February 8, 2016

District sends board candidate questionnaires

Danedri Thompson
Gardner Edgerton school officials are asking the eight candidates for school board to submit complete questionnaires and submit head shots to the district.
Leann Northway, director of community relations for the school district, said the purpose of the questionnaires is to “introduce the candidates running for school board to the entire community and share their views.”
“With numerous candidates in the 2013 election, … we’re excited to provide our patrons with the opportunity to learn about their prospective board representatives, as well as provide the candidates with the opportunity to share their views and ideas with the community at-large,” Northway said.
According to a letter to candidates, each of the several questions should be answered in no more than five-typed lines in 11-point Tahoma font. The answers will be published in the spring edition of the district’s Horizon newsletter.
Traditionally, such questionnaires are sent by political action committees, newspapers and governmental arms of groups like the Chamber of Commerce. However, this isn’t the first time the school district has sent such a questionnaire to candidates. The district newsletter introduced candidates to school patrons during the 2003 election but hasn’t since then.
The questionnaire isn’t sitting well with some patrons.
Walter Hermreck, Gardner, recently sent a letter to superintendent Bill Gilhaus voicing his displeasure.
“I feel like that some of the questions posed to the candidates are weighted to favor a candidate that has sat on a committee or worked with the district in some manner,” Hermreck wrote.
For example one question reads: “What are your leadership qualifications and what leadership roles have you assumed in USD 231?”
Legally, the district can provide information and education about election issues and candidates, but they can not endorse candidates or questions.
Hermreck said ethically, the district should go out of its way to appear impartial and unbiased.
“It’s a good practice, in my opinion, to just stay out of it,” Hermreck told The Gardner News.
Another question reads: “USD 231 is one of the fastest growing school districts in the state of Kansas. What experiences and background do you have in managing growth in a progressive environment?”
Hermreck said the district’s questionnaire is “very unique.”
“Most districts and public entities work diligently to avoid even the appearance of favoring one candidate over another,” Hermreck wrote. “To do anything less is a disservice to not only the candidates and voters but to our election system itself.”
He proposed that instead of the questionnaire, the district should ask the candidates for a short bio and what they believe are the overarching issues within the district.
“The thing is even if there is a perception of involvement, it’s wrong,” Hermreck said. “Our district is better than that. In order to maintain our high standards we just want to stay above board.”


  1. Walter H. says:

    It is unusual for a school district to do this particularly since all 3 positions are open due to NONE of the incumbents running for reelection. To even have the appearance of doing something improper or unethical is not acceptable. To have a school superintendent ask questions of citizen candidates who, if elected, would had the authority to retain or fire him among other things is just wrong. We can be better than this.

    Here is a partial email I received from another district in our area;

    We do not use district publications (email, web, newsletters, etc.) or public forums for Q & A surrounding Board Member Elections. The most we do is publicize the election and the names of the candidates exactly how it is listed by the Johnson County Election Office. You can see what we do by checking our website.

    We do have a newsletter that is published quarterly at no cost to the district. You can see our most recent newsletter at xxxxxxxxx. Our next newsletter will go out prior to Spring Break… and the most we will do is publicize the election with candidate names (exactly how it is listed by the election office).

    Our local newspaper may pose questions to candidates, but we do not get involved in the Q & A.

    That’s just what we do…

    They obviously go out of their way to stay out of the campaign and I commend that district for doing that. Shame on our district and WHY do WE as voters accept this or allow this to happen?

  2. Walter H. says:

    Also if we take a look at the rest of the school board races in JoCo most of the incumbents are running unopposed. There are one or two challengers but nothing like what we have here in our USD. The fact that all three of our board members chose to not run for reelection at the same time could be telling.

    Mill Valley Construction, owned by one of our board members not seeking reelection, bid on several of the projects that are going on now or in the future and came in 2nd on the bidding in many of the projects. Maybe he decided the gravy train was over, there isn’t any money to be made when you don’t get the bid!

