Former Kansas State Conference President Charles Jean-Baptiste has filed for the Position 5 (Northwest area) seat on the Shawnee Mission school board. He faces off against the incumbent -Patty Mach, and Angela Jeppesen. Voters will choose the winner in the April 5 general election.

The Shawnee Dispatch newspaper sent each candidate a written questionnaire featuring biographical information as well as questions about current issues. Charles Jean-Baptiste’s answers are posted below.

What made you decide to run for office?
I was born and raised in Louisiana on a sharecropper farm. I was the first person in my family to graduate from high school. That allowed me to believe that a college degree was possible. But that possibility could not have come about without the encouragement that I received along the way from people who were not even related to me. I received support and assistance from people who had no reason to have a vested interest in my success, other than they believed in me. Their only goal was to make sure I had the opportunity to succeed. They saw something in me that only need an opportunity and the belief that I did not have to grow up and become a sharecropper. There wouldn’t have been anything wrong with that reality but my education gave me something that my siblings and parents did not have and that was a choice. I choose to finish school and to see were that education would take me. I owe it to this community to return what was given to me. I owe it to this community to care for children and parents that I may never know on a personal level and to have a vested interest in their success for no other reason than I believe in them.

What special qualifications would you bring to this office?
The Shawnee School District is facing challenges that many other school districts are facing. Solutions are going to have to be derived from a collective effort. The solutions will have to be innovative and more importantly implemented in an efficient manner. The position requires someone with success in working with the Kansas legislature, which I have done.

You can see that I have, for years been an active member of in the community. All the candidates will be able to provide the number of organizations we have been and our platitudes. What I want to bring is an emerging voice of leadership, trustworthiness, and reason. The best ideas remain ideas without someone willing to take the lead in moving them forward. I have taken thoughts and ideas turned them into something tangible—for example Kansas Senate Bill 54. The person providing leadership has to be trustworthy. I have gained that trust among all groups of people at all economic and social levels of our community. You need a voice of reason. The quick fixes are easy. There are those that believe the only thing you need to do to make your budget is slash programs or cut salaries. That may ultimately be what has to be done but you have to be reasonable in your approach and foresee the long term impact of these types of decisions.

How do you plan to familiarize yourself with the issues that come before the board?
Not all the nuances of an issue can be captured quantitatively. A qualitative analysis has to be included. I believe in listening and hearing what people have to say on not only the current issues but their feelings on the Board’s past decisions. This is key. I believe that sometimes you will find that people agree with the decision but have a distain for how the decision was made or implemented. We all want to be heard.

I do plan a methodical quantitative approach as well. I am very interested in the results of the Budget Reduction Survey. The superintendent’s annual reports provide an invaluable look at the district. There is the district’s five year plan that also has to be taken into consideration. I can be trusted to always find a way to familiarize myself with the issues that would come before the Board. My basis for information has always come from a variety of sources from—legislation, grass roots efforts, school administrators and employees, teachers, and in this position those that we are here to serve—the parents and the children. And let’s not forget other school districts. What may not work in one district may work in ours. We can also learn from the errors of other districts.

What leadership qualities do you possess?
The leadership qualities that I possess are my ability to work with diverse groups, mediate, and communicate. I am not afraid to speak the truth or make difficult decisions. This period of change that we are in is not going to be easy. I am not going to promise to have all the answers. We may have to endure some pain as a result of our decisions. But what I can promise is that there will be rust and reason in my leadership.

How do you plan to stay in touch with constituents if you are elected?
I plan to stay in touch with constituents through a variety of media— telephonic, electronic mail, webpage, community meetings, newsletters, and knocking on doors. You will always have a way of contacting me and I will always make an effort to keep you informed.

Describe what you see as the main role of a school board member.
I see the main role of a school board member is one that puts in place a venue and serves as a catalyst for the betterment of our children. The school board should be a catalyst for the basic principle of our students learning and reaching their highest potential. As the board does this, it is the role of every board member is to keep the community informed of our collective efforts and to serve as support for the school administrators, teachers, and employees.

What is the best attribute of our school district and why?
The best attribute of our school district are the students. The reason—this district has some of the most active and caring parents. The parents are embracing and they fight for not only their child but also the children that do not have a support system and for children they may never meet. Our students are also our best attribute because of the daily and tireless efforts of our school administrators, teachers, employees, and volunteers.

What are the three most important issues facing the school district and how would you confront them?
Currently the most important issues facing the school district would have to fall under the category of an ever shrinking budget. This includes:

  • Closing neighborhood schools.
  • Teacher to student ratio.
  • Doing more with less while still maintaining a high efficiency rate.

What more can we squeeze from the only large school district in Kansas to be designated as 100% efficient? Our budget constraints cannot really be attributed to waste. We may differ on what programs need to remain or positions to be cut but that is out of necessity versus waste or the program or position not being of value.

My way of confronting the issues is to begin with:

  • Kansas legislation—we have to continue to have our voice heard on the number of pending education related legislation.
  • Despite efficiency there is going to be deficits. This has to get under control while be look for solutions.
  • The 65% of the budget that is spent on the classroom needs to be further explored. I am not advocating for cutting this but I do want to look deeper into these expenditures.

Do you think public schools are adequately funded? Why or why not?
I think the easy answer is to say no. But we all have seen nationwide and in neighboring communities that increasing spending per student is not the formula for producing successful students or school districts. Pouring money on a problem only creates a money pit. It is harder to say, we are adequately funded—and that is my response to this question—right now. Continued budget cuts will take us below “adequate”. However, do we want to settle for “adequate”? Are we willing to define the children of the Shawnee School District as “adequate”? I don’t want to but we may temporarily have to accept adequate (as we are now) until we can generate funds to put us above adequate. In the interim, I think the question that should be asked: Is the funding being adequately spent?

We can philosophically and perhaps legislatively advocate for less spending on incarceration versus the educating of a child for 12 years. We can make an argument that this diverting of funds can result in preventing criminal behavior and thus making the state of Kansas proactive versus reactive.

What areas of the budget would you target for spending cuts if necessary?
Any areas of the budget target for spending cuts would have to be based on the entire school budget. I think it’s reckless to declare, without consideration of input, what needs to be cut. This is not an attempt to avoid the question but to demonstrate that this needs to be approached with reason. The voters need to know that I do not have a preconceived agenda. When it comes to cutting you have to cut appropriately and gain consensus of other board members and constituents. As stated previously, I do believe there are areas of the budget to look at, if only to gain a better understanding. The 65% spent on classrooms may be the key to our above average rating in the state. You cannot just look at what appears to be a large part of the budget and presume that it’s fat that can be trimmed. I also want to hear what the community has to say in the budget survey. Being on the school board is not about someone that has all the answers but is willing to lead and facilitate community input. The district belongs to all of us.

Are the district’s teachers being compensated fairly? Why or why not?
I do believe that under the present budget circumstances teachers are being compensated fairly. Are there likely those that are doing more than others—yes. Are there those that are deserving of a raise—yes. My response is not to negate that there are those that are doing more for less and are deserving of an increase in pay. I think that has always been the case of those that do public work.

Under what circumstances would you favor increasing property taxes?
As a member of the school board I would favor any increase that was approved by the voters by ballot. As member of the school board I would also support the decision of the voter’s should they not approve an increase. From a personal stand point, I would favor an increase property taxes to maintain the quality of education in the classroom, maintain the quality of administrators, teachers and to make sure that our students are getting an education that is compatible to global society. However, ultimately I believe tax increases should be ballot initiatives.

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