School board candidates discuss issues facing USD 329

Emma Alderman | editor in chief

As Wabaunsee County prepares to vote for three spots on the USD 329 school board, the Charger asked each candidate about issues facing the district.

Three candidates are vying for the district 4 seat, and one candidate is up for district 6. 

No candidates are running in district 5, which means a write-in candidate could potentially be elected. If there is no winner, or if the winner declines the seat, the board could either appoint a seventh member or go ahead with six members.

Candidates are grouped by district and listed in alphabetical order.

Thomas Beggs,

District 4

History in the community and school district: I moved to Alma from Kansas City five years ago after we had bought some land east of town about 15 years ago. Then, when Alex was transitioning to fifth grade, we made the move because that’s when we learned the two elementary schools would combine. We didn’t know anybody and the first time we drove through Alma was on the way to I-70 when Alex was a baby. We saw the land auction and came back out later that week to look at the property with Steve Murray and then came back on Thursday and bought it. We didn’t know anybody but one of the first people we met was Dave Stuewe. He stopped by one day and introduced himself. I then met Justin Frank when he helped secure the loan for the property the day we bought it. 

Children or family in the district: Both my sons attend school in the district. Alex is a sophomore and Duke is a sixth grader. 

Profession and other interests: My wife Heather and I own a water treatment company in Kansas City and I am the chief operating officer. I like to hunt and I own some goats and chickens. 

Why did you decide to run for school board: I’m from a family of teachers. My mom was a biology teacher and my dad was a counselor. I grew up in a smaller town near Kansas City that was a lot like Alma. I saw from my high school experience how things were and how things could be changed for the better. I’ve been living in Alma for five years now but I’ve been getting the paper for 15 and I don’t think the direction is bad, but I think it could be better. I think we need some new ideas and different ways of thinking about the whole education process. So I think I would bring a different perspective than most because I am an outsider and I don’t have any attachments to the community other than the fact that my kids go to school there — my business isn’t here and my wife and I don’t work here. So when the kids graduate high school I’m kind of “done” with being involved, but I believe that a school district is part of the community. I think if you want to keep the small towns and communities alive you need to have a strong school and I think some of the kids there who don’t go to college will find employment there which will benefit businesses if we have a good school system. 

What are the biggest issues facing the board right now: They’re going to need to figure out what to do with all the buildings that they have. I don’t think that they can continue and I’m sure they won’t continue to operate the way they have in the past. Therefore they’re going to have to figure out the bond issue and to figure out a way to convince people in the community to vote for that bond issue. You need not just people who have kids in the school but the people who own land from Manhattan or Kansas City that don’t have kids in school or business owners. 

What are steps the school should take as far as facilities and future bond issues: We have these facilities and if we can’t maintain them then we need to get rid of them and consolidate. You just can’t spend money you don’t have and you can’t just maintain things without the money. I know that the high school is beautiful but the school’s job is not to maintain old buildings, the school’s business is to teach kids. If we have to build a new school then let’s figure out a way to do that. As for the bond issue I think the school board needs to find a way to sell the bond issue. They need to convince people that it is the right thing to do. 

In making budgetary choices, what particular educational needs of students will be your priority? I think that the future is in technology and efficiency and that not every kid has to go to college anymore. I work in a private world and I talk to people who are not necessarily looking for college educated kids but people who can learn. So I think the biggest thing is to teach the kids how to think and solve problems rather than how to regurgitate what they read in a textbook.

As you have campaigned and spoken to the community, what are the main concerns they have voiced to you? The biggest one I have heard is the crumbling facilities, especially people with kids in our school system. 

Jerome Hess,

District 4

History in the community and school district: I graduated in the class of 1993. 

Children or family in the district: My wife is the third grade teacher at Alma Elementary School and both of my daughters attended Wabaunsee High School.  

Profession and other interests: I operate Hess ranch for a living. 

Why did you decide to run for school board: I decided to run for the school board because decent people need to step forward and serve. 

What are the biggest issues facing the board right now: The budget, and spread out district are no question some of our biggest issues. 

What are steps the school should take as far as facilities and future bond issues: I think that first of all the district needs to do it’s best with the resources it’s been given. 

In making budgetary choices, what particular educational needs of students will be your priority? I think we need some updated curriculum that we don’t have right now. 

