Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
On Sept. 22, VFW post 11234 sponsored a candidate forum for the USD 231 school board candidates. The VFW also held a forum for the mayoral candidates on the same night and had hosted a forum for council candidates on Sept 21.
The school board candidates, in the order they sat at the table that night, are: Brad Chandler, Rob Shippy, Wes Rains, Lana Sutton and Shawn Carlisle.
Chandler is running against Carlisle for Position 6 / District 3.
Shippy, the current board president, is running unopposed for re-election to Position 5 / District 2.
Sutton and Rains are running for Position 4 / District 1 to replace Mary Nelson, who is stepping down.
Candidates gave opening and closing remarks and in between answered three questions. Here are those three questions and partial candidate answers.

Question 1 – What made you decide to run for school board? Explain why you think you’re the best candidates for the position or what separates you from the other candidates.
Chandler – “The reason some of us ran back then (2013) was to help change some of the issues that we had – and we did that.  We had to uproot some things, change some things, as you guys can probably remember sometimes it was on the news. Some things were necessary, and I’m still proud of the things we accomplished. As far as why I decided to run, I have two children, one just turned three, he’s in third grade the other is eight. […] I’m passionate about my child’s future and what’s available to them and what’s coming to them. There’s a lot of fears that some people have, of what their child is going to be exposed to in school or not, or what kind of things they’re going to learn, so those are personal fears for my own children.”
Shippy – “We don’t always all see eye to eye across this community, but at the end of the day, we’ve got a great place. I believe in what we’re doing at the school district. I believed that things needed to change much like Brad did, mainly making fiscal control and oversight better than what they were, and we needed to make sure we take care of staff a lot better than they were being taken care of. So that’s why I ran, and I look forward to continuing to do those things in the future. We’ve done great new things in the last four years to keep us moving forward.”
Rains – “I too share a lot of ideas both of these gentlemen said. One of the reasons I ran though is because I want to take a bit different approach than they do, because I don’t disagree that those things were necessary, but take a little exception to the way things happened and the way they transpired. […] As far as the second part of the question, I don’t think I’m better than anybody. I’m just a sales guy that runs my small business of four people. I’ve known Lana for a long time, she’s a nice lady, so either one of us would be a good choice. I just hope I can earn your vote.”
Sutton – “I’m really good at building relationships. I can work with people that I may disagree with and still respect their opinions and ideas and listen and learn from them. I will fight for what I believe in, but I will also be extremely respectful. We might not see eye to eye, but we will work together for the good of our kids. […] Now it’s time for me to fight for your kid and every other kid that goes to our school district, so I hope I can earn your vote.”
Carlisle – “I saw an opening, and I saw ‘see a need, fill a need’. I thought some of the tools I’ve acquired by being so involved with the city could really bridge some gaps that have transpired recently and to be able to work through some situations, as well as, I do care for the community and school and children, and that’s why I volunteer my time for those things. If you don’t start with the kids, they’re our future leaders, so if we don’t take care of them at an early age, then we’re going to be worse off in the future. So it is an investment to me, putting time and resources into the kids.”

Question 2 – Recently it was announced that Gardner’s youth basketball program has been cancelled for the 2017-18 season as a result of a facilities issue. What can be done to prevent this in the future, or what can be done to return this program to Gardner’s facilities?
Shippy -” The city made the decision to cancel the program. The school district did offer them facilities. They chose to cancel, saying they didn’t have enough space for the program. The school district has started its own program. They’re more than welcome to get back in, to do their program in the future if that’s what they choose to do. But they chose to cancel it based on the three buildings they were offered were not adequate for them at the time.”
Rains – “Right now there’s a little discord. I’m trying to be neutral about what the school’s offering with the program. I’m not happy that transpired with the city. I thought parks and rec did a great job with that, but as a taxpayer and a citizen, I’m giving them the benefit of doubt. I’m still trying to learn who’s at fault, right now I think it’s 50-50. Somewhere there’s a breakdown with this , and there’s a breakdown with the city, and we need to heal that. […] I’d like to see it go back to the way it was, but we can’t right now. They’ve started on this , and there’s this rift that needs to be healed, so hopefully if it’s me or Lana or whomever gets on, hopefully the new board can work with whoever gets elected with the city.”
