York County School Board District 4 Q&A: Stephen Roane

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stephen roaneWYDaily sent an identical questionnaire to each candidate running for the District 4 seat on the York County School Board.

Newcomer Stephen Roane faces incumbent R. Page Minter in the race. Roane’s answers are unedited and presented below.

The election takes place Nov. 3.

Read a completed questionnaire from Minter’s here.

1. What are the three major issues facing the school district right now? How would you address those issues?

1) Financial:  It is a continuous challenge to ensure that our schools are properly funded to successfully execute on its primary mission; enabling our students for success.  Funding will always be finite and less than what’s required to do everything we want to do so we’ll need to be prudent investing in our teachers, staff, equipment and infrastructure while also minimizing the impact to the taxpayers.

2) Population:  York County’s population continues to grow and we are expected to see growth for the foreseeable future.  Part of that growth will come in the form of new students and we have to be prepared to accommodate them.  To do that, we will need to partner closely with our Board of Supervisors and planning commissions to understand when and where to expect new students.

3) Security:  We need to do everything we can to ensure our schools provide a safe and secure environment for students, teachers and staff.  Whether we’re looking at the physical security of our campuses or the electronic security of our computer and network infrastructure.  We need to continuously work with internal and industry experts to employ the most effective solutions to our security needs.

2. Population data suggests several school zones face an overcrowding problem in the coming years if adjustments are not made. Beyond the new elementary schools slated to be built in the Magruder and York zones, what strategies would you support to address the issue? Why?

There are really only two viable options outside of building new schools. One would be placing stand-alone temporary classrooms and the second would be constructing new permanent additions to our schools.  Of course, both options have significant challenges.  It’s difficult to equip temporary buildings as well as the existing classrooms and they often leave both students and teachers feeling somewhat detached from the educational experience with the rest of the school.  I’m also adverse to spending money on temporary solutions, but they are often the best choice to address population issues relatively quickly.

New additions will take longer to put in place, require non-trivial changes to the existing buildings and will be disruptive to any school activities happening during construction.  However, once the new structures are in place we will have invested our money in permanent solutions that should last as long as the school.

Either option will also present difficult funding challenges that will require planning with our supervisors.  But in the end we need to make sure we have classrooms that will allow us to successfully educate our students.

3. What budget items would you want to ensure are fully funded and not cut back as the York County School Division builds its fiscal 2017 budget?

One item I will expect to see in our 2017 budget, and going forward, is funding to properly compensate our teachers and staff for the jobs that we expect them to perform.  While we cannot immediately reverse the impact of decisions that needed to made in previous years where merit raises could not be funded, we need to continue correcting them now.  The biggest impact in a student’s educational experience is not a new bus or a new piece of technology but rather the teachers and staff that they interface with on a daily basis.  To ensure that experience is of the quality we expect in York County schools we need to invest appropriately in our people.  And that investment shouldn’t be limited to just pay increases but to incentives like continuing education.  We should continue to grow our expertise internally with existing teachers and staff that are already dedicated to our students.

The challenge for the board will be finding the necessary funds without simply increasing the annual budget.  While that may be the simplest approach it isn’t necessarily the most fiscally prudent one.  As stewards of our financial resources we should exhaust all viable options to fund this compensation before any sort of budget increase in proposed.

4. Later start times for high-schoolers is currently in serious consideration by both the York County School Board and the division’s administration. Do you support later start times for these students? Why or why not?

I’m not opposed to a later start time for our high school students.  As the father of a recent graduate and of a new high school freshman I am very aware of the challenges in the current start times.  However, changing the start time will not be a simple matter of just moving up the clock as there are a number of logistical issues that will need to be addressed.  Bus availability and driver’s schedules will need to reviewed.  How will a different bus schedule impact pickups/drop-offs at middle and elementary schools?  How will later start times impact important after-school activities and will that shift the times students in those activities arrive back home?  High school students with mentorships, part-time jobs and other after-schools responsibilities will also be impacted.

