromski: I have been championing increased legislative action which will soon result in board-approved priorities and further committee action. As one of the top districts in the state, we need to lift our voices and educate our legislators on how these decisions are going to impact the schools and students in their hometowns and that well-intentioned policy may very well have unintended negative consequences.

Linda Daugherty: I will continue to be a voice and support for all Nixa Teachers and Staff. I will continue to prioritize teacher needs including professional development and adding resources needed in the classrooms. I will also continue to work on a state level advocating legislators to increase teacher pay, opposing legislation that would be harmful to teachers and students and continue to bring attention to the successes Nixa Teachers and Staff have achieved in their classrooms.

Alex Bryant: I speak out against these ideologies and try to address diversity issues in a positive way. I do this through a weekly podcast that I do called The Way We See It. In addition, my wife and I have authored a book encouraging racial unity. I also actively engage in our community to try to be a positive example of what peace and harmony looks like between the races.

Elizabeth Dudash-Buskirk: I would like us to review our policies on a cycle of every 3-5 years and make sure that policy and practice match and are updated. I would like to explore ways we might retain our excellent teachers, paras, and staff. I would encourage more transparency, not allow a minority determine the educational opportunities of all. While the vote of the Board is always supported by the Board members, individual thoughts should be heard from the Board. Knowing the process by which decisions are made should be fairly transparent to the concerned public, the conclusions drawn should not be surprising.

Jasen Goodall: To slow teachers from leaving the district at our currently alarming rates, and to recruit new, great teachers to come here, I would of course do everything in my power to raise teacher pay to reasonable levels. That is a very simple answer to a very complicated issue, mostly because the state has much more say over teacher pay than the district, but I would always be fighting for teachers’ rights and fair and competitive pay for them. I would also encourage Nixa residents to email, call or mail legislators and let them know what we feel is important for our district’s continued success. Representation and the voices of voter’s matter. The voices of Nixa residents is a resource that has been underutilized by the board, and I’d like to do something about that. I think that (in recent years especially, as the teacher crisis has worsened badly) the board could have done a better job at encouraging citizens to contact legislators and let them know what we really think about needing to allocate our tax dollars towards adequate teacher salaries. NSD is the 26th largest school district in the state by student population (SPS is the largest)...

If you were asked about 2 specific things, you would do as a school board member on top of that issue – what would they be and why?

Heather Zoromski: My top priority is to find ways to continue to increase the transparency of board operations and allow opportunities for additional community input to inform board-level decisions. We completed a survey in the Fall of 2022 regarding the school calendar and future district growth. The feedback was used to inform the 2023/2024 calendar and will continue to be used as the district continues to grow. This was a great example of gathering community input, and I am in favor of doing things like this more often.

Linda Daugherty: One top priority would be to continue to look for ways to build stronger relationships between parents and the school district. I believe this relationship is the most important for our children’s educational success. Making sure that we are keeping Nixa parents and community values and interests at the heart of our curriculum, budget, and programs is important to us. As we all know our landscape for the workforce is changing rapidly with the increase in technology innovation, specialized skills, fewer workers, to just name a few. Another top priority is to continue to find forward-thinking ideas and vision as we prepare our students for graduation. Beginning to expose our students to different careers as early as junior high will begin to encourage curiosity. Also, increase more opportunities for career training in technology, continuing to build partnerships with businesses and establish more opportunities for apprenticeships that will give our students the slight edge in their field of choice.

Alex Bryant: I would promote transparency between the school board and the community. This would include listening to parents concerns about misguided curriculum – like the skewed versions of America’s history as well as inappropriate books available to underage students in the library. Parents need full authority in matters where their children are concerned. I will listen to and support teachers so they can effectively do their job. Teachers want to be equipped, supported, and protected while they are doing their job teaching our kids. We need to listen to them, their desires, and their requests. I plan to be available to listen to teachers and their issues.

Elizabeth Dudash-Buskirk: Two specific areas of need are in special education and mental health. I have been told by counselors and educators and paras in our schools that they face a problem with having enough mental health professionals, enough support staff, and the resources to serve all students well. They also tell me that we need to work on inclusion of other abled and other talented students. These are difficult tasks that require time and resources of various kinds.

Jasen Goodall: The two specific things I’ll touch on here are closely related. They both revolve around communication and allowing us all to work together better as a team. First, as a school board member, I’d like to foster a new environment of transparency and communication between the board, district and community - something which seems to have been lacking lately. I’ve gotten good responses from people when I’ve asked what they think about the possibility of holding quarterly “Town Hall” type meetings where the public could have a healthy Q&A with board members outside of public school board meetings and the very, very limited interactions that happen there. I can see how increased communication from this sort of meeting could be helpful for all. Second, I could help improve the board’s effectiveness by helping to form a volunteer committee of teachers, staff, parents and students to discuss and provide input and feedback to the board about different issues facing the district (the more stakeholders the better). We could eliminate some existing communication barriers and bring representatives together to meet with the board to discuss issues and their possible solutions…

Do you think the taxes going for schools need to be raised or lowered.. and why.. if raised – what would the money go for?

