Archive for Thursday, September 4, 2008

Economy, education touted as key issues in State Senate race

September 4, 2008

The candidates running for the Kansas Senate District 5 have a couple of issues in common they're running on: education and economic development for the region.

But Steve Fitzgerald, a military analyst and contractor, and Kelly Kultala, the community outreach director for Youthville, a private, nonprofit children's foster agency, have different ideas on how to address those issues.

On education, Fitzgerald says he'd like to require school districts to make their budgets more transparent and comprehensible.

"The school budget should be much more easily understood when published," he said. "It should focus on two areas: basic education, and everything beyond that so we can see what we're getting."

Now serving as the vice president of the Leavenworth School District Board of Education, Fitzgerald said he' d like to see budgets broken down by building for each district. He said the change would not be "unreasonable" in the amount of extra work the changes would mean for district officials, and that the change could improve residents' involvement in their own districts.

"It would possibly take a few more man-hours," he said.

Fitzgerald said it was common for no one to speak during the public comments portion of a district budget hearing.

"The school budget in Leavenworth has a bigger budget than any other entity other than the federal government," he said. "I don't think the citizens are giving it enough attention."

Kultala said the biggest need in Kansas schools was for more funding.

"There's a real moral issue out there," Kultala said, of what she called "inadequately funding education."

The situation has caused many teachers to leave the profession, she said, whether because of stress as a result of too little money, or a "feeling they're not supported."

One way to address this, she said, would be to create mentorship programs in schools, in which the teachers who've been in the district a while would serve as mentors to new teachers.

Also, she said, "I would like to look at increasing teacher pay, and at ways to decrease the cost of health insurance benefits."

Both candidates have ideas on how economic development for the area could be encouraged.

Kultala said she'd like to explore ways that the cities of Leavenworth, Lansing and Bonner Springs could work together to promote tourism and retail business.

Kultala also said she'd like to explore the development of alternative energy resources in the area, such as wind power, to be built in one of the communities, which would be a great location, near the highway without having to be in Kansas City," she said.

For his part, Fitzgerald said he thought the state could help by directing transportation dollars "to those areas that will give the biggest return on economic development."

That would need study, he said, "but those I know of are in Wyandotte County and Leavenworth."

The money could be used to fund an entrance to Interstate 70 in Tonganoxie, and improvements around the Legends area and the Kansas Highway 7 corridor.

"We need to make sure we're spending dollars wisely," Fitzgerald said. "We're not going to have eco development if there's no highway development."

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