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Friday, January 25, 2013 8:56 PM

Last-minute filings expand field in West Franklin board race

By CRYSTAL HERBER, Herald Staff Writer

[Editor’s note: Interviews with other candidates can be found in The Herald’s Jan. 22 edition.]

After the dust settled, the races have been set.

Each of the four open positions on the West Franklin school board will be contested with the recent filings for Positions 5 and 2. The filing deadline passed noon Tuesday with 19 people filing that day for various races in the county, Janet Paddock, county clerk, said. The general election is set for April 2. With no more than three candidates filing in each race, Paddock said a primary will not be necessary. ­

Position 5

Daniel Arnett and Carrie Lira will join the race against incumbent Sherry Harris for the Position 5 seat on the board.

Arnett, 32, Pomona, views himself as the “common sense” candidate who believes there are other options available to the district other than a bond election. He said he hopes his presence on the board will bring new ideas to the problem of dropping enrollment and school funding issues.

Arnett opposes the bond issue, he said, because of a lack of good reasons to proceed with it.

“There’s nothing wrong with the buildings that we have,” Arnett said. “I don’t think they’ve had any type of maintenance at all.”

While he admits he has more to learn about how state funding decreases will affect schools in the future, he said he is willing to learn. Arnett said his experience as a business owner and manager would be invaluable to the board in preparing budgets and allocating funds.

“The good Lord blessed me with common sense, and that can go a long ways — it has for me,” Arnett said.

Amid talks of multi-million dollar bond elections, funding shortages and consolidation, several new faces have joined the race for the four open spots on the school board. School officials have cited continued cuts in state funding, as well as a drop in enrollment, as the reasons behind an eventual consolidation that would combine the schools three campuses — Pomona, Appanoose and Williamsburg — into, one with new school buildings paid for by a bond issue that could cost patrons anywhere from $10 million to $20 million.

Meanwhile, opponents of the bond election have established themselves into what appears to be two camps. One group says the closing of Williamsburg Elementary School would kill the town. The other cites the tough economic times as a reason not to increase taxes on an already heavily-burdened taxpayer. Both camps will get a chance to voice their opinions at three information meetings set for Feb. 4, 5 and 6.

In contrast, Lira, 43, Pomona, said her main motivation is not to support or oppose the bond issue. She said her chief concern is the education of the students. After years in education and the military, Lira said she has the education and leadership experience that makes her a good candidate for the job.

“This is a field that I work in, this is a field that I like to do and education, I’m just looking at helping kids, especially mine,” Lira, who has one child in the district, said.

A hot topic in the district, Lira said her initial thoughts on the bond election is that she doesn’t support it. However, Lira said, she wants to get more educated on the bond election and consolidation but is willing to keep an open mind on the subject.

“Things could change in regards to education — funding and stuff like that — so we don’t know where that aspect’s going for the district and the citizens in the district,” Lira said, “so until I can get more educated on it and find out what the government’s going to be doing in regards to education, I’m just sort of at a no-go with the bond right now.”

After six years teaching in downtown Kansas City, Lira said, she is open-minded and determined to get education to the West Franklin students. Lira is interested in making technology more accessible for the students and giving them an overall better educational opportunity, she said.

Position 2

Former West Franklin school nurse, Jackie Robbins filed Tuesday for Position 2 on the board against incumbent board member Stacia Spencer, who also filed Tuesday.

After 30 years, Robbins retired last May as the school district’s nurse. Her experience from within the district gives her a unique perspective, she said, on the workings of the school district. In addition to working for the district, Robbins had three children attend the district, but admits, should she be elected, she would have a lot to learn, which she is willing to do.

Like many of the candidates in the district’s school board race, Robbins, 61, Pomona, was motivated to run because of the board’s talks of a bond election and eventual consolidation of the district’s three schools to one campus in Pomona. Three decades walking those halls makes Robbins a little skeptical when it comes to the need to build multi-million dollar school buildings.

“If they push this thing through, I’m afraid they will lose even more students because of the numbers up at Appanoose, and we won’t even have enough kids to fill the new building,” she said. “And then we’ll get stuck paying for it.”

A bond election, Robbins said, would put an increased burden on the taxpayers that can’t be carried right now. The heaviest burden, should this bond issue pass, she said, would be on the large property owners in the district: farmers and ranchers. These people already are suffering the effects of drought and cannot take much more in the way of taxation, she said.

“They’re passing it off like it’s going to cost a few bucks a year more, well not the farmers, and we’re going through some hard times right now,” Robbins said.

The board could look into other options in order to save money in the district, Robbins said.

The bond issue aside, Robbins said she is running because of her love for the students in that district and her dedication to help them receive a good education.

“I’ve always put the interest of my students first,” she said.

Spencer, who currently sits on the board, was unavailable for an interview by press time.

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