BEA ques­tions school board can­di­dates, en­dorses Chil­dress

The Saline Courier - - FRONT PAGE - By Elisha Morrison el­[email protected]­ton­courier.com

Af­ter ques­tion­ing the three can­di­dates for the open po­si­tion on the Ben­ton School Board, the Ben­ton Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion voted to en­dorse for­mer board mem­ber Paul Chil­dress.

“We want to make sure we get the best can­di­date that sup­ports (pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion),” said in­com­ing BEA pres­i­dent April Reisma be­fore the ses­sion be­gan.

Elec­tion day is planned for May 21.

Each can­di­date was given a list of nine ques­tions the panel would draw from in ad­vance. On Tues­day, night the three took turns an­swer­ing ques­tions for 30 min­utes in the Ben­ton Ju­nior High Li­brary. It was open to the pub­lic.

Chil­dress spoke first and told the panel he was born and raised in Ben­ton and hopes one day his grand­chil­dren will live in the city.

He feels that the school dis­trict ben­e­fits the city as a whole.

“Our com­mu­nity does good when the school dis­trict does good,” he said. “It goes hand-in-hand.”

He said his daugh­ters, one in ninth grade and the other in 11th grade, en­cour­aged him to run for the open seat. He had been on the board when his son was in school and they wanted a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence. They told him they see him help peo­ple in his busi­ness so he could help peo­ple on the board.

If elected, Chil­dress only plans to serve one 5-year term be­cause he be­lieves a board mem­ber should have chil­dren in the school and his will have grad­u­ated by the time his first term is over.

Chil­dress said he has 10 years of po­lice ex­pe­ri­ence and started his in­sur­ance com­pany from the ground up 20 years ago. He feels his ex­pe­ri­ence will make him a well-rounded board mem­ber.

Asked about the roles and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of the board, Chil­dress said it should be a checks and bal­ances on the school. He said it should be more in­volved in not only the hir­ing and fir­ing of the su­per­in­ten­dent, but take its role se­ri­ously in ap­prov­ing Paul Chil­dress speaks to a crowd Tues­day dur­ing a ques­tion-and-answer ses­sion hosted by the Ben­ton Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion at Ben­ton

Ju­nior High School. The

BEA en­dorsed Chil­dress in the up­com­ing school board elec­tion set

May 21.

su­per­in­ten­dent, but take its role se­ri­ously in ap­prov­ing per­son­nel.

Chil­dress feels the board should be trans­par­ent and ac­ces­si­ble to the teach­ers, em­ploy­ees and par­ents as well.

“If I get elected, I will be avail­able,” Chil­dress said.

He added that the board is also re­spon­si­ble for the bud­get.

“It is not my money. It is not your money. It is the tax­payer’s money,” he said.

In re­sponse to his top two pri­or­i­ties, he said his are school safety and tak­ing care of em­ploy­ees.

Chil­dress said school re­source of­fi­cers are “the greatest thing ever” but he wants there to be an of­fi­cer on ev­ery cam­pus.

For em­ploy­ees, he wants Ben­ton to be num­ber one in teacher pay, not just com­pet­i­tive. He said he knows get­ting there will not be easy or quick, but that the school needs to get there.

On school ex­pul­sion and sus­pen­sion, he said it is im­por­tant to fol­low the guidelines, but he wants to en­sure the school has the best guidelines. He is in fa­vor of ex­pul­sion only for weapons at school, drugs, vi­o­lence and threats of vi­o­lence.

For sus­pen­sion, he would rather see stu­dents kept in school do­ing work or even look­ing at new pro­grams to see the best so­lu­tion.

The panel asked about cost of liv­ing raises, ex­plain­ing that af­ter a cer­tain num­ber of years, teach­ers stop get­ting raises but ex­penses — such as in­sur­ance — keep in­creas­ing.

Chil­dress said older em­ploy­ees are more valu­able and their pay should re­flect that. He wants to keep the best teach­ers and feels not of­fer­ing raises risks los­ing them.

The panel was con­cerned about the board work­shops be­ing dur­ing lunch when teach­ers can­not at­tend. He agreed they should be at a time teach­ers are able to at­tend so they can of­fer their feed­back.

Chil­dress re­minded them, if elected, he would be one vote of seven.

Chil­dress said Ben­ton has three things go­ing for it.

“We have great kids, great par­ents, great teach­ers,” he said, adding while the board can­not control kids or par­ents, they can en­sure they hire and re­tain the best teach­ers.

The next to be ques­tioned was current board pres­i­dent Jackie Sas­fai, who said she is a lifelong Ben­ton res­i­dent who grad­u­ated from Ua-lit­tle Rock and the Univer­sity of Ar­kan­sas for Med­i­cal Sci­ences. She worked as a res­pi­ra­tory ther­a­pist for 20 years and worked in med­i­cal sales for 5 years. She has had two chil­dren go through Ben­ton schools.

“I can’t tell you how much joy I’ve got­ten out of my ser­vice,” she said of her time on the board.

Her top pri­or­i­ties are the rate of growth and start­ing salaries for teach­ers.

On growth, she feels the schools need more class­rooms and more teach­ers to main­tain a bet­ter teacher-tostu­dent ra­tio. She added the board has al­ready started to work on some solutions.

