Kelso

Editor's Note: This is the sixth story in an 11-part series focusing on local candidates running for election. The City Commission candidates ran Thursday. The School Board candidates will run Friday and Saturday.

If you would like a PDF of our entire Voters Guide, email us at eudoratimes@gmail.com. Printed copies of the Voters Guide will be available to read at Zeb's next week.

Name: Mike Kelso

Race: School Board 

Current job: IT manager, Epiq

Current community involvement: 

I'm finishing up my third term on the School Board. 

East Central Kansas Cooperative for Education board. For eight of those last 10 years, I've been either vice president and president of that board.

For 12 to 14 years, my wife and I were community leaders for Eudora 4-H … We're still project leaders. 

I am in my fifth of six years on the Douglas County Fair Board. I'm the Eudora Township Fair Board rep. 

Why are you running for election? 

I think we've done a lot of good, and I'd like to continue to do that. I believe our district is and has been headed in a good direction. Continuity, I believe, is a good thing for a board such as a school board. To know the ins and outs takes a little while to get there, particularly school finances are certainly not an easy topic to even try to understand let alone help to manage as a board member. And that takes a good year to get into. And school finances is something that we always struggle with. We came through the Brownback years and survived. We're now in a better place than we were. And we're continuing to get better at everything we do.

Earlier this year, residents participated in surveys and focus groups about what they wanted in a new superintendent. We’re going to ask you some questions related to this same data since they relate to the leadership vision for the district. One of the top priorities was creating more competitive salary and benefits packages to attract and retain staff members. How do you think the School Board should approach this issue? 

I think we should give every last dime that we can to our staff. I mean, they are our No. 1 resource. Without them, we don't function well at all, and Eudora has historically been behind even when comparing to local districts around us. We've hit a good milestone this year in that our opening base salary for a new person coming in with zero years of experience, we've finally passed $40,000. 

That was a goal we set three years ago that we wanted to get there. It took us about a year longer than we wanted to, but we're there and that's a good thing. The board needs to constantly strive to find new ways to increase that salary pool to show our appreciation for our staff. And that's not just our teachers, that's the bus drivers, the cafeteria workers, the office workers, anybody, our coaches, in that they do a very thankless job a lot of times. And people want to get down on teachers and most people that do that have no idea the amount of work that they put in.

Another priority that residents noted was the upkeep of buildings. What capital improvements do you think are needed across the district? 

Well, we are in the middle of trying to gather all that information as we're aware that we know we are probably going to have to pursue a new bond issue sometime in the near future. It's not tomorrow, but it's not five years from now. It's whether it's a year from now or six months from now. 

We've started that process. We know that our facilities are very good for a 4A district in Kansas. We have very good facilities, and we need to keep it that way. And while people might see still grade school as this shining beacon of education for our young people, it's still 10 years old now and we have to make sure that it stays a viable option for us. 

And whether that's expansion, or keeping the things behind the scene, the HVAC, the IT systems, things like that, all that has to be taken into account for, and unfortunately, it all costs money. And we do still have a large amount of debt from our previous bond issues. 

But the board, in my opinion, has done a good job the last two or three years of manipulating that debt so that we've decreased long term what we are going to have to pay by multiple millions of dollars -- I don't believe a lot of people in the district realize that -- by refinancing some of our debt. So whether it's pushing it out farther, or taking advantage of lower interest rates now and doing a refinance, and we've done that, and we've done that without raising taxes.

Improving diversity and equity in the district was also noted as important. What role do you think the School Board should play in this? 

I believe we need to set a policy. I mean, and I don't want to get to a quota system because I don't think that works. But we do need to attract whether administrators, teachers, staff of any kind of different races, different backgrounds, different nationalities that as our population becomes more and more diverse, which it wasn't 20 years ago in Eudora. It is now, and our staff should reflect that.

How do you hope to improve the educational experience for students? 

Well, we are and always have been on a path to provide the necessary tools to help our students who are going to be successful in life. That's what we need to prepare them for -- whether it is being ready to go to college, and whether that's a four-year college, or maybe a junior college or a technical college, or to go to the military or to go into the workforce. 

We need to identify that, and it's at a student-by-student level to have a personalized education plan so that we make sure that our students are successful when they leave. 

I mean I'd love to have all kinds of new programs, but they cost money. So we, unfortunately, do have to pick and choose. We have a lot of people even in Eudora, let alone Douglas County, that aren't aware of the tech ed programs that we have at Eudora. They see that building back there and they have no idea the truly world-class culinary arts program that we have. 

