School Board Candidates Stress Accountability

By Alan Van Zandt |

Published 04/07 2014 11:14PM

Updated 04/08 2014 07:14AM

(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Three candidates are vying for two open seats on the Board of Education for the St. Joseph School District. When they announced their intentions to run, they had no idea what they were getting into.

In recent weeks, a stipend issue, accusations of breaking open meeting and records laws and discontent has crept into the discussion.

All of this has overshadowed two new elementary schools being built, the first new schools in St. Joseph in more than 40 years.

According to the three candidates wanting to be elected to the board, there needs to be a refocusing of priorities.

"Your main focus when you become a board member is what's best for your kids, what's best for your staff and what's best for your community," said Lori Prussman, who has worked and volunteered in the school system for more than 20 years.

"Look at the two things we deal with. We deal with people's children and we deal with people's money," said Jeff Bird, a local banker with Nodaway County Bank. "I can't think of anything else that's more important to families than those two things."

"We need to get this behind us, get everything back above board so we can get on with educating our students," said Kappy Hodges, who moved to St. Joseph with her family about ten years ago and immediately began volunteering in the community.

What all three see is a growing distrust in the district. This comes after news of a previously unknown stipend program for chief administrators became public.

"I'm kind of tired of the status quo when things are maybe being swept under the rug," Prussman said.

"It seems clear that there needs to be transparency betwen the school board, the district and the public," said Hodges.

"We need to know everything. Once that's done we can start building our trust back up," said Bird.

Controversy began when board member Chris Danford voiced concerns over relatives of administrators being hired and promoted. The State Attorney General's office and State Auditor's office will soon become involved.

"I would like to see an investigation done, look at all of it," said Prussman.

"Although it might not be pleasant, I think it's a good place to start for moving forward and having everything being above board and right where we want it to be," said Hodges.

"I say invite them in, Let's get everything on the table and see what it is and see what the problem is and come up with a solution," Bird said.

Voters will have the choice of three candidates coming from different perspectives and experiences.

"I've been a part of this community for 20 years as a PTA volunteer, a volunteer for the St. Joseph School District and also I've done lots of different community boards," Prussman said.

"The big thing I bring to the table is my expertise is finance," said Bird. "I've been a banker for 27 years. I've examined many different businesses, looked at budgets. That's what I do."

"I think that having a parent on the school board is a great way to make sure that happens," said Hodges. "It keeps us grounded and moving in the right direction."

Each candidate said they would have either voted no or asked to delay voting on next year's salary structure that led to much of the controversy.

The current board passed that salary book on a 6-1 vote, with Chris Danford being the lone dissenter.

For Tuesday's election, the top two vote-getters will each be elected to a six-year term.

Board members Sarah Siemens and Sue Wagner chose not to run for re-election.

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