Picture yourself, if you will, for a moment on the dais for the Lee’s Summit R-7 Board of Education.
Masked-up, socially distanced, the familiar coke machine in the back, familiar faces like Linda Ismert and Dr. Emily Miller nearby to assist where needed.
And governing during a pandemic.
Folks, it’s likely the most undesired job in Lee’s Summit right now.
Of course, that fact alone doesn’t absolve individual board members from criticism or contempt. Holding our LSR7 BOE members accountable is something we should have been doing for decades in this town, but frankly is only a more recent call to action, based in large part to the very public and ugly departures of Dr. David McGehee, Dr. Dennis Carpenter — as well as the not-so-glamorous discussions of sex, money, legal issues and in-fighting that dominated the headlines for far too many years.
And while races in recent years have brought out far more candidates than we used to have, that interest level waned in 2021 to five for two open positions. Which is probably not surprising given the atmosphere and overarching dominance of COVID-19 in our learning system and day-to-day management of the school district.
Board president Ryan Murdock is predictably a frontrunner, a status that may be difficult to upend by any opposition given the fact that we may again see few — if any — public forums and Q&As among candidates.
The Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce (of which I am a current board member) may be holding a limited-seating, in-person event this spring for the school board. As of this publication, Foundations for our Future — a local Political Action Committee that has, in the past, interviewed, recorded and made public those Q&As of candidates for office — hasn’t said yet on its social media platform if they will do that again in 2021.
Other groups may be planning “get to know them” events as well, although certainly these will look different as we continue to slowly vaccinate the population. And the website for which I contribute my column, Link 2 Lee’s Summit, has sent out its candidate surveys and is planning candidate interviews for the prospective board members as well.
Take advantage of any and all ways you can to hear a candidate’s platform.
Another big name on the ballot again this year is Christine Bushyhead, a fourth-place finisher among nine candidates in the 2020 race.
Bushyhead has Lee’s Summit City Council, City Attorney and years of community involvement in downtown, economic development and around Lee’s Summit on her resume. This race has a much different feel than 2020, too, in that the pandemic, in-person education, grading systems and other hot topics are dominating the conversations.
Monte Helm, Rodrick Sparks and Michele Surber round out our five candidates, with each likely bringing their own levels of support to the election.
Look, our kids are back in school. And soon, all of our students (that aren’t opting for 100 percent virtual) will be back in 4-5 days a week. Making in-person education the lead topic among school board candidates isn’t likely going to get us to heart of why we should (or should not) elect them to make major decisions about our district.
We need to get back to talking about the business of the district, financials, construction, insurance, best practices, educational and training opportunities, workforce development and how we get LSR7 back to the top of the list when we think about area school districts.
We can bang our collective heads against the wall when candidates take nontraditional routes to their campaigns (spamming the LSR7 teachers with a note on campaign letterhead was likely not wise for one candidate), but honestly, we need to just flat out start asking tougher questions.
These five have told you, via their filings, that you should vote for them. Challenge them now to tell you just exactly why.