Anyone who lives within Wichita school district boundaries can vote on this race.
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Occupation: Retired auditor
Education: Bachelor of business administration
Political experience: 10 years on school board
Community involvement: KASB; Council of Great City Schools; NAACP; Delta Sigma Theta; League of Women Voters; Hopenet Board
How long lived in district: 51 years
Occupation: Aircraft systems integration engineer, Spirit Aerosystems
Education: Bachelor of science in aerospace engineering, Iowa State University
Political experience: Elected union representative: SPEEA, IFPTE Local 2001. Elected union official: SPEEA Council Secretary
Community involvement: Wichita Shakespeare Company (Board of Directors), Wichita Community Theatre (former Board President), DevICT, Open Wichita, Progressive Organizers of Wichita and Surrounding Areas
How long lived in district: 10 years
Explain how your experiences and education qualify you to be on the school board.
Betty Arnold: 10 years as a BOE member representing District 1
Ben Blankley: As a working parent, I understand first-hand some of the particular challenges of our younger parents, staff, and teachers. My work with local advocacy groups empowers me to build on existing relationships and create new relationships with our community partners.
If elected, what would be your top priority?
Betty Arnold: School improvement which would include offering competitive compensation
Ben Blankley: I would push for improved transparency in the school board decision process.
What should the Wichita school board do to recruit and retain qualified teachers?
Betty Arnold: Compensation is critical in both areas but also we must repair and improve the image of education as the central driver of economic stability; when we can embrace once again the intrinsic value of education we could then expect the alignment of recruiting and retaining qualified teachers to occur.
Ben Blankley:Public schools are our most trusted institution, year after year, regardless of political affiliation. We need to reward all staff beyond just cost-of-living raises, but by entrusting them to make smart decisions regarding their own workplaces. They are the experts; they know how to run a public school well.
Last year the school board lengthened the school day and cut 15 days from the calendar to cut costs. Do you favor this move? Why or why not?
Betty Arnold: That decision was based on the need to find budget cuts, however, since then the district is receiving additional funding. Since this change was not well received by parents and teachers, the Board has offered to revert to the prior calendar. In order to do so, teachers through the representation of UTW would have to agree, as this is a negotiated item.
Ben Blankley: I believe transportation costs alone were not a sufficient justification for the move to a different schedule. Since transportation is subcontracted, new negotiated rates for this year partly negate the planned savings of the reduced school calendar. However, there were not many other options to maintain a balanced budget with increased fixed costs.
Recent data shows an increase in the number of suspensions, detentions and other discipline incidents in Wichita schools, particularly at the elementary level. What could the school board do to address the issue?
Betty Arnold: This is not a "one size fits all" response. There are many variables at play that could be the cause of discipline incidents. As traumatic factors in the lives of our students becomes evident as a major culprit, so will possible solutions surface in response.
Ben Blankley:We can, with staff support, hold off-site evening/weekend meetings with parents and guardians who, for whatever reason, are intimidated by the school environment.
Are Wichita schools adequately preparing students for college or careers? What more could the district do?
Betty Arnold: This is a moving target as careers and associated qualifications are constantly changing. Wichita schools are "adequately" doing so, but our goal is not to be just "adequate" our Commissioner of Education has challenged us to shoot for the moon.
Ben Blankley:Unfortunately, I believe the district, mostly due to compliance with state requirements, has become overwhelmed with focus solely on careers and college preparedness. We have not fostered emphasis on lifelong learning for the community. We need to show our kids that adults should keep learning too.
What other priorities do you have?
Betty Arnold: My top priority is to focus on ways to improve the graduation rate within the district. In order to do so, we need to understand what are the multifaceted causes for the decline then identify short and long range steps to alter that trajectory.
Ben Blankley: School board members should be vocal activists on behalf of public education as an engine of prosperity and civic necessity. I also believe that our local neighborhood elementary Pre-K programs should incorporate sliding scale fees so that we aren't segregating our kids by socioeconomic class and privilege at age three or four.
Please state your position on open records, open meetings and transparency in government.
Betty Arnold: I agree that all of which are critical in order that the public at large can get a clear picture of how well they are being represented. The composition of Government is "of the people, by the people and for the people" and that premise can only be supported by voter access to a transparent government.
Ben Blankley: I believe records should be public and provided in an easy-to-use digital format, unless they have specific legal reasons to be kept confidential per student or staff privacy, and those reasons must be enumerated. I believe there are significant loopholes in KOMA and KORA, and that board members should use district-provided email addresses, not private email.