Belinda Rehmer

Eudora News and Information www.eudorareporter.com

Story by Mark Fagan, courtesy The Lawrence Journal-World

Eudora teachers say they deserve more money.

The Eudora school district maintains it doesn’t have any to spare.

A federal mediator is coming to town Thursday to help the two sides break an impasse declared after months of negotiations toward a new work agreement.

“We want to be able to help everyone,” said Belinda Rehmer, a member of the Eudora school board. “We have some amazing teachers and would love to give them everything they want, but we have a budget.

“They think we have more money than we do, and somebody’s got to come in and help us figure it all out.”

Mediation begins Thursday evening, with a negotiations session that starts at 6:30 p.m. in the library at Eudora Middle School.

The teachers, represented by the Eudora Education Association, are pushing for:

– All 108 licensed professionals — teachers, librarians, counselors and others — to receive a $125 increase to their annual base salary, plus an ability to pick up “step” raises on the district’s salary schedule based on education and years of experience. Overall, the association says, such educators typically would receive raises of 1 percent.

– The district to provide another $20 a month for employee health insurance.

– Licensed educators to be able to “sell back” accumulated leave to the district at each educator’s full daily wage, provided the educator had been with the district for at least 15 years. Currently, the sell-back rate for such educators is $50 per day.

Dick Powers, a member of the association’s negotiating team and a second-grade teacher in his 15th year at Eudora Elementary School, said that the district ended the past school year with an extra $1.5 million in ending fund balance, and that the teachers’ requests would not come close to accounting for all of that money.

“We’re just asking for a paltry sum,” Powers said. “A paltry amount, a small amount. They have the money to cover it.”

Added Bob Sailler, who is chairman of the association, teaches eighth grade at Eudora Middle School and is in his 26th year teaching in the district: “It’s a matter of priorities.”

Rehmer counters that the district is coming off a year of budget cuts, and heading into another year facing the likelihood of more from the state.

The district cut $1 million from its budget this past spring, and for a district whose overall budget is little more than $10 million that’s no small task, said Kristin Magette, a district spokeswoman.

“It’s just a matter of school districts are in a period of constricting resources, and our board is just trying to be mindful of how those resources are used,” she said.

The district’s licensed professionals continue to work under terms of last year’s contract, which had granted teachers the ability to move on the salary schedule. But such movement would not happen again, unless and until it was included in a new agreement, the one being worked on now.

“We have a very modest proposal,” Sailler said. “We are not that far apart. We are hopeful we can get it settled.”

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Eudora News and Informationwww.eudorareporter.com

The Eudora School Board will have a very similar look to it for the next two years as all the incumbents that ran won their respective seats.  Re-elected to the Eudora School Board were Joe Pyle, Belinda Rehmer and Mark Chrislip. Pyle who, by less than 5 votes (this number is pending the results from Leavenworth County) finished ahead of  Rehmer.

The newcomer to the School Board will be Dr. Daniel Dickerson who will take the seat vacated by Kenny Massey who ran for City Council. Bryan Maring came in fifth place, well behind Dickerson.

Joe Pyle said on his narrow first place win, “I’m humbled by the confidence of all the voters and very grateful. We have a lot of tough decisions ahead of us and I look forward to doing the best I can.”

Belinda Rehmer commented on her victory saying “Apparently people are satisfied with the job we have been doing since all the incumbents were re-elected.  This is vote of confidence we are on the right track with what we are doing.”

The Board will be facing some very tough questions in the days and weeks ahead as the topic of school district financing will be front and center.

Also new to the board will be Joseph Hurla who was unopposed for the seat previously filled by Nancy Jackson who decided not to run for re-election.

Some interesting stats from the race:

Pyle  lead in the west, north and south parts of Eudora while Rehmer was the top vote getter in the Central part of town.  Dickerson took 5th in the Central and South part of town, but made up for those loses on the west side.

North Eudora had the largest percent of vote turnout for the School Board race with 17.3% of the population casting ballots. 15.6% of west voters turned out, while the South has 12.9% and the Central Eudora Precinct had only 12.6%.

We didn’t see who the 15 write-in votes were for, but we are taking a hunch that Mickey Mouse had a good showing.

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Eudora News and Informationwww.eudorareporter.com

A capacity crowd converged on City Hall Wednesday evening to hear from the candidates running for The Eudora School Board.

Four of the six candidates were able to attend the event where the audience had the the opportunity to hear the candidates in an hour long question and answer session.  The candidates had the opportunity to let the audience know their feelings on the issues facing the District Administration and what their ideas are for leading the Eudora School District into the future.

All of the candidates in their opening remarks commented on how good the District is performing and wanted to help in continuing that level of performance.  Two of the candidates, Joe Hurla and Daniel Dickerson each made the comment that they moved to Eudora specifically because of the quality of the schools.

The line of questions then presented to the candidates were focused on the most important issue that will face the District in the coming months: The District budget.

