Early voting started this week, with the general election right around the corner on Nov. 5. Local elections will be a primary focus this time around, with a number of candidates running for positions with the city, county, etc.. One of those positions is Newton Board of Education member — with a loaded field of eight candidates (and only two incumbents) vying for four seats on the BOE. To help inform voters prior to election day, here's a look at those individuals' backgrounds, motivations and goals (candidates are listed in alphabetical order).
Nathan Dominguez is a Newton High School student, who will graduate in December, and currently works at Slate Creek Elementary School.
• Why are you running?: I believe our community is hurting from high costs of living, poor school infrastructure and a lack of support for our teachers. I believe our community needs someone who can bring people to the table to get things done.
• What is your platform? What are your goals, if elected?: My goals, in no particular order, are to select a new superintendent who is fiscally responsible, with good knowledge of our community and great communication skills; work with the city/county to lower water water rates — working to establish a framework of cooperation between the three taxing entities in USD 373 and to lower the cost of living; increase student achievement by increasing graduation rates at Newton High School, increasing the percentage of students at reading level by third grade and decreasing disciplinary incidents across the district; and supporting teachers by paying back lost wage increases due to frozen salaries, increasing support staff for students (including speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, etc.) and actively including teachers in the decision-making process of the district.
• Why are you the best candidate for the job?: I’m hard-working. I will put in the effort to be active in our schools, seek out our communities voice and get things done for the betterment of our district.
Luke Edwards is a Newton native who has lived in the city for 26 years, working the last 10 with the Newton Fire/EMS department. He has also worked part-time as a substitute teacher in USD 373 and has been an assistant wrestling coach with the Newton Wrestling Club for eight years. He lives in Newton with his wife, Erica, and six children.
• Why are you running?: I am running because I am proud of my town and I have high expectations for our district. I refuse to accept a negative narrative for our schools. Too many good teachers have been lost to other districts or early retirement. Too many students have been lost to other districts as well. We have some amazing people serving in our district and I want to provide our students with the highest quality education possible while providing staff members with competitive benefits and an excellent work environment. I graduated high school in 2004 and I believe I received a great education here. I want the current generation of students going through our schools to feel the same way.
• What is your platform? What are your goals, if elected?: Some of my goals for the district would be to ensure quality education and care of special education students, increase safety and security for all students and staff, uphold accountability through all levels of the district, improve community trust in the school board, increase support for early childhood development initiatives including marketing and recruitment strategies to get more qualifying children into the program, increase the pay of maintenance workers so we can keep those positions filled and do a better job keeping up with facility needs, continue fighting for a competitive salary for teachers to help recruit and retain the best, additional training for general education teachers in special education concepts, additional training for teachers in crisis prevention and de-escalation techniques, identification of a qualified superintendent, move forward with a bond that has community support and improve communication by bringing back onboard meetings.
• Why are you the best candidate for the job?: I am highly motivated to see our schools improve because I have six children who are going to go through our district. Having been born and raised in Newton and having parents who were born and raised in Newton, I have a great deal of pride in our town. I believe in the black and gold and I want to see our town respected by the rest of the state as a great place to live and raise children. Being from Newton, I have a great deal of long-standing relationships in the community and within the school district already. I believe this will help bring added trust and transparency to the school board. Many people know that I am easy to talk to and will give a straightforward answer to questions. My commitment to listen to our teachers and other staff members and act on the issues they report to me will be a huge help to the district. I’m also motivated to see our schools improve because I believe if we can make our schools more attractive, we can bring new quality people into town and grow our tax base, which would be beneficial for all of us.
Andy Harder is a longtime Newton resident who currently works with the Newton Fire/EMS Department while also volunteering as a reserve officer with the Newton Police Department. In the past, he has worked with Harder Family Construction and for the city of Halstead. Harder previous ran for a BOE position two years ago.
• Why are you running?: I was born and raised in Newton where I received my K-12 education from USD 373. I had a great experience in school while playing sports, debate and forensics, drama, robotics, and even attending college courses at Hesston College my senior year. My wife and I are now raising our four children in Newton and they attend USD 373. I have worked for the Newton Fire/EMS Department the past seven years, build and remodel houses and volunteer my time with the Newton Police Department. Through these jobs and my own kids, I have seen the struggles our students are facing. I decided to run for USD 373 School Board to help our district improve and be stronger for our children's future. I feel it is important to make sure that our children have everything they need to succeed and will make that a priority. Helping to make a positive school district can bring new people and businesses to our community which will benefit everyone.