  3. Does the district offer remedial courses in ethics to administrators?

  4. gardnerpatron says:

    I would have to agree that this method is unethical. I assume that there is a sense of uncertainity of 3 new members coming on the board which could change the direction of the way things have been done. I trust that this question/answer form will not be used for influencing our patrons through existing board members as well as administration to vote the status quo into the position. Let’s examine the canidates, yes it will be a learning experience for the new ones, but we need to put some backbone back into the office. Our district has come along way in growth and achievements but our reputation is seen by other districts as being unethical in the way we handle our business and the message that is conveyed to the staff. Do your homework Gardner and let’s put the best candidates into these positions.

  5. Carpetbagger
    : outsider; especially : a nonresident or new resident who seeks private gain from an area often by meddling in its business or politics
    I’m not referring to residents.
    Who of our administrators are from this area or live here? Used to be I saw them at the game or store. I’ve never seen them at the Dollar store, or even at upscale Walmart for that matter.
    I’m not being smart;
    I would like to know if our district has a residency requirement for the administrative staff responsible for the foolishness I see in this district.

  6. Jerry L Kellogg Sr says:

    I commend all eight candidates for offering to serve our school district as a member of the Board of Education. I have personally met and talked with five of them. I have no reason to believe that any of them is a not a respectable and concerned citizen. I believe all of them have children who are either currently enrolled in, or have graduated from, USD 231 schools. The candidates I have spoken with seem to have put themselves on the April 2 ballot due to a strong, burning desire to independently and honorably serve and provide ethical guidance to our district’s administration, teachers, staff and students. As voters and taxpayers, we should expect nothing less from those who will be chosen to serve on the board.

    However, I am very disappointed that our school’s top administrators have decided to function as campaign interlopers by placing themselves between these candidates and voters by means of a potentially self-serving questionnaire. I will be even more disappointed if I learn that this activity has been endorsed by members of the current board, knowing that three of them are leaving. I want no public perception of “inside trading” going on during this election process.

    I do not approve of our employees (appointed administrators) interrogating their future managers (elected board members). I do not believe the tail should be wagging the dog. I am particularly disturbed by the USD 231 administration asking “What are your leadership qualifications and what leadership roles have you assumed in USD 231,” knowing very well that the majority of the candidates may not be able to answer the last half of that biased question.

    I don’t recall any of the three branches of our federal government mailing questionnaires to candidates and publishing their findings during the run up to last November’s presidential election. I don’t recall those candidates in being asked, “What are your leadership qualifications and what leadership roles have you assumed in Congress, on the Supreme Court or in the White House?”

    Up until now, district administrations have never felt compelled or “excited to provide our patrons with the opportunity to learn about their prospective board representatives.” During previous biennial school board elections, the district’s Horizon newsletter has published only a brief candidate introductory biographies and answers to presumably being asked their reasons for running for election to the school board. Never have candidates been solicited by USD 231 to complete a document containing six additional questions composed by an administration staff member.

    During previous elections, administrators have not meddled in the process and properly left the questioning and answering to be independently handled in the traditional press, on candidate websites and on social media venues. Candidates have participated in digitally recorded public forums, met personally with voters, accepted phone questions and corresponded with voters via email. I don’t recall previous candidates ever asking to be interrogated by school officials.

    Does the current administration think the electorate has suddenly become incapable of thinking for themselves, unable to independently find information and get answers? Have candidates become unable to manage their own campaigns without the unprecedented intervention of a suddenly concerned school administration?

    Many voters, including myself, are now asking themselves: Why this questionnaire? Why this election? Why these candidates? What has really prompted this newly-found desire by USD 231 to assist voters make a decision? Why now?

    The Spring 2013 Horizon newsletter containing the answers to the questionnaire is scheduled to reach school district patrons’ mailboxes the first full week in March. And, coincidentally, the Gardner Area Chamber of Commerce is hosting their Board of Education Candidate Forum that same week on Thursday, Mar. 7 at the GEHS Auditorium.

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