The Eudora School District is facing a loss of revenue of 1.3 million in the coming school year, due to the loss of new facilities money and cutbacks by the state of Kansas in education funding. We specifically asked what area would the candidates look at, with the likelihood of having to cut a large amount of money from the budget.

Joe Pyle did not name any specific areas to cut because he wanted to see the information that will be brought to the board at next months School Board meeting.

Dickerson stated “The easy cuts have been made already” and went on to talk about how “we need to look at the nitty gritty and look at things like how our buses run their route and see if we can cut fuel costs by taking more efficient routes”.

Belinda Rehmer, talked about how tough the situation will be. “I don’t want to cut anything and I don’t how we do that and keep growing, which is mandated by the government. We have to grow and do better on our scores to keep our accreditation. How do you do that and at the same time make the necessary cuts.”

Hurla said reiterated the fact mentioned earlier that the “painless” cuts have already been made.  He wanted to look at all the efficiencies of operations to help offset “some of the painful cuts that are likely going to have to be made.”

Taxes were also discussed since the School District levies one of the larger mill rates in the area. The State Legislator has discussed, as a way to solve the state’s budget crisis and fill the gap in school financing, about raising the ceiling on the mill levies districts can charge.  The current mill levy for the Eudora School District sits at 71.721, approximately 0.8 mills from the current maximum allowed.

Dickerson stated the fact that Superintendent Don Grosdidier has said on multiple occasions before, that raising the levy the final 0.8 will bring in very little extra revenue to the District.  Dickerson talked about focused cuts in the budget, looking for “the needle in the haystack” as an alternative.

Rehmer’s response was “Raising the mill levy any further would be horribly damaging to Eudora.  Do I want to raise the mill levy? No. Do I see that as an option? Yea. I see that coming but I don’t want to do it.”

Hurla said that should be the last option we have. “We don’t have the tax base to support raising the mill levy. We should work at making sure the legislature doesn’t push those tax burdens on us.”

Pyle talked about how tough it currently is under the current economic situation to pay the taxes and how he is not a “big tax guy”.

Other topics covered through the hour long discussion included looking at other specific areas including extracurricular activities and disposition of school district properties such as Nottingham, West Elementary and and the Old Middle school at 10th & Main.

All the candidates agreed that extracurricular activities are an important part of the curriculum, though the district may have to start looking at fees to keep these programs in place.

As to ancillary properties, those of value like the Nottingham/Laws field should not necessarily be sold right now with a down real estate market. The consensus was to hold on to this piece of property until the economy turns in a better direction and more value could be obtained.  As to the 10th & Main property, the feelings were that since the building is in such poor shape and the city has an interest in that portion of land for a new Public Safety building, the best course of action would be to look towards that direction and explore that possibility.

This was an excellent opportunity for the citizens and patrons of the Eudora area to see the participating candidates in action and gauge from their responses on who to chose in the upcoming election.

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Editor’s note: We will have a full report Friday morning on the City Council Candidate forum that followed the School board session. Make sure to check eudorareporter.com to keep up to date as we bring you full coverage of your choices in action heading into the April 5th election.

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Eudora News and Informationwww.eudorareporter.com

Over the coming days we plan on bringing you profiles of the candidates for both Eudora City Council and the Eudora School Board.  We sent out a questionnaire to all candidates and asked them the exact same questions. Their responses to the questions will be printed verbatim.  This is opportunity for you, the reader, to see not only their responses but how they respond.  The questions in the survey came from both editorial board decisions and reader input.

Our next School Board candidate is incumbent Belinda Rehmer.

Ms. Rehmer, please tell about your background.

I grew up in Lawrence, graduating from LHS in 1971. My husband and I moved to his hometown in 1982 with our two daughters Amber & Kendra. While in Yates Center we welcomed Jamie daughter #3 and son Steven. We moved to Eudora 1985. I have been active in the school district since 1986 when I worked as a Para at Nottingham Elementary. I served on the first EMS Site Council from ’92-’96 when I served at EHS till 2003. I have continued to stay involved with the schools through participation on various community committees.

What qualifications do you have for a seat on the School Board?

Before successfully winning my bid for election 4 years ago, I would have said my leadership experience qualified me for this position, however I now believe the real qualifications needed to serve our community on the School Board is the ability to see the big picture and the desire to seek what is best for all students, staff and our community.

What do you think is the most important issue that faces the School Board and how would you help solve that issue?

The City of Eudora has much to be proud of in their schools! We have great dedicated teachers and administrators who understand the importance of educating the whole student!  I see issues that face Eudora’s schools are the same issues that face most schools in Kansas and the nation. By far our State’s financial situation is the most important issue that faces all Kansas schools today.

As board members it is our responsibility to ensure continued improvements in education with fewer dollars. That our district stays focused on educating our children, all of them! Doing what we can to engage the high performers, low performers and those in between. I am proud of what Eudora USD 491 has accomplished in the last 10 years or so and I believe with the help of our teachers, staff and community we can continue moving forward… in fact, I believe we have what it takes to be an innovative model that others will follow!

