April Election: Ozark School Board Candidates

Ozark School Board
Ozark School Board(KY3)
Published: Mar. 19, 2023 at 12:30 PM CDT|Updated: Mar. 29, 2023 at 10:19 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 six candidates running to fill seats on the Ozark School Board and sent them the questions below, and their responses had to be within 200 words. Anthony Petrosino did not submit his answers by the deadline given to all candidates.

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

Amber Bryant: Teacher Retention

Ralph Phillips: Growth resulting in larger than ideal student/teacher ratios, especially at the pre-k through 4th grades. Christian County and Ozark continues to lead the state in population growth. Studies show that smaller classrooms are critical both for the students ability to learn and educators can better teach. Also monies invested in early education actually saves.

Guy Callaway: We could say hiring and retaining the best teachers is a major issue but that is for all school districts. I also think state legislature will have an impact on our school district. With the passing of HB 253 in the House and assuming it passes in the Senate it will be having strong leaders that can look at how we can use it to continue to make Ozark the best school district possible. There are going to be unintended consequences and the leadership of the school board will be critical. To be able to view the opportunity from multiple dimensions and find the best solution.

Joey Mills: The biggest issue facing our school district is infrastructure repairs and maintenance at our various school buildings throughout the community.

Anthony Petrosino: This seems to be the question everyone asks… As in every facet of life, there are multiple challenges that need to be addressed, not just one or the biggest.

One big challenge is keeping good teachers in the district.

The perception in Ozark seems to be the teachers fear the hierarchy. Having teachers fear the hierarchy is not a way to run a district or any organization for that matter.

The teachers already have a huge responsibility, being entrusted by the parents to academically develop the students and keep them safe from harm. They need to be encouraged by the administration, not ostracized.

If there is a perception that could keep good teachers out.

Christina Tonsing: Our District has built a long-held reputation for our town of having fantastic schools. In order to preserve that reputation, we need to be able to keep our quality teachers. There is a massive teacher shortage in many districts, and Ozark has also experienced a high turnover rate. We do a great job attracting new teachers, with a higher starting pay than the state requirement and even higher than many neighboring schools. A closer look is needed to be sure the middle steps of that pay scale keep pace as well. But, more importantly than teacher pay, the biggest factor for any District in retaining those hard-working teachers is to be sure the district is a place they want to work. People want to be part of an organization when they know they have a purpose, when they are valued and respected, when they are heard and their ideas considered, when their leaders are open to feedback – and promises made to them are kept. Loyalty is earned through reciprocal care and respect. Ozark must ensure those principles permeate the atmosphere throughout the District.

What would you do about it?

Amber Bryant: From a Human Resources standpoint, this is the first issue I’d like to address. I’d want to look at the turnover rates for the last 5 years. I’d want to specifically look at teachers and break it down by gender/age/building to see if there is a consistent theme. I’d want to know if they are conducting exit interviews and the exit interview questions being asked. I’d want the questions to be specific to get down to the real issues. If we are paying a fair wage, then that’s not the reason. It would be wrong of me to answer what I’d do to help teacher retention before I knew the specific issues. Only once we have that data/knowledge could we start to address what we should do about it.

Ralph Phillips: Continue advocating for more pre-k through 4th grade classrooms, reducing the student/teacher ratios. This will allow for a solid foundation for our students and data shows a cost savings to the district

Guy Callaway: It is hard to say specifically what will be done about it. If elected it will be important to have a big picture vision of the change and how it will impact our students and teacher. It will take strategic planning to understand how we can turn this opportunity into a strength for Ozark. Part of this will be ensuring a culture that helps teachers thrive that will ultimately help our students succeed.

Joey Mills: If elected, I would work to make sure that future ballot measures presented by the district address the need for infrastructure repair and maintenance.

Anthony Petrosino: Change the environment (with the help of others). Make sure there is an attitude of respect and integrity. That alone will change the perception, and the teachers and other staff could come to work uninhibited, ready to perform their duties as desired.

