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New Bloomfield School Board candidates state objectives in forum

New Bloomfield School Board candidates state objectives in forum

April 1st, 2014 in News

New Bloomfield School Board candidates (from left to right) Gracia Backer, Debbie Cuno, Craig Abbott and Megan Haas answer questions during a forum Tuesday.

Photo by Brittany Ruess

The four candidates for New Bloomfield Board of Education were given an opportunity to answer five questions during a forum Tuesday sponsored by the New Bloomfield Parent-Teacher Association.

Incumbents Craig Abbott, Gracia Backer and Debbie Cuno and new candidate Megan Haas were given the questions ahead of time to prepare for the forum. Each candidate took a turn at a podium inside the New Bloomfield High School cafeteria.

What motivates you to become or continue to be a board member?

Abbott said the district's improvements spanning the past three years motivated him to run for re-election.

"When I was elected three years ago our financial situation was dismal, morale was down and our overall school climate was poor," Abbott said. "In the last three years - largely due to the hiring of a great leader, Mr. Tramel - we have come a long way to increase student achievement, boost morale and focus on facility improvements."

Backer said her love for public service and New Bloomfield Schools motivated her to run for election again.

"If re-elected, I will continue to work tirelessly for our school, our kids, our parents, our community and our taxpayers," Backer said. "It's not about a title, it's not about control, it's not about micromanaging. It's about service to our community and our children. That's why I'm running for this position again."

For Cuno, she said her motivation is "fairly simple" as she wants to make certain children are given a quality education.

"I care deeply about the students and employees that work within these walls, and our community," Cuno said.

Haas said her motivation is rooted in her "desire to serve the school and community" through collaboration with board members, administration and faculty. She added that she wants to have a deeper knowledge of finances and funding.

What special strengths do you believe you would bring to the board?

Abbott stated that his No. 1 strength as a school board member is his passion for "kids and the education they receive," and added that he isn't just a warm body on the board.

"I owe it to you, our kids and our community to continue to educate myself, as we all should, so that we can educate our kids the best way possible," Abbott said.

He also said his teamwork skills, strong relationship with his fellow board members and administrators, and his financial background are attributes he can contribute to the district.

Before serving as a school board member, Backer was a a member of the Missouri House of Representatives for 18 years, and said that experience has strengthened her understanding of public service, leadership, law and "getting things done."

"...I believe I bring an understanding of the overall laws and processes, the ability to work with and respect my fellow board members, the capacity to make difficult and complicated decisions, and understanding the importance of accurate communication," Backer said.

Cuno said she is able to bring an educated perspective on the educational system as someone who has served on the board and was a district employee for 31 years.

"I believe another strength, which results from my years of teaching debate, is my ability to look carefully at both sides of an issue," Cuno said. "This allows me to evaluate my decisions based on how they will effect the students and employees of the district and the community as a whole."

Haas stated that her "sincere vested interest" in New Bloomfield Schools and her "ability to listen to all sides without judgment" are two ways in which she can benefit the board. She added that she helped save the New Bloomfield Summer League program, which gave her experience in organization, management and budgeting.

"I have had the pleasure in fostering and building relationships with those in our community and believe that experience has set me on the path needed to address the issues and lines of communication between the district and the citizens," Haas said.

What do you see as the board's roles and responsibilities?

The No. 1 role for the New Bloomfield School Board, Abbott said, is to set goals - academic and financial - in order to give direction to Superintendent David Tramel. He added that the board should be knowledgeable of the district's current state and foresee where it could go in the future.

"A board member is certainly the bridge to the community, and I think at times we need to be prepared to ask the tough questions of our administration and make very hard decisions even when they are not popular," Abbott said. "And lastly, we need to be good stewards of your tax dollars."

Backer said that contrary to belief, the school board is not the boss of a school and, therefore, cannot micromanage administrators.

"School boards clarify district purpose, connect with the community through transparency and communication, employ a superintendent, delegate authority and monitor district performance," Backer said.

Cuno's response reflected what she's learned through the Missouri School Board Association's board training, which includes give direction to administration, watch over the budget, promote "effective governance" to ensure student achievement and work to create a positive relationship between the school and community.

Improving financial decisions, hearing input from the community and working as a team are all roles of a school board, Haas said.

What is your vision for education in our community?

For his vision, Abbott said he wants students to be "100 percent prepared" for college and/or the workforce.

"My vision is also to continue to work to bring our community into school and our school to the community," Abbott said.

Community engagement is key for the success of New Bloomfield Schools, Backer agreed, and that a better school system can promote community growth.

"As a result, parents, people without kids in school, retirees, widows, widowers, grandparents, guardians, aunts, uncles, friends, new people, life-long residents, business owners, church congregations and organizations will become interested in our school and will take ownership of what we have and what we need," Backer said. "Unless we are part of something, we have little interest."

Cuno's vision includes preparing students for their futures by utilizing technology and a "wide variety of classes," as well as making sure students of various levels graduate and are "academically challenged to the best of their ability." She added that she wants students to be "life-long learners."

"I want them to be intrigued by education and information, to be able to think outside the box and to continue to seek knowledge to satisfy their curiosity long after their high school days have passed," Cuno said.

Haas stated three main objectives for her vision - upgrading technology, ensuring curriculum is current and hiring and retaining "the strongest teachers possible."

"I also want to bring every option available to our district to provide success for our students," Haas said.

What will be your top five objectives if elected to the school board?

Craig Abbott

•Continue conversations with administration to set higher standards for student achievement while revamping "areas where we might not be serving" New Bloomfield students.

•Push for upgraded technology.

•Assess facility improvements.

•Give administrators support by listening to their needs and finding solutions.

•Keep an eye on revenues and spending to prevent a poor financial situation as was the case three years ago.

Gracia Backer

•Maintain and improve district performance measured by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

•Monitor and improve upon the district's Comprehensive School Improvement Plan.

•Hopefully increase teacher pay and number of teachers for additional curriculum.

•Develop a schedule of maintenance upgrades.

Debbie Cuno

•Monitor finances to avoid the financial crisis from three years ago.

•Monitor district's goals in order to fund those programs to accomplish those goals.

•Rebuild programs cut from the budget three years ago by adding staff and expanding curriculum.

•Facilitate communication between the administration, board, faculty and district stakeholders.

•Retain qualified teachers and caring staff.

Megan Haas

•Developing a close relationship with law enforcement to make certain school safety is a priority by providing necessary resources.

•Ensuring high school students are given the resources to be ready for life post-high school.

•Improving the library's catalog of books, magazines, technology and other materials.

•Hiring educators that are "strong" and "upper-level" in order to teach challenging courses.

•Understanding the budget and giving new ideas on how it can be "used as beneficially as possible."

Brittany Ruess can be reached at (573) 826-2419 or brittanyr@fultonsun.com.