Anybody that goes to a football game or in a basketball game, you can go to a football game and get street quality tacos made by and served by our students. We have annually 20 to 30, I believe, students that come out of the nursing medical program that we have and they are CNAs when they leave, you know, our high school. The auto body program that we have. There are I believe 12 pathways that we have now, and we're constantly looking into adding new ones if it meets the needs of our students.

Not only community members but School Board members themselves said they wanted a next superintendent who is a proactive thinker. But the board plays a key role in this as well. What vision do you personally have for the district? 

I do my best to never go into a board meeting blind. I want to know, I want to study what we're going to talk about. 

There are many accompanying documents on that agenda, and I'll do my best to go through each one of those to formulate the questions that I think need to be answered about those things that we're going to talk about. And if I have something that would require more research upfront, so that it can be answered at that meeting, I'm going to email the superintendent my questions ahead of time. 

The superintendent has done a great job for somebody that's only been here a few months at hitting the ground running, as they say. When we have questions, he digs and finds the answers for us if it's possible for him to do that.

What do you think are the biggest strengths of the school district? 

Our people. We have a fantastic staff and that's why we need to keep them. It always hurts me when somebody leaves knowing the reason is salary. It hurts if we can't compensate our people such that they can go find another job in a district within driving distance so they have to commute. I want to keep them here. 

Our students have been very, very successful at their education, at their activities. And the activities aren't just athletics. I'm a huge supporter of the arts, and I always will be. Things like debate, and theater, and band and choir, in my mind, are just as important as athletics. And I love that our town supports that. 

When the band, the marching band, hadn't had new uniforms for years -- and having been a marching band member many, many moons ago at my high school and Kansas State -- I know what those uniforms cost. And it took two to three years of planning and getting bids. I am extremely proud that the board made that leap to buy those uniforms. 

It's not cheap, it's $400 to $500 a person to outfit that. But it’s the same amount we spend on our football team, so why wouldn't we spend on our band, too? Those uniforms work so well and the band has been so successful lately that, without even asking, we bought the band program more uniforms this year because our administrator saw that the enrollment had increased and they approached the director and said you're getting more students, do you need more uniforms? 

He said, yes. We were able to do that without any issue about it at all. And that makes me feel good that we put that support into those activities.

What do you think are the biggest challenges? 

Money. It’s almost always going to come down to money and how that is mostly out of our control. Because our money comes from - we get a little bit federally, we get a lot from the state, and we get some locally through taxes. None of us want to raise the mill rate. And through my 12 and a half years on the board, I believe, you'll see that it has remained relatively flat. 

People will say, well, I'm paying more in tax dollars. But that's because the value of their house has gone up. And in my mind, that's a good thing. It's a good thing that the value of your house goes up. Yes, you're going to pay more because your house is worth more. But it also helps that the Eudora area supports the school district very, very well. 

I hope that if and when we get to a new bond issue that that will remain true. And hopefully, we as a board, as we have in the past couple of years, can restructure some of that debt or get some old debt paid off, such that when we asked for this new bond, we can do it and hopefully not inflict an increased tax burden on the taxpayer. 

I've always looked at that I support three groups of people: One, the students, very important. Another one, the staff, is very important. And No. 3, the patrons. So the taxpayers, the parents, and every decision I've ever been a part of, I'm proud of all those. I have to take into account all three of those and how it's going to affect all three of those.

I mean we have to stay on top of our physical needs, the physical plan. 

The turf of the stadium -- it's at its life limit right now. It was supposed to be good for 10 years. We're on Year 12 right now. We need to replace that. So we've got to come up with a way - we're going to get some proposals on companies that could do it. And I believe we're going to get some financing options, too. 

So one, if we can do that, ahead of a bond issue, and do it correctly, that's one less thing we had to put in the bond. So it's one less burden that we put on other people if we can come up with some creative ways to do it. And those are the things that not necessarily the board has to think of those ideas, but we're going to direct the superintendent to direct the administration to direct the staff to come up with those ideas and then present them to us give us options, and then we'll try and figure out together the best way to proceed.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I'd like to say that I thank Eudora for their support for myself and the board for the time that I've been on the board. I would like to continue. I mean, I see some unfinished things. We have a brand-new superintendent, I'd like to help him keep his feet about him and help keep the Eudora schools headed in the right direction that I believe they are now. 

And if a bond issue was necessary, figure out what needs to be on there. Figure out how we're going to pay for it. Figure out how to keep our staff, and those are all challenges. It takes dedication from everybody to make that happen. And as long as the Eudora voters are willing to put their faith in me, I'll serve as long as they want me to. 

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