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Lee’s Summit School Board Candidate Questionnaire Michael W. McMenus

Lee’s Summit School Board Candidate Questionnaire Michael W. McMenus

March 31, 2017 

The Tribune sent out a questionnaire to each of the candidates filing for a seat on the LSR7 School Board. On Tuesday, April 4, these nine candidates will be narrowed down to the three seats available. 

Michael W. McMenus   

Occupation: Senior Process Specialist, Water Treatment, Air Pollution Control and Environmental Compliance, Kiewit Engineering Group
Education: HS Kickapoo Springfield 1977
 BS Life Science, Missouri University of Science and Technology 1981
32 Graduate hours’ Microbial metabolism, immunology, genetics Missouri State University 1982-1984 (Graduate teaching assistant)
 MS Environmental Management, University of Maryland, University College, 2010.
Years lived in LS: 15
Previous elected offices held: None

Why are you running for school board?
The last several board elections, board members have basically run unopposed and even had to have candidates recruited to run.  Lee’s Summit became complacent with decent schools while there was trouble brewing below the surface.  You had to look hard and there were many obstacles to discovering the problems, but they were there and became apparent last summer.  I want the board to be challenged and have to think about what it means to be a board member and a citizen of Lee’s Summit.  I want board members to have experience outside of LSR7.

What other volunteer/civic involvement have you had? What have you learned from that experience?
I have been an officer of the Midwest Section of the Air and Waste Management Association; I have been the pool committee chairman for a number of years for Winterset Communities.  I have learned the pool season here is 14 to 16 weeks.  I have learned that what is great for one patron is a nuisance for another.  I have learned to listen, to allow people to state their observations and beliefs and take them into consideration without reacting with an immediate response that may have more unintended consequences than remedies.  I have learned how to budget priorities.

If elected, what would be your top priority as a board member?
I believe that every meeting, decision, discussion possible should be made in public view.  The monthly board meetings are more show than an actual working session.  I would like for the public to be able to see board members fight for their beliefs and them come together to support the board’s decision as a whole.

Where do you stand on technology in the classroom? 
I believe that technology in the classroom is here to stay and we should learn to use it to its maximum potential.  Can you imagine school boards in the 15th century being asked what do you think of these books Gutenberg is printing being used in the class room?

What do you foresee being the biggest hurdle facing the district in the upcoming years? 
Redistricting is the biggest immediate hurdle.  A redistricting subcommittee should be set up the first board meeting after the election.  Meetings should be held with stake holders across the city.  We are going to have to move students from schools their older siblings and friends went to, to new schools that have more room.  Lee’s Summit West is bursting at the seams and needs relief.  Repairs need to be made to Lee’s Summit High to accommodate more students. 

A big unknown in the district is how the population of the new Cerner Campus will impact Lee’s Summit.  Will they be young professionals wanting to put off having kids for a while? 30 somethings with young children? Family’s with middle school and high school students?  This population could accelerate the need for more new schools including a new middle and high school.

What are your plans for returning funding to dwindling and lost extracurricular activities? 
If budget forecasting is reasonable and a very conservative growth rate is assumed there may be monies in reducing the reserves to allow for reintroduction of extracurricular activities.  It is very hard to increase revenues in Missouri above the inflation rate due to the Handcock Amendment passed in 1978. Missouri has never been a high spend state.

How would you make the R7 district as inclusive as possible? 
I believe in hiring more minority teachers is the best way to make R7 more inclusive. I do not support programs such as the Pacific Education Group.

In your opinion, what are the strength and weakness of our school district?
The strength of our district is our parental involvement at all levels.  The weakness of our district is we are slow to realize that our demographic is changing.  I think most residents would be surprised at the increase in free and reduced lunch numbers from areas that they think are in good economic condition.

How do you view the financial management of the district? Would you do anything to change it?
Overall the district is managed relatively conservatively with a high reserve.  Because of the unstable funding from the State of Missouri this is probably a good thing.

The first thing I would do is request an audit.  If the current auditor has been in place for a number of years, then I would also request a bid for audit services first with the goal of hiring a new auditor to get a fresh look at the books.  Going forward I would suggest a change in auditors every 3 to 5 years just to keep fresh eyes on books.

If the auditors, economic models and the board agreed I might also be comfortable with spending down the reserves to fund some canceled programs.  I would not make this decision until after a detailed audit report.

Do you believe in an itemized budget? 
Yes, with public discussion of all the boring details so that patrons can understand the tough decisions the board and administration has to make and that when their pet program is cut they can be assured it was a well thought out decision.
Do you believe that a teacher’s evaluation should be based on student test scores? 
No and they should also not be based on cronyism that is a left over impact of Dr. McGehee.

Police Chief Travis Forbes is wanting to implement a program to increase suicide education and awareness. What are your ideas for addressing this topic in all levels of the public school system? 
Suicide and mental health issues are an under discussed topic in schools and society.  I believe we should begin in the early grades discussing these topics.  These topics should be led by trained professionals.  I believe that some of the money we spent in the past fortifying schools could have been better spent on hiring trained mental health professionals at all schools to help identify those trouble individuals within the school.  

Bullying both in person and via other media is a real issue and prevention should be part of any program.

Any program implemented should have some evidence in pear reviewed literature that it works and not be just a “feel good, looks good” program.  No program is better than spending money on a program that doesn’t work. Any program implemented should have metrics to demonstrate if it is working.  If the program does not prove it’s working, it should be modified or a new program to replace it implemented.  I don’t believe in sticking with programs that checks a box but doesn’t actually provide benefit.  I believe in mental health and suicide prevention training and I believe in funding and trying programs until we find one that works.

Would your occupation and/or other time investments hinder your ability to service the district? How will you make sure you have adequate time and energy to serve?  
Kiewit Engineering supports my community service I would have adequate time to attend to my board duties. 
In light of the recent and past incidents of teachers and volunteers for inappropriate contact/relations with a student, what steps would you recommend the board take to prevent further issues? Should changes be made to the current background check requirements? 
Frankly, I don’t know enough about the current background check program and where the bad actors were able to pass to make informed comments about how to prevent future occurrences.  Black Swan events such as these are very difficult to predict and the ways to really dig into a person’s background such as searching their computer, phone, house without prior cause may face constitutional questions. I would put myself through any background check I ask any LSR7 employee to undergo.

How do you plan to address public concerns and improve openness and transparency?
I believe in full compliance with the sunshine law of the State of Missouri.  I believe that unless mandated by law board meetings should be open to the public or televised.  The current board at the advice of previous counsel defaulted to closed meetings, I would reverse that.  I believe that it is a good thing for the public to see passionate board members fight for a program they believe in, loose the fight and then support the winning program that passes a board vote.  

The current board meetings on one Thursday night a month are just a show case and don’t reveal the actual governance of the school district.  Dr. McGehee was a very top down controlling superintendent and there is still some inertia from his leadership. I would work to remove that top down structure and empower district employees to speak up on problems as they observe them without fear of retribution.  

I believe that quick open disclosure of problems as they are discovered rather than hiding them from the public results in a better understanding by the public that the district is doing its best to protect and teach the students rather than project an image of perfection.

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