If we can find suitable answers to these questions then establishing a later start-time is probably the right thing to do but we need to be careful that we don’t cause more problems than we’re solving by changing when our students arrive at and leave from school.

5. Which school improvement projects do you think need to be priority items for the school division? Why?

There are a number of good and prudent projects that are already a part of the YCSD capital improvement plans but three that I believe are most urgent are roof repairs/replacements, HVAC maintenance/replacement and new school construction.

Some of our schools suffer from water intrusion during rainy days and storms.  Not only does this fail to meet some of the basic expectations we have of our school buildings it also creates distractions. Staff is required to spend time containing the water and working on cleanup when they could spend their time on other items. Also, it raises the risk of mold buildup which would be a health issue and costly to remove.

The HVAC systems at certain schools and buildings are not operating as efficiently as we need them.  This makes them more expensive to operate and without proper cooling, heating and air filtration we end up with a physical environment that is less than comfortable to learn in.  While we can all tolerate a few degrees of discomfort we should not allow the systems to degrade to a point where students, teachers and staff are either bundling up in coats or perspiring just sitting in the classrooms.

Probably the biggest project, however, is the construction of a new school and other learning facilities.  It’s a straight-forward fact that our student population will grow significantly enough over the foreseeable future and we need to be able to receive those students.  The expected growth will be too large to simply accommodate it via existing school space without greatly increasing the student-to-teacher ratio and even then we would not have enough space without major investments in temporary classrooms.  Which would probably eventually turn into permanent space as we struggle to maintain classroom availability.

6. Talk about the achievement gap in York Schools. Are the current strategies to close the gap working? Why or why not? What are your ideas to help progress in this area? 

Fortunately, the achievement gaps that York county schools are experiencing are not as great as some of our neighbors.  While that is good news it doesn’t mean that we do not have room for improvement with our students.  We need to accurately identify the students in need of greater assistance and continue to provide programs that will help them grow academically.  This is an area where YCSD has seen success with many examples of improvements year after year.

Of the various programs we currently have in place I feel that programs which employ small groups with a singular focus will yield the best results, such as the Leveled Literacy Intervention program.  Programs structured in this manner will better bring together students of a similar education level in a given subject, allow greater teacher interaction per student and provide a specific focus in the area the students are struggling in.

However, while it is important to ensure we are providing for opportunities for students to achieve on one end of the educational spectrum we also need to make sure we are paying proper time and attention to the opposite end of the spectrum as well.  We need be equally diligent in assisting our stronger students in achieving even better results than they could on their own.

7. How would you describe the working relationship between the school board and the Board of Supervisors? What can the school board do to improve or enhance this relationship?

I would characterize it as sometimes adversarial, distant and infrequent with very recent promising improvements.  It is critical that the school board and Board of Supervisors partner together, especially in developing the yearly school budget.  Simply meeting once or twice a year as we’ve seen in the past is far from adequate.

And that partnership has be frequent, open and friendly.  The best way to build a productive relationship with the Board of Supervisors will be to engage them on common goals and provide clear details behind funding requirements.  I believe that our Board of Supervisors understands the importance of our school system to our communities and are fully committed to its success.  I want to make them a partner to that success beyond just the budget.

8. How well do you feel the school board members work together? What do you feel you can bring to the school board’s dynamic?

I’m not aware of any issues in the working relationship between the current school board members. My impression is that they are agreeable and polite with one another.  However I am concerned that there is too large a number of unanimous decisions brought forth by the board.  While there are certainly items that should have the full backing of each member of the board it also perfectly acceptable to agree to disagree on some items.  In my professional life we are always cautious and on guard against “group-think” which can occur in small groups.  That’s one of the reasons why in business you often see the rotation of leadership and team membership across business units to ensure that fresh ideas and new perspectives are brought into play.   A big part of my professional success comes from building productive partnerships with peers to develop and implement solutions to complex problems.  I believe that dovetails nicely to the position I would be in as a school board member and I would be able to directly apply my years of corporate experience to supporting our students and schools.