Sutton – “I don’t know what transpired, but I think it’s embarrassing. I think our citizens are embarrassed. I think we’ve lost track that it was about the kids. […] Somewhere, egos got in the way, communication broke down. What happened? Like I said, I don’t know. I like what the school has done, I like the added features. Where is it going to end up? I don’t have the answers. I’m not working on it right now – I hope to. Where ever it ends up, I’d like to see these programs still there for the kids that aren’t athletic. Providing more options for the kids is never going to be a bad thing.”
Carlisle – “I can agree that I think it was egos in the way on both sides between staff. I think that elected officials should direct staff to sit down, meet, get over their egos and work together. […] We will have fights and we will have squabbles, but in the end we’ve got to work together, we’ve got to focus on the kids. […] I think there’s enough slice of the pie out there for both groups to achieve what they want, either academically or physically with sports. I think the first step is elected officials to direct staff to get over it and figure out how to work together better.”
Chandler – “The whole situation and the whole subject is honestly a lot bigger and a lot more complicated than just people not getting along. […] There was a lot of discussions and disagreements back and forth, and I won’t go into detail. It doesn’t really do any good to argue about it because the dirt doesn’t really matter anymore – we need to move forward.”
Chandler indicated he wasn’t sure how much he could elaborate as a current board member and suggested Shippy might be able to say more.
Shippy responded, “To say that they should get a better deal, get first rights and not pay any overhead, for what we’re charging everyone else in the community, brings up a level of equity – that everybody has to be treated the same. I understand it’s a tax amenity, but if any of you ever go try to use the swimming pool across the street here on a Saturday and don’t pay to get in, I bet they won’t let you in there. So it’s growing pains at the end of the day. Olathe district and other districts around us have similar policies. […] All the equipment was the school district’s, the city was simply using the stuff for free and complaining about the timing in making requests – and that made it unfeasible to continue the relationship that we were in.”
Rains replied to Shippy’s comment, “That’s why working together is so important, because he’s right,  the city was getting a discount by not having to pay custodial rates. The flip side of that is that the city gives the school district cheap electricity. So if we get into a crossways battle with each other, I could see somebody with the city going, ‘well I’ll show you’. That’s why we have to stop this and get beyond.”
Question 3 – With the amount of growth in Gardner and Edgerton how do you see this affecting the current schools, what is or can be done for maintaining scalability? Examples: classroom size, programs.
Rains – “I think that past boards and this board have managed the growth well. […] My wife teaches at Sunflower and is so excited that they’ve done so well with staffing – there’s actually great student to teacher ratio, which is great because lower grades absolutely have to have as little student to teacher as possible, otherwise they can’t effectively guide those young people. So yeah, the board, working with the district staff and with the city, has to plan for that growth.”
Sutton – “One of my key points is that we have to plan for future growth. When we moved here there were 5,000 people. Now there are 21,000 people. We’re not a town, we’re a city. […] Within five years we’re going to need another high school, and we’ve got to stay in front of that. […] As long as we know it’s coming and plan for it, we won’t be surprised.”
Carlisle – “I think it goes back to communication and partnership with our city government so we are very upfront and aware of their plans for their city so that we can plan appropriately for the futures of the schools. […] What they do affects us and what we do affects them. […] It’s hard to plan for growth, you can always estimate but you don’t want schools built up and then sit empty either, so I do commend that they’ve done a great job of staying on top of that and keeping classroom sizes reasonable.”
Chandler – “Tax abatements are one thing that affects the school district big, and I hate to say it but unfortunately, we’ve been really badly treated I believe, in Edgerton, with all the growth out there and abatements they’ve given away. And the percentages they come up with, I’d like to know where they get their numbers. […] They’re giving 90 percent abatements instead of 50 percent that is usually the standard. […] Hopefully that’s something we can work on in the future.”
Shippy – “The great thing is that the state has changed funding a little bit so that affects how the school accounts for those kids, that helps offset some of that. We went back to per pupil funding. When we were on block grants it was strictly based off those property taxes, and it was potentially detrimental, but as long as we’re back to per pupil funding we’re in good shape as a school district. […] I think those are things we just need to work forward through and make sure we’ve got the pieces in place.”
In closing remarks, all of the candidates thanked the VFW for hosting the forum and the attendees for coming to hear them