As you have campaigned and spoken to the community, what are the main concerns they have voiced to you? The people in my area are concerned about taxes and that’s just above all else. 

Ashley Seematter, District 4

History in the community and school district: I was born and raised in Alma. I graduated from high school in 2007 and I’ve lived in town all but about a year of my life. I’ve got three kids, one of which is currently attending school at Maple Hill Elementary school. 

Profession and other interests: I’m a registered nurse and I teach nursing students full time. I also work labor and delivery part time at the hospital in Topeka. 

I coach softball in the summertime and I serve on a couple of nursing councils at the hospital, one of which is the research council. I’m also a part of Sigma Theta Tau. 

Why did you decide to run for school board: I’m really interested in getting involved with the school especially since I haven’t been involved at that level before. I think I have some interesting perspectives I could bring in since I’ve lived here my whole life and attended high school here. I’ve also got a healthcare and education background that might be beneficial to add to the school board. 

Biggest issues facing the board: I think one of the biggest concerns is talking about the bond issue and we’re going to change infrastructure and how it will look in our communities. It is important to have many different opinions when it comes to that. I’m happy to help figure out how we can grow as a community and keep our infrastructure strong. I think it’s always important to keep close to our district’s educators and coaches that support education and growth in the classroom and on the playing field. I know that currently getting substitutes is an issue but I think that issue is in more than just our district. 

Challenges of being on the school board: I think that everyone has different opinions and we need to find a playing ground where we can agree or at least agree to disagree and we can move forward. It’s important not to stay stagnant. We have to have a plan and we have to move towards it and try to come up with an consensus. We don’t always get everybody with the same opinions but we can at least come to what’s better for the community and the students and the teachers. 

Steps the school should take as far as facilities and future bond issues: I honestly think no matter what the decision is we have to make that choice as a school board based on community feedback and then move forward. We have to have a really good plan and then work towards it so that the community knows what the plan is and everyone can be in support of it because there are no details left out. So I think that having a very clear on what the plan is n o matter what it is because I know there are a bunch of different ideas on the laying board. That way the community knows what to expect and what they are voting for. 

In making budgetary choices, what particular educational needs of students will be your priority? I think education has to be the priority. The classroom has to be first followed by support of sport programs and then extracurriculars that go beyond that. 

Do you have any specific things you would like to see addressed if you are elected? I think the priority has to be figuring out the bond issue because I think that is kind of the big flag that’s up there now. In doing that though we have to make sure we keep good educators in our district. We also need to keep in mind the physical and mental health of our students and not let that fall through the wayside as the world is still technically in a pandemic. 

As you have campaigned and spoken to the community, what are the main concerns they have voiced to you? I think the biggest issue that has been talked about is the bond and what my strategies are going forward and honestly I need that opportunity to hear all the different sides and details because it’s really hard to read a school board report and kind of get a good feel for all the perspectives. I think that is the concern of most people because down to the taxpayers dollars and I think we should be respectful of people’s money but also consider what’s best for the community and keeping the district going. 

Tony Conrad,

District 6 

History in the community and school district: I grew up in Alma and graduated from Wabaunsee. My wife and I have lived in Paxico for 16 years.

Do you have children or family in the district: Yes I have three girls, a senior at the high school, an 8th grader at  the junior high and a 3rd grader at Maple Hill.

What is your profession and other interests: I drive a truck and run a route for a living. My interests are watching my girls compete in multiple sports, spending time with my family, camping, boating and grilling/cooking.

Why did you decide to run for school board: I was originally asked to run and decided to serve my community by fulfilling my civic duty.

What are the biggest issues facing the board right now: The biggest issue facing the board is our facilities and getting them to where they aren’t such a strain on our budget. 

What are steps the school should take as far as facilities and future bond issues: We’re going to have some town halls at our communities and meetings with administration/staff to get input on what our communities think is the best direction to go to get a bond passed. It is important to hear from all to make sure we are meeting the needs of our district as a whole.

In making budgetary choices, what particular educational needs of students will be your priority? I think listening to staff and administration is important in making choices that help our students succeed. Good communication with those doing the day to day tasks is important in making these decisions.

As you have campaigned and spoken to the community, what are the main concerns they have voiced to you? The facilities and a bond are the topics that are discussed mostly right now.


See how students and faculty answered our candidate questions in the latest question of the week.

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