Heather Zoromski: We do everything we can to not increase taxes, which is why the district mainly strives to ask for no-tax-levy increase bond issues to fund needed projects. These funds, however, can’t be used to increase teacher pay. And, until the state increases funding so teacher pay can be increased, districts might have to make difficult choices. In Nixa, we spend $3,000 less than the state average yearly to educate each student, and we consistently rank among the top schools in the state. But, there is only so much money to pay for things.

Linda Daugherty: Raising local taxes for schools really depends on our support from our state and federal governments. This is why it is so important for our legislators to be in support of public schools and take care of our teachers by increasing their pay. Not putting the burden on the local taxpayers. Our board works to be efficient in that we currently spend $3,000.00 less per student than the state average. We also use our bonding capacity to complete our capital projects such as building more classrooms, repairing buildings, replacing HVAC and roofs. By doing this we can keep more money in our operating budgets for day-to-day educational needs and staff salaries.

Alex Bryant: I support tax increases that will help raise our teacher pay in order to retain good teachers. We have a growing community and we are going to need to ensure that our salaries and benefits are competitive in order to retain our best assets.

Elizabeth Dudash-Buskirk: I do not know the answer to this question directly because I do not have the information needed to make this assessment now. I know that tax dollars are easily wasted and, as a citizen, this upsets me. However, are some efforts worth the investment of higher taxes, especially retaining great teachers, hiring more support staff for our educators, and helping students succeed not just with skills training, but with social awareness and experience. Keeping our transportation system up to date, maintaining our buildings, and supplying the buildings will always cost money and may need to be raised, but taxes collected need to impact the school directly, the students most of all, for me to want an increase.

Jasen Goodall: I’m not an economist, so you’re asking me a question outside of my expertise, but I’m in favor of the current “No Tax Levy Rate Increase” bond measure, if that’s what you’re getting at. Schools are the best thing to spend taxpayer money on. A good school district has benefits that go even beyond giving our kids a great educational experience. Nixa schools’ performance created tremendous growth for us in past decades, and that reputation is still driving growth that benefits us all today. It makes Nixa a wonderful place to live and to raise a family. That’s something I’m grateful for, and like the majority of people here, I’m willing to pay the needed taxes to support it. A related benefit to paying enough taxes to have a great school system is that property values tend to rise faster and by more than the additional tax dollars we pay to live here. A well-funded school system pays you back in many ways. As for state taxes and how those funds are used, I think a larger percentage should be allocated to education, and specifically to teacher pay. Missouri should be embarrassed to rank so low in teacher salaries…

Why should people vote for you?

Heather Zoromski: I think people should vote for me as first and foremost I am a mom to three Nixa Eagles ranging in age from preschool to 6th grade, so board-level decisions impact my family too. My oldest son has sensory processing disorder and anxiety, and I know firsthand what it is like to worry that your child is going to be labeled as “different.” I bring that level of awareness and empathy to each of our 6,700 students. Professionally, I have over 20 years of experience working in nonprofit administration through which I have had the privilege of working alongside many school districts in southwest Missouri to implement programs related to health, mental health, dental health, healthcare career education, early childhood education, social-emotional competencies, and agriculture science. I bring that experience, expertise, and an immense network of community connections to the table.

Linda Daugherty: I would be honored if people voted for me because they could see my fierce belief in public schools and how I know that quality education empowers our children to accomplish their dreams and goals. This doesn’t happen by chance, but by thoughtful leaders who intentionally set strong policies, are financially sound, create high expectations and cast forward-thinking vision to empower our administrative team and teachers to lead the way. I believe our board has done this and I would like to continue the legacy of learning in Nixa.

Alex Bryant: I’m a parent of three Nixa students in junior high and high school and I’m vested in this school district. I have also involved as a volunteer football coach and basketball coach with the rec center and I know many of these kids. I’m an active member of our community who represents our conservative family values.

Elizabeth Dudash-Buskirk: I have 25 years of experience teaching in high schools and universities. I have dedicated my life to education and I come from a family of educators. My son has graduated and that means that I look at school districts from the point of view of a concerned citizen now, but still understand the perspective of a parent. Most of all, I understand that excellent schools grow excellent leaders and skilled workers. I know that good school districts lead to higher property values, better citizens, and stronger communities. I moved to Nixa for the schools, I know others who did as well, and I want Nixa to stay strong as a community of values and excellent citizens.

Jasen Goodall: I like to think that I’m approachable. I know that I’m willing to listen and would like to be able to represent ALL the people in our community in a unifying way. I plan to bring my years of experience in the district working with parents, teachers, counselors, students, paras, administrators, board members, and others to serve us all and as well as I can on the board. I’ve served in many other volunteer positions in Nixa Public Schools over the years and have formed connections and bonds and a positive reputation which, I believe, has prepared me to do a good job serving the people of Nixa on our school board. I’m a local, small business owner with ties to the community in that way. I was a member of the Board of Directors for the original Nixa Youth Sports league. I served for 6 years on the Board of Directors for JTSD’s PTA. The last 3 of those 6 years I was President of that PTA unit. I also served as the President of The Nixa Council of PTAs for two years - that’s the district-wide PTA organization…

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