On salaries, Sas­fai wants start­ing teacher salaries to match sur­round­ing dis­tricts.

She added an­other pri­or­ity is school safety, say­ing im­prove­ments have been made with the doors, adding SROS and more. A vote is sched­uled to add two more SROS.

Sas­fai said she would like to see teach­ers re­ceive that cost of liv­ing raise.

“We need more staff, but our longterm staff de­serve a cost-of-liv­ing raise,” she said.

Sas­fai told the panel she loves to hear from teach­ers, but does not wish to bug them.

“This dis­trict’s greatest two as­sets are staff and stu­dents,” she said.

Sas­fai is also in fa­vor of mov­ing work­shops to a time more con­ve­nient for both the teach­ers and pub­lic to at­tend. She feels it is im­por­tant for teach­ers to be there so the board can know what re­sources the teach­ers need.

One way Sas­fai feels money could be saved in the bud­get is by do­ing away with the “Cap­tur­ing Kids Hearts” pro­gram. She be­lieves pur­chas­ing it is a waste be­cause it is teach­ers who truly know their stu­dents, not a pro­gram.

“You guys know your stu­dents bet­ter than the board or a cen­tral of­fice,” she said.

Sas­fai would like to re­duce the dis­crep­ancy be­tween ad­min­is­tra­tion and most tenured teacher’s salaries.

She feels stu­dents should not lose learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties un­less there is a phys­i­cal threat to staff or stu­dents.

She feels pas­sion­ate about redefin­ing rec­om­men­da­tions for ex­pul­sion as well.

The fi­nal can­di­date was Justin Dorsey, who works as the sta­dium man­ager for War Me­mo­rial Sta­dium and was re­cently an SRO for Ben­ton.

He has three boys who at­tend Ben­ton schools. The fam­ily moved to Ben­ton in 2013 when he left the Parks Ser­vice.

He worked for Lit­tle Rock Po­lice De­part­ment be­fore mov­ing to work­ing for Ben­ton Po­lice De­part­ment.

He was a Ben­ton SRO for 4 years be­fore re­turn­ing to work­ing for the Parks Ser­vice. When he left the SRO po­si­tion, teach­ers told him to run for the board.

Dorsey be­lieves the role of the board is to “set a vi­sion and a goal” and work on stu­dent as­sign­ments, dis­ci­pline and en­sure fi­nan­cial bal­ance.

As a for­mer SRO, he feels his in­side knowl­edge of the schools will ben­e­fit the board.

“I want to make sure Ben­ton has the best teach­ers and the best staff and that we keep them,” Dorsey said.

He agrees the work­shops need to be moved.

“It is our duty to be trans­par­ent. All vested par­ties should be in­cluded,” he said.

On ex­pul­sion and sus­pen­sion, he feels his background gives him a dif­fer­ent view. While each should be de­cided on a case-by-case ba­sis, the board also needs to fol­low the guidelines or risk los­ing the stu­dents’ re­spect for them.

He wants to be open and ac­ces­si­ble to teach­ers, but also feels he should work with the su­per­in­ten­dent. He wants to hold the su­per­in­ten­dent ac­count­able to en­sure he is us­ing his re­sources — the teach­ers — well.

Dorsey feels Ben­ton is ahead of the curve on se­cu­rity, but he is con­cerned about the teacher turnover and morale.

“Man­age­ment 101 is if you take care of your peo­ple, they will take care of the cus­tomer,” he said.

Dorsey wants them to feels sup­ported. He added any thriv­ing busi­ness will say its num­ber one as­set is the staff.

He is con­cerned teach­ers at Ben­ton are paid less than sur­round­ing ar­eas.

Dorsey’s sec­ond pri­or­ity is the bud­get and en­sur­ing money is al­lo­cated to the real pri­or­i­ties.

He does not like how many line items in the bud­get are la­beled “other.” He ex­pressed con­cern that the pri­or­i­ties may not be in line with what they should be.

Dorsey said the most im­por­tant as­set to suc­cess in the class­room is the teach­ers. He feels their pas­sion is why they are there. He wants to en­sure staff is sta­ble and not al­ways chang­ing.

“I ad­mire the pas­sion and love they have,” he said.

Dorsey feels there should not be a cap on teacher salaries.

Dorsey told the panel he would love the op­por­tu­nity to serve.

“I want to make sure the en­vi­ron­ment my boys go to school in is the best it is go­ing to be,” he said.

“We wish to ex­press our ap­pre­ci­a­tion to all three can­di­dates for their will­ing­ness to serve,” BEA Vice Pres­i­dent Tamme Adams said.

ELISHA MORRISON/ The Sa­line Courier

ELISHA MORRISON/THE Sa­line Courier

Current Ben­ton School Board Pres­i­dent Jackie Sas­fai, above, and for­mer Ben­ton Po­lice Of­fi­cer Justin Dorsey, speak to mem­bers of the Ben­ton Ed­u­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion dur­ing a ques­tion-and-answer ses­sion for school board can­di­dates Tues­day that the or­ga­ni­za­tion held at the Ben­ton Ju­nior High Li­brary.

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