The budget situation for the school district is an important topic.  What kind of solutions do you have to help solve School District budgetary issues?

This is a hard one, it’s very difficult to know how to fix something that is so fluid. We don’t know from one week to the next what our “paycheck” is going to be! AND if there is anyone out there that truly has a plan to fix the state’s budgetary problems, without stripping education or social services, PLEASE step up!

I am confident that we are on the right track. I am proud of our commitment to transparency and open communication with staff and the community as a whole. We will continue to evaluate every service looking for ways to consolidate, trim and/or cut any “fat”, but it looks like we are already pretty lean. We will not be adding any new services or activities for a while and we may have to pull out the “duct tape and bailing wire” to get through the state shortfalls. What I will continue to encourage is open communication because as I see it, from here on out every cut back will affect staff and children.

I am not a proponent of raising the LOB basically moving the funding responsibility off the State and putting it on the backs of our homeowners. I am a proponent of our continued cooperation with the city and promoting economic development , but this unfortunately is not a “quick fix” and though it is the right direction to go it is not going to solve our budget issues now.

I wish I had the answer to this one… I don’t.

What ideas to you have to either continue the quality of education or improve it at the schools?

We are on the right track now. We are so fortunate to have won the Safe Schools/Healthy Students Grant and I believe the Bridge, WRAP and all those services will help us to continue to improve on so many levels! That is something the State Budget issues won’t touch.

What is your position on state financing of School Districts?

I kind of answered this already.  I am not a proponent of raising the LOB basically moving the funding responsibility off the State and putting it on the backs of our homeowners. I am a proponent of our continued cooperation with the city and promoting economic development, but this unfortunately is not a “quick fix” and though it is the right direction to go it is not going to solve our budget issues now.

I don’t want to see our taxes raised, however I am fully aware of the State’s dilemma. Unless they find a lot of “fat” anywhere they try to cut is going to hurt PEOPLE. Education, Social Services or infrastructure… where do they go? Raising taxes hurt the same sets of people… I  truly wish I could see more communication within our legislature and less arguing, name calling and non-productive actions.

I would love to see the collaboration that is happening in Eudora spread all the way to Topeka! Let’s put our heads together and find a solution that can benefit the masses. Give and take, some will have to give so others can take and we can help each other succeed!

What other issues do you feel are important to the school board?

I am very interested in Mr Keltner’s pursuit of harnessing wind energy and the benefits of hands on education for our students

The SOAR program and it’s positive impact on behavioral problems before they become bigger. I see this program as so very helpful in reinforcing behaviors that will help our children be not only successful in school and work but in life!

Why do you want to sit on the School Board?

It is not a fun time with the economic turmoil of our nation and our state, especially for our state funded entities. We need more than advocates for our children, we need advocates for education. I would like to be part of the collaborative effort that turns Kansas’ financial dilemma into a model of excellence.

My father always said, “if you don’t vote you can’t complain and if you don’t participate you can’t be a part of the victory”.

The City of Eudora and our School District have been laid on my heart. I want to be a part of the victory.

I continue to be:

Committed to Eudora

Committed to the Core Values we have embraced

Committed to Transparency of our district – anything you may want to know about USD 491 is on our website

Committed to the continued collaboration with the City of Eudora

We will be bringing you the responses from all the candidates over the coming days and week leading up to the election. You will have the opportunity to meet the candidates face to face on March 23rd when The Eudora Chamber of Commerce and Eudorareporter.com co-sponsor our “Meet the Candidates” forum. The forum will begin at 6:30PM. For more information about the forum you can click on this link: http://www.eudorareporter.com/eudora-news-meet-the-candidates/. Election day is Tuesday, April 5th.

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1/18/2011 NEWS UPDATE

Mark Chrisplip has filed for reelection for his School Board seat as of this morning.

Eudora News and Informationwww.eudorareporter.com

We wanted to give you a quick rundown as to what we have learned about candidates so far in the upcoming elections.

First the City Council Elections:

Incumbent Ruth Hughs has filed for the campaign. Councilwoman Maria Nelson has stated on the record that she is going to file.

Challenger Jerry Trober has also filed for the election. Jeff Peterson, the other sitting council member has decided not to run.  Three seats are up for election in 2011.

On the School Board:

There are five seats to be put to a vote. 4 regular seats held by board members Mark Chrislip, Kenny Massey, Joe Pyle and Belinda Rehmer are up and Nancy Jackson was appointed to the board, so her seat is also up for reelection this year.

As of late last week, Rehmer was the only incumbent so far to file.  Chrislip  (SEE NEWS UPDATE ABOVE), Massey and Pyle stated they are still “undecided”. Jackson was unavailable to comment and has not returned inquiries.

Also filing for School Board seats are Dr. Daniel Dickerson and Bryan Maring. Dickerson practices at Eudora Family Care and Maring has been an instructor at the University and High school levels.

The filing deadline is January 25th.  As we get closer to the elections, we will have candidate profiles for all the candidates running in the election who choose to respond. EudoraReporter.com will be your one stop location for election coverage in 2011.

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