Christina Tonsing: Making Ozark a place teachers want to work means there is a recognition of their expertise, and thus they have more autonomy and control to make decision about how to do what is needed in their classrooms, free to design their own lesson plans and structure their classroom to their students’ needs. Teachers choose their profession because they love helping kids discover a love for learning -- which will fuel them the rest of their lives, enabling them to develop and grow to their full potential. We need to let teachers teach. As we ease the administrative burden from teachers, allowing them to focus on their passion for kids and exercise their expertise with more control to impart knowledge and understanding to those kids, Ozark will be a place where teachers want to continue teaching. We must also ensure teachers are not asked to do too much “double-duty”. They are frequently asked to give up their planning periods to teach classes with a vacancy. Some have to leave class early – using time from the school day -- to help drive buses. Many are leading classrooms with too many students. Ozark can and must do better to empower its teachers.

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?

Amber Bryant: I know there are many issues facing our teachers and students on a daily basis. My question would be, are we giving them everything they need to be successful when facing these issues? I’d like to see us have a district wide engagement/culture climate survey for staff and students. The survey should be administered by a third party so it’s anonymous and we’ll get honest feedback. I can’t say I know all the challenges but if elected I’d like to start asking/gathering data so we can identify major struggles and start having conversations and troubleshoot ways we can help.

Ralph Phillips: Engage the students more on decisions that impact them. Make students a more intricate part of the process. I have found that many positive input from all students often produce great solutions to current challenges. Enhance work place environment. Continue to recruit and retain the best employees. Engage and build relationships with all employees on ways to improve the workforce environment.

Guy Callaway: I have been asked about teacher turnover and having autonomy in their classroom. In both cases It is important we have a true culture of open door policy so teachers can inform administration about their concerns without fear of consequences. Creating that dialogue can help us understand why something is happening or perceived. This is when we can develop a true plan on how we can make an impact as a board.

Joey Mills: The two things that I would do as a school board member beyond addressing the needed infrastructure repairs and maintenance are 1) host regular listening sessions with our community that take place outside of the strict rules of a public board meeting, where the community can express their comments and concerns and the topics that the board is discussing can be weighed in upon so that their feedback can be heard and nuance that can’t be expressed in a time and participant limited public board meeting because we have community members who do not feel like their voices are being heard by the board, and 2) I would work with my fellow board members to ensure that leadership concerns expressed by district staff and the greater community are addressed because there are some real concerns that the staff and community have that either are not expressed for a number of reasons or that folks don’t feel are being addressed.

Anthony Petrosino: First set a high standard of academics, and that starts with reviewing the curriculum to ensure the students are being academically challenged. Their future depends on the highest quality education, which will give them the skills needed to perform their professional and civic duty in society.

Second, I will want to review the budget to ensure every tax dollar is not being wasted on frivolous spending. If it is, then I would expect all the board members to get together to determine what steps, we can do to encourage the administration to fix the problem.

Christina Tonsing: Ozark needs to rearrange its budgetary emphasis to meeting current and future classroom needs. While Ozark’s student enrollment increased by about half since 2002, the administrative salary cost per student has more than doubled, with the total administrative salaries increasing over 200%. Top-heavy administrations place greater burdens on those doing the work. While valid explanations exist for needing administrators, several of those relate to ensuring we comply with the many complexities of state and federal regulations. I propose Ozark re-examine which, if any, federal mandates fit us. Declining to participate in some federal mandates would actually save us money. Schools’ participation in those mandates costs 3–4 times more than what’s received in federal funds. Less than 10% of most schools’ budgets come from federal funding. Is it worth it? Bills in the legislature proposing dropping mandatory adherence to state regulations and their ever-changing testing standards are gaining in popularity as Districts realize the need to retain local control for their students. I propose examining whether that might be helpful for Ozark. We could then streamline the over $3 million we spend on multiple levels of administration, redirecting those resources to areas that provide tangible help with actual classroom-level needs.

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

Amber Bryant: I would like to think we can cover all our needs with the current budget. Ozark School System receives a very large amount of money for our taxpayers, I’m a budget minded person—I’d hope to get creative with what we have before we’d ever ask for more tax dollars from our citizens.

Ralph Phillips: Any changes in our taxes should be voted upon my the citizens. Should the voters vote to increase the taxes I would again advocate for smaller student/teachers ratios.

