Candidates for Jefferson City School Board have different ideas on how to limit litigation involving the district and how to approach hiring.
Five candidates are vying for three open seats on the board: Brad Bates, Scott Hovis, Mike Harvey, Tapiwa “Felix” Madondo and Suzanne Luther.
The News Tribune spoke with each candidate about their views on the district’s previous and ongoing litigation and hiring efforts. The following answers are verbatim except for editing for grammar, clarity and length when necessary.
Question: During the past five years, Jefferson City School District has settled several lawsuits, and it has several more still ongoing. These have at times resulted in costly legal expenses or settlements that the district must pay. What should the board do to reduce the number of lawsuits?
See this story for an overview of recent cases: http://bit.ly/3LgW50d
Mike Harvey: It seems to me that in every case that was presented to me by the News Tribune over the period available, that in every case, if an arbitrator had been involved before a lawsuit could be filed, these cases could either be dismissed, financially reduced or left to proceed. An independent arbitrator should be retained by the district to control the cost of litigation.
Tapiwa “Felix” Madondo: The board must ensure ongoing training for administrators, administrative staff and school employees on district policies. Board policies should be clear, straightforward and no gray areas. The board should ensure that administrators and administrative staff are equipped to respond and handle situations which could potentially lead to lawsuits. (The) board must ensure everyone is held equally accountable.
Brad Bates: Accountability and communication. It is imperative board members set the expectation the district is an open and supportive organization to work for. We must hold administration accountable for this goal, and while there is no way to fully prevent suits from occurring, I will work to ensure our school leaders are communicating clearly and often with their employees. Creating a culture where employees feel supported and heard. Doing the small things every day that make sure employees are valued and feel appreciated is not only the right thing to do, but will help prevent additional suits going forward.
Suzanne Luther: While I hesitate to make suggestions based only on the public information regarding the different lawsuits, and not yet having had experience on the board, I would at least like to speak to the repetitive claims of “being ignored.” I feel it is crucial for a board member to be an engaged listener and observer of all public school stakeholders.
Scott Hovis: As a board member, I take it seriously that my main role is ensuring the superintendent is leading our staff and students to succeed. In today’s world, lawsuits can be frequent and divert time and funding from student achievement. The school board should ensure the superintendent has the resources to retain a legal team trained in school law with a drive to stop unnecessary, unfounded and retaliatory litigation efforts. In addition, creating an environment that does not tolerate deviant behavior is something the board can assist with by reviewing, drafting, and updating school policy and procedures for staff and students.
Question: How would you assess the school’s previous hiring efforts?
Harvey: Not having detailed information on the district’s hiring practices, I have heard nothing but good things about the quality of our staff and faculty. When the time comes for recruiting new teachers, I would advise that the district be subscribing to publications from institutions that cater to the type of personnel who fit the needs, (and) also sending personnel as interviewers to colleges and universities to promote our school system and recruit prospective candidates.
Madondo: Previous hiring efforts may not have produced the desired results. What I can say is that we do face challenges. However, those challenges are not unique to just our school district. I believe we have a wonderful community here. One of the advantages that we have is our proximity to universities with great programs for educators who are interested in furthering their education. We can use this as our selling points when recruiting.
Bates: This being my first term on the board I don’t have a long history of our hiring practices. I know the application pool is not where we want it to be, so instead of waiting for applications to come in, we are now going out and recruiting applicants at their schools. We should also look at options like offering a recruitment stipend to our employees who recommend a teacher to come to our district. We must continually search for the best teachers who reflect and represent the culture we want our schools to become. A culture of excellence and achievement.
Luther: I think our district continues to improve upon their hiring efforts, expanding their recruiting radius, while also working more closely with Lincoln University’s Education Department. The attractability of our available positions is increasing and is evident with the recent hires of highly sought after administrators, Keshia LaVergne and Beth Houf.
Hovis: The Jefferson City School District is a large employer in the Jefferson City and Holts Summit area. The current administration takes great pride in this and is focused on enhancing the support structure for all 1,500 employees. The human resources department and district leaders recognize the importance of attracting and retaining employees that have a vision for student success and appreciation for our diverse student body. As a board member, I can ask questions about financial incentives, increasing wages to inspire ideas, and make sure policy and procedure evolve to offer staff what they need to help student success.
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