• What's is your platform? What are your goals, if elected?: As a school board member I want to address three main issues: the safety and treatment of students and staff, I want to bring openness and transparency to the board and I want to see better use of district funds. I will create an environment that will foster a positive work and learning environment to help students succeed. I am not afraid to ask the tough questions and hold people accountable for the decisions they make.
• Why are you the best candidate for the job?: I am a vested member of this community who has an open mind to serve the people. While I do have my beliefs and will share those openly, I am also open-minded and willing to listen to ideas that I do not currently understand. I do not know the answers to every problem but I am the type of person who will find the answers and question those results to find the best answer possible.
Allen Jantz is one of two incumbent candidates running for school board. Jantz, a resident of Newton since 1988, was chosen to fill a vacancy on the BOE when previous member Tim Hodge was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives. He also served two terms with the board in the late '90s and early '00s (being elected to the ESSCACK Board of Directors in that time). He has been employed as the Director of Teacher Education at Bethel College for the past 25 years.
• Why are you running?: I’m running because I believe that I have knowledge and experience appropriate for this type of position. I have experience as a student, parent, teacher, administrator, teacher educator and policymaker appropriate to serve on the Newton Board of Education. During the last election cycle, none of the existing board members sought re-election and, as such, the three continuing members of the board have two years of experience each. During this cycle, only two current members are seeking re-election and there will be at least two new members of the board. While “new” is not inherently a bad thing, I do believe it important to have some continuing experience to help newer members understand the work of the board.
• What is your platform? What are your goals, if elected?: My goal is to provide leadership enabling USD 373 to achieve its mission — "to prepare and empower our students to be contributing participants in a changing world.” My children have graduated and, as such, I don’t have “hot topic” issues that I would like to address. I am interested in helping the district grow and become better in achieving its mission each and every day.
• Why are you the best candidate for the job?: I believe that my qualifications (prior work in public education, previous terms on the board, etc.) set me apart from the rest of the candidates. I do not have a single issue that I am running on, but rather am interested in focusing on all aspects of our educational system, and I believe in public education and the future of our children.
Mallory Morton is a stay-at-home mom who has lived in Newton for 15 years, staying involved in the USD 373 schools in various roles (PTO, site council, etc.). She also ran for a position with the BOE in the last school board election two years ago.
• Why are you running?: I am running because I see a need for change. We have so many great things happening in this district, but I know we can be better. I want to be the voice for students, teachers, parents and stakeholders as a community representative on the school board. I want to see the district focus put back on educating our students well, meeting their needs and supporting our teachers in the classroom - allowing, and trusting, teachers to have control of their rooms and do what they do best, teach.
• What is your platform? What are your goals, if elected?: Three things that I want to continue to work toward are: academic and social success for all students, leadership accountability and expanding district transparency while rebuilding trust.
• Why are you the best candidate for the job?: I have spent a number of years attending every board meeting and being involved in the district in a variety of ways. This has given me great insight, understanding and a wealth of background knowledge coming into this position that I wouldn't have had if I waited until after filing to run for school board to gather information. By live-streaming board meetings for the past year I have demonstrated my commitment to bringing district transparency to the community, without even serving on the board. I will look at all the facts and gather input to make decisions in the best interest of students and teachers. I believe a few qualities that make an effective board member include someone who: listens more than they speak, seeks out and values input from stakeholders, works well with others to reach a common goal, is able to disagree respectfully, does their homework, asks questions and can make tough decisions. I believe I have those qualities and I would serve this district, community and, ultimately, our children well.
Melissa Schreiber has spent the last 29 years in Newton, working in banking throughout her career — at Midland National Bank currently and at First Bank in the past. She has also served as co-chair on a fundraising committee for United Way at a previous financial institution.
• Why are you running?: For many years I have attended the Board of Education and Community Vision Team meetings and I feel that it is time for me to step up, serve and support my community. I feel strongly that we need to build pride in our community, our local schools and work together as a community to accomplish this goal.
• What is your platform? What are your goals, if elected?: I want to help facilitate collaborative efforts and create stronger ties between the school board, administrators, teachers, parents and students. The school board needs to make communication and transparency a priority to keep parents informed and involved. Hiring the next superintendent will be very important for the future of our district as a whole. I will work with the school board to adopt policies and visions to give the district clear direction to achieve our academic goals with a fiscally sound budget.
