Bismarck School Board Election will be held June 12, 2018

Lawrence King

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If elected, what would be your top three priorities?

I believe there are three top priorities.  First, is safety.  During my time while serving on the Board we increased the utilization of SRO (student resource officers) in our high schools and middle schools.  I believe we need to continue to make safety our number one priority.  We need to consider increasing the number of SROs to provide more coverage for elementary schools.  We also need to continue to make physical changes to the buildings themselves in order to maximize security.

Second, the district is in the process of hiring a new superintendent.  I was a part of the last superintendent search.  We need to involve students, teachers, administrators, business leaders, community members and taxpayers in that process, including the interview process.  Someone asked me, “what characteristics do you want in a superintendent?”  My reply was simply, what characteristics I want in a superintendent isn’t the real issue, the question should be what characteristics does our community want in our superintendent.  I will work very hard to make sure that every stakeholder group is part of that process.

Third, we need a forward thinking long term facility plan. When I was on the Board, we held numerous community forums in order to develop a community strategic facility plan.  That plan resulted in the planning and constructing of Lincoln Elementary, Liberty Elementary and Legacy High School.  We had also previously added Sunrise Elementary.  In the spring of 2017 this Board was presented with a facility planning recommendation from the committee that the Board had tasked with the job.  That plan has still not been fully acted on.  Instead, the Board has delayed acting on it until next fall, at the earliest.  I think we need a long term plan that addresses these critical issues.  We can’t afford to not be moving that process forward.

How do you plan to address the projected continued growth of Bismarck’s student population, especially in north Bismarck?

As I mentioned, I think we need a proactive long term district wide plan.  The prior elementary committee was formed (winter and spring of 2017) in order to try and address the needs in our elementary schools.  When we had used similar committee’s in the past we always had 1 or 2 board members involved so they could help direct the conversation and hear the discussions as they occurred.  Board members were not actively involved in the elementary committee this last time.  The committee recommendations were made to repurpose Highland Acres (HA) and Roosevelt.  The public, and this group, myself included, raised concerns.  At one meeting the Board then agreed not to repurpose Highland Acres.  After further public pressure, at a subsequent meeting, the Board then decided not to repurpose Roosevelt for the time.  The problem I see is that part of the committee’s recommendations was to repurpose those schools and move those kids, in part, to Grimsrud and Centennial.  So, a part of the plan was to make Grimsrud and Centennial larger.  While the school board is presently not planning to close HA or Roosevelt, they are still looking at additions to Centennial and Grimsrud.  If those schools are expanded where are the kids going to come from to fill those seats?  At a school board meeting a member suggested that we can add on to those schools and decide later which kids will attend.  That to me is not proactive planning.  Instead of having the architect just look at possible additions on Grimsrud and Centennial, I would have directed the architects to examine the entire district’s infrastructure so a district wide plan and solution could be developed.

How do you plan to address the continually shifting school boundaries for Bismarck’s elementary students?

In relation to facility planning the challenge will be making sure we get public input and create a long term plan.  We can no longer just respond to an immediate need.  We need a comprehensive plan going into the future.  Two of the biggest challenges will be in investing in Northridge Elementary to keep a great neighborhood school.  The second big challenge relates to Promontory Point.  Let me explain.  Before Lincoln got its Elementary school, which I was very proud to be a part of, the students there were bussed to various schools throughout the District.  They lacked a sense of community.  We held public forums and heard their concerns and finally were able to build that school.  The same situation is arising in Promontory Point.  The students in that area attended Centennial for a number of years.  They now attend Highland Acres.  There has been discussion about whether those students should be going to another Elementary school.  I believe that whatever the answer is, we need to have a long term plan so that those students, and all of our students, don’t get moved around repeatedly as had been done with the students in Lincoln before we were able to build them their school.  That is why I would have asked the architects to look at all of our schools and come up with a district wide plan, after getting community input, instead of only having architects look into Grimsrud and HA for possible additions.

In the face of looming budget pressures, do you see it as a Bismarck school board member’s responsibility to advocate for K-12 education funding in state legislature?

I absolutely see it as a major part of the responsibility of a board member to advocate for state education funding.  I have long advocated for such support and will continue to do so in the future if elected.  As importantly, we need “real time” funding.  Right now BPS educates its students throughout the year and then gets “reimbursed” from the state the next year.  So, we may educate an additional 400 students, which may take 20 teachers and cost a million dollars and we won’t see that money for a year.  Every year I was on the Board I raised this issue and will continue to advocate for it as well as an increase in state funding for our kids!

In 2017, BPS administration figures erroneously suggested smaller neighborhood schools are significantly less efficient than large schools on Bismarck’s outer edges, subjecting neighborhood schools to closure (the recommendation was later rejected by the school board). How do you plan to maintain the integrity of Bismarck’s neighborhood schools? 

As I mentioned above, I think it was imperative for 1 or 2 Board members to be actively involved in the elementary planning process.  They weren’t during the last process.  I think that will assist in getting accurate and solid information.  I would recognize that there are some efficiencies in multi section schools, although how much is debatable.  But the question we should be focused on is what is good for our kids, communities and neighborhoods.  I will admit, as part of full disclosure, I live in the Highland Acres area.  My youngest son also attended HA.  I believe that we need to support our neighborhood schools.  As I noted above, the only way to do that is to create a comprehensive district wide plan.  The Board has asked the architects to look into expanding Grimsrud and Centennial.  If those schools are expanded where will those kids come from?  Will HA and Roosevelt be in jeopardy?  Will Promontory point be at risk for being moved around yet again?  That is the reason I believe it is a mistake to simply look at possible expansions of a few schools without looking at the entire district and coming up with a comprehensive plan.