Oct 06, 2021

USD 489 candidate profile: Thomas Wasinger

Posted Oct 06, 2021 10:30 AM

Editor's note: The following questions were submitted to candidates for the USD 489 school board by the Hays NEA. The questions and answers are being posted as submitted with the permission of the Hays NEA and the candidates.

Three positions are up for election. Also running are Ken Brooks, Cathy Hopkins, Casey Herrman, Curt Vajnar, and Meagan Zampieri-Lillpopp.

Thomas Wasinger
Thomas Wasinger

Thomas Wasinger

In general, not being a current board member limits one’s familiarity with current details and programs about which your questions assume an understanding.  So, my answers are based on the knowledge I possess at this point with the added general statement that if elected I would be in a better position to address your questions/issues.

Please discuss your reasons for seeking a position on the Board of Education. What qualifications do you have that make you the best candidate?
I am not the best candidate – not sure anyone is, but as I stated in my announcement, I am running for a seat on the school board because I want to work to get a school facilities bond that is reasonable in scope and duration passed.  I believe now and believed In that past that the voters would approve such a bond.

In addition, I think there needs some diversity of thought and background on the school board.  A school board ought to reflect the community it serves.  Currently, there is only one member who makes his living in the private sector.  The rest are educators, former educators or people who are employed in the public sector. The concern is that a board with little diversity becomes somewhat of an echo chamber.  I believe my 35 years of experience running 2 local businesses would be an asset to the discussions and decision making of the board.

          Finally, my qualifications are not like anyone else running for the school board. After graduating from Notre Dame undergraduate and law school in 1976 and before moving back to my hometown of Hays I spent 9 years working in Washington , D.C., mostly on Capitol Hill and various political campaigns around the country. Since moving back home and in addition to my business experience, I have served as an Ellis County Commissioner and worked for an against various political/bond campaigns/ issues. I was on the Space Needs Committee for Ellis County and helped develop the plans to upgrade the County’s facilities, e.g., the Law Enforcement Center and the EMS/Rural Fire building.  I also worked on the campaign to get the bond passed to pay for improvements. So, I believe my overall experience could be a significant asset when it comes to developing and passing a bond for school facilities.

What do you see as the greatest problem facing public education today? In Kansas? In USD 489?  
In Kansas, sustainable funding at the state level and funding which is targeted to reaching the teachers and the students -not the administrators and sports facilities.  At the local level, attracting and maintaining good teachers and developing a high school curriculum that not only teaches the basics, but enhances CTE courses and training for those students who don’t want to go to college.

How do you see your role as a member of the Board of Education in regard to accountability to patrons of the district? â€¦ to teachers and students?  Do you see your role as overseeing policy or making decisions regarding day-to-day operations? 
School board members are representatives of the voters who elected them and therefore are ultimately accountable to them. However, it is impossible to represent the voters properly unless you have the best interests of the students in mind and are open to the concerns of the teachers who often times need the boards support when it comes to issues that are important to them – not only pay but relationships with parents who see the role of teachers differently than teachers sometimes do.

I see the role of a board member as primarily policy making.  Micromanaging the Superintendent and administrators concerning day to day operations is inefficient and often harmful to the operations of the school district.

What philosophy/core belief will be the driving force behind your decision making if elected to the board?
Education of K-12 is best when decisions are made by local representatives/board member.  Creating a learning environment that allows the students to be successful after high school should be the guiding principle – whether or not that involves going to college.

What is your position on 1-to-1 technology for K-12? What changes, if any, would you like to see? 
I understand and appreciate the need of students to have access to technology in this day and age. I am supportive in general of the district’s efforts to get computers to all the students, but I don’t know enough about the current programs to say much else.  As I understand it the cost of the technology program comes out of the capital outlay budget which is funded by the 8 mills designated to fund the capital outlay budget.  A part of the question and answer ought to involve the massive dollars needed for deferred maintenance and how do we address the need and costs of both technology and repair and maintenance of school facilities in the future -even if a school bond is passed.

Describe the first change you would like to see enacted by the Board of Education.
I don’t have a “first change” idea in mind.  Such an answer would require a much more detailed knowledge of all the issues facing the school district.  And at this point anything I say would require guesswork on my part.

We believe every student deserves qualified, committed teachers.  How do you feel due process for teachers affects this goal? 
This is a loaded question that involves a common understanding of and agreement as to the meaning of “due process for teachers”.  The lens through which you as teachers view due process isn’t necessarily shared by everyone else.  Having said that, teachers who have committed their lives to educating our children absolutely deserve to be treated fairly when it comes to issues related to their employment.

What is your vision regarding facilities in the district to provide our students with the best opportunities for success? What are your thoughts on previous and future bond issues/elections? 
There is no question that our school facilities need to be upgraded. That has never been the issue. But before you can arrive at a plan for improving school buildings, the board first needs to make some basic decisions about the kind of school system they want for the future. For example, how many elementary schools does the district want/need? Do they want a new junior high or high school or elementary school? What is to be done with the buildings that are no longer needed or wanted?

The reasons the previous bonds failed are fairly simple and straight forward and I wrote about this during the past bond election. The school board failed to follow results of the survey it had done on the size, scope and duration of a bond.  The proposed bonds were rushed through the “vision process”, too expensive and the last one too long (30 Years) given the political nature of the voters of Ellis County.  The bond effort should never had been led by the architectural firm that stood to benefit from its passage.  Obviously, the voters understood that the greater the amount of the bond the more money the architects stood to make.

Any future bond needs to be handled differently than in the pass. The members of the school board need to be more hands on and help sell the bond. DLR should absolutely not be the face of the next bond. It has a role to play in developing a bond, but not as the lead. Also, the vision teams should be just one vision team made up of administrators, teachers and citizens, not 3 separate teams. This will better help everyone to understand what the others are saying. Right now, the only one who hears what everyone is saying is DLR and it is bad strategy to let it be the only filter through which all information flows.

How can the board/district recruit and retain quality teachers?  What could the board do to improve teacher morale? 
I don’t know what the answer is to recruit and retain quality teachers – not enough familiarity with all the variables needed to suggest something that makes sense. As to morale, the board should support the teachers as they deal with parents who may be to some degree unnecessarily disagreeable. Also, members should always listen and be courteous to the teachers and their concerns knowing that they will not always do what the teachers want or agree with them on issues. Civil discussions will always win the day.

How would you characterize your attitude toward collective bargaining? What role do you see yourself taking in this process? 
Collective bargaining was born of the need to create a mechanism/process where the needs and wants of the employees were heard. It’s still the same today. As I wrote above civil discussions will always win the day and will have the best chance to effect reasonable decisions.  My role would be to visit with teachers and administrators to better understand their concerns, etc. and use that information when deciding on contractual issues, as well as policy issues, facing the school board.