• Why are you the best candidate for this job?: As a mother and community member, I have a passion for children and feel strongly about our local schools. Over the years, I have been very involved in our daughter’s schools as a volunteer in her classroom, member of the PTO and site council and attended Chisholm parent support meetings. Several members of my family have been teachers or school administrators and I believe in the importance of providing quality education to the families of our district. Newton is my family’s home. I want nothing but the best for all of us!
Carmina Suter has been part of the Newton community for 16 years. While she is currently employed at Wichita North High School, she has volunteered within USD 373 for a decade. She has also given her time to both the Boy and Girls Scouts, Et Cetera Shop and the Mennonite Central Committee.
• Why are you running?: I started volunteering in the Newton school system in 2008 when we moved back to Newton. As the teachers and administrators became more comfortable with my abilities and could see the difference I was making with students, I was asked to be more involved. I have been able to make a difference in the lives of students, their families and teachers in the schools. Word got around to the other schools and soon I was being asked to help in schools where my kids were not present. I kept moving around and up in the Newton schools so that students and their families became familiar with me and the work I was doing in the schools. Those students and families started to ask me to run for school board and soon after teachers started to ask me to run. One high school student I was tutoring kept telling me that right now I was reaching a few people, but if I was on the school board I could make a difference in more lives. It wasn’t until two years ago that I seriously considered it and finally, this summer, took the plunge.
• What is your platform? What are your goals, if elected?: After seeing two failed bonds, several years of budget cuts and slow deterioration of services and infrastructure, I started walking door to door to find out what was going on. It was after speaking to hundreds of families of different backgrounds and investigation of the city’s water bill, mill levy and sales taxes, that I formed my platform. The school board needs to start working with the other local governments and put pressure on them to lower taxes and utilities. The school system is a microcosm of the larger community. Approximately 50 percent of the student population is free and reduced applications. These families want good schools and wanted to vote yes for students; they just can’t afford another tax. That is why it is imperative that the school board work with the local governments. There are several goals, I’ve formulated based on the platform: In the superintendent search, we need someone who is an effective communicator, can bring people together and advocate for the schools. Putting together an affordable bond, there will need to be open communication and community input in which the board goes to the people. It will need to be less than the last two bonds and more than the one presented by the superintendent in 2014. The board will need to work closely with the local governments so that people will have the money to pass a bond that is put together. For competitive teacher pay, the board will need to work with a detailed budget and constant communication with all school employees to see where inefficiencies and inaccuracies are occurring.
• Why are you the best candidate for the job?: I have spent time in four different school districts, three of which were of similar size to Newton, and seen how those districts creatively use district and community resources to fill needs and wants of the students and teachers. I’ve successfully made new connections with families, teachers, students and community organizations. Most important to me and hopefully the community, I’ve been able to give students tools they can use to be successful in school and be productive citizens of a community. My combined nursing and teaching background gives me the ability to assess, diagnose, plan, implement and evaluate the needs in education and bring in the experts in specific fields to provide the best care/education for students. On my own time, I have researched, read, attended conferences and spoken to the experts in the field of education to stay up to date on the constantly changing developments. Parents, students and teachers have thanked me for the ability to make life easier and hopeful. As I am once again walking in the community, a parent stopped me and thanked me for helping her grandson graduate from high school. I have had previous students stop me on the street or contact me through Facebook and thank me for helping them get through a class or through a rough period of time. There are a few teachers in the district that have lamented my departure from their school and asked if I could come back. One family thanked me for using my bilingual skills to give them the ability to take a more active role in their children’s schools, which in turn helps the school. After 10 years of working intimately with teachers, families and students, I’ve shown a commitment to Newton, the ability to present a side of education other candidates might not have and established trust.
Matt Treaster is the other incumbent running for school board, having been in the community for 25 years and serving eight years on the BOE. Treaster is an assistant United States Attorney who has also served as both a Harvey County attorney and assistant Newton City Attorney in the past. He has four children who have gone through or are going through USD 373 schools and has been heavily involved as a coach with the Newton Wrestling Club.
• Why are you running?: I am running because I believe our children are our most important asset as a community. Children are our future and public education is the most important thing we can do as a community, next to public safety.
• What is your platform? What are your goals, if elected?: I have three primary goals: 1) Kids first; 2) Support for teachers; 3) Adequate resources. If we keep those three goals in mind for each decision, we will have a great school district.
• Why are you the best candidate for the job?: I have a great deal of experience not only within the school district, but also in other areas of public service. As a leader, I am a good listener. I listen to our constituents, parents, faculty, staff and fellow board members. I will use my experience, guided by common sense, to make decisions for the district, always working to keep kids first.