Guy Callaway: I do not see a need for the taxes to be increased or lowered at this point. Our levy has not changed since 2003 and with property value increases it has allowed Ozark to stay in a great position. Outside of something I am not aware of I do not see a need for taxes to be changed.

Joey Mills: Property tax rates are not set by the school board. The local tax rate is already set by voters in the officials they elect who do set the tax rates and by the ballot measures they vote for. Our district has continued to place measures on the ballot that do not raise the tax rate but do extend the length of time it takes to pay down that debt to fund needed projects throughout the district, and our community has recently and overwhelmingly supported those ballot measures. Any ballot measure for increased funding needs to specify what those funds will be directed toward.

Anthony Petrosino: Taxes do not need to be raised if, as stated earlier, we are all doing our part to make sure there is no frivolous spending and determine how to fix the issue if there is.

Christina Tonsing: School taxes ought to reflect what it costs to run the school. Until we can do a thorough investigation of places we can cut costs – while still fixing the roofs of the multiple leaky buildings and completing other needed maintenance and upkeep as well as providing for classroom needs – then we can’t answer the question. We know there is wasteful spending happening, and we also know that spending that should be happening, isn’t happening. In the end, the budget should balance. The taxes should be enough to pay for what HAS to be done, and the emphasis for what HAS to be done should be squarely on maintenance and classroom-level needs. A thorough investigation into current and best spending practices needs to be done.

Why should people vote for you?

Amber Bryant: Because I’m a mom who wants to make education in Ozark better for my children and the entire community. The Human Resources (HR) leader in me wants Ozark Schools to be the most sought-after employer. Now, more than ever, I think our community needs focused leaders that are capable of putting priorities over politics.

Ralph Phillips: Passion towards serving our students, schools and employees. I have served on three long range/strategic planning committees, the Ozark Chamber’s Education Committee, twelve years as a reading program volunteer and Volunteer of the Year. I would encourage voters to consider vetting my past, current and future commitment to serving our schools with the hope that I may have a positive impact on a child’s life. A favorite quote of mine is “every child is one caring adult away from being successful”.

Guy Callaway: I am fully engaged in the Ozark community living and having my business in town. I am invested In the community and want to see it continue to thrive. The Ozark School District is the heartbeat of our community in many ways and it is important to keep it thriving.

Joey Mills: There are a number of reasons I feel people should vote for me. Among them are the fact that I have both volunteered in the schools and worked as a substitute in the classroom, which is a perspective that is, I believe, unique among our current board members and our candidates. I am not afraid to meet with and listen to our community about their concerns, nor am I afraid to bring those concerns to the rest of the board for discussion. I understand that a top-tier school district must balance the needs of the students, parents, staff, administration, and tax paying community, and restoring that balance is a task that I look forward to working on if elected.

Anthony Petrosino: The people who know me, know I am always forward-thinking. I have a resolve to get things accomplished, which stems from my lifetime of leadership, teamwork, and dedication. This is what the voters will see as well. I am not a politician; I am a person who gets things done.

What the voters can expect from me is this:

I will be a liaison for all stakeholders, ensuring transparency between the School Board, Superintendent, faculty, parents, and taxpayers.

I will ensure students are getting the highest quality academic education possible preparing them to be more productive members of society.

I will ensure the faculty has a distraction-free environment, allowing them to focus on the growth and development of each student.

I will ensure that parents have access to curriculum, ensuring their children are being academically developed.

Christina Tonsing: Difficult issues face school districts across Missouri. Many ideas opposed to Ozark values are already tumbling into neighboring districts. The Board of Education has the responsibility of ensuring a fertile environment for our students and District employees to cultivate a love of learning, a thirst for knowledge and understanding. Parents depend on schools to teach academics, while families instill values in their children without interference. The Board stands as a bulwark against skewed versions of America’s rich history and other topics better taught by parents than schools or library books. I specialize in connecting people and resources to find solutions to hard problems, and I am convinced there are balanced solutions to these issues available -- if we connect and listen to parents and to the employees in the trenches. My years spent in the classroom, working with students, will enable developing those needed connections. My passion for education helps me listen more closely to what is needed in helping our teachers and staff as they nurture our students. As a school board member, I will work with the administration and teachers. I look forward to being a voice on the Board for the students, parents, teachers, and staff.

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