BEA questions school board candidates, endorses Childress
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
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.
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.