COLUMBIA — Greg Flippin says he's running for the Columbia School Board not because he has an agenda or because he thinks Columbia Public Schools are in poor shape. Rather, he says he's running because the district is doing a great job teaching students.
"We have wonderful schools, great teachers, great administrators," Flippin said. "I just want to do my part to make sure it stays that way."
Flippin thinks his experience in facilities management can help prevent the district from running a deficit, as it is now. He says he'll bring honesty and straightforward answers to rebuild a perceived lack of trust between the Columbia School Board and the community.
Flippin, 41, is a native of Jamestown. After graduating from Jamestown High School, he attended Boonslick Area Vocational and Technical School — now Boonslick Technical Education Center — in Boonville. Flippin thinks going to a trade school was right for him, and he wants to promote to students that there are different options available after high school.
"The money it takes to go to a four-year college is tremendous," Flippin said. "And I hear of students who go into higher education and get out and have trouble finding a high-paying job and paying off their debt.
"For some kids, I think (vocational schools) are a good alternative," he said. "But the guidance counselors have to lay it out all on the table and give them pros and cons and let the students make their own decision."
Flippin began working for MU in 1988 as a facilities manager. He continued his education, graduating from MU's Law Enforcement Training Institute in 1992 and working for a few years in the early 1990s as an auxiliary deputy for the Moniteau County Sheriff’s Department while he was still at MU.
In 1996, Flippin moved his family from Jamestown to Columbia after being promoted to supervisor of facilities for MU's Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. Greg and his wife, Diana, have three children: Elizabeth, 9, and Alexander, 6, both of whom attend Russell Boulevard Elementary School, and Meredith, 3.
If elected, he said his years of experience in facilities management would be a great asset. "The things that I think I bring to the board from the past facilities management is going to be budgeting and green initiatives," Flippin said. "I think personnel management and dealing with unions are all things that I dealt with at the university."
While working at MU, he looked outward to what other veterinary medicine facilities were doing. Flippin started a dialogue with Dennis Ahlvers, Kansas State University's then-veterinary medicine facilities manager.
"Well, we had basically the same job at both schools," Ahlvers said. "I guess the main thing it really did was we were out here in the Midwest and didn’t have anybody close to us that had similar jobs. We felt like we were creating the wheel on whatever projects were done.
"By talking to each other, we found we had similar problems and could compare notes on problems that we had, so we didn't have to be on our own," he said.
The two men decided to meet and compare their work strategies. Flippin invited 26 other facilities managers from across the country. When 13 schools responded, the two men thought they might be onto something and launched the Veterinary Facilities Conference of North America.
What started as occupational curiosity turned into a deep friendship.
"(Flippin) was wonderful," Ahlvers said. "Between the two of us, we did this, and he was one of the most willing people to work with I ever met. We became very close friends, and he was very honest and very helpful over the years."
The experience Flippin had with Ahlvers taught him to look to those involved in the trenches of an issue to help him learn. In the current debate over math curriculum, Flippin has sought out math teachers to understand the issue fully. The debate centers on teaching traditional, step-by-step math versus integrated math, which focuses on using real-world context for math problems.
"I know the math curriculum over the last 18 months or so has really upset some folks," Flippin said. "And you know, I think it’s one of those things that if our kids need nontraditional and traditional math to get to the next level, we need to be teaching it."
Flippin said he wants to bridge the communication gap he's seen between the school board and the public in the past year, which he thinks stemmed from April's failed property tax levy increase and frustration over the process used in locating the next high school.
"Taxpayers just want to know why; I don’t think the taxpayers felt they were asked," Flippin said. "We need to get back to the basics here. We need to lay everything out on the table and let the taxpayers know this is where we’re at."
When Flippin filed his candidacy, he said he hoped to help improve parental involvement in the school district. "Anytime parents are involved with their kid, it’s a great thing," he said. "It makes the schools better; it makes the kids better."
Flippin is mindful, however, of the busy schedules of some parents and is grateful that he and his wife are able to be involved in their children's lives. "I want to see more folks get involved with their kids in school," he said. "But I know there's folks that work two jobs and work hard and don't have time to help out."
One program Flippin routinely mentions at candidate forums is the Parents as Teachers' local program, in which Columbia parents educate new parents on raising their children.
"As a parent, you wonder, 'Should my child be talking and walking yet?' Well, Parents as Teachers answers all those questions," Flippin said. "If we have the opportunity to, I'd be in favor of it being expanded."
Flippin also worked on the committee of the school district's Partners in Education program, a partnership with Gentry Middle School and his current employer, Missouri Employers Mutual Insurance, where he is a corporate facilities and fleet manager. "We are doing landscaping work for Gentry Middle School — planting flowers, replacing shrubbery and helping them keep their grounds up, as well as a bunch of other things," he said.
His rewarding experience with children at Russell and his volunteer work convinced him that the difficulties the schools face are fixable and not deeply rooted.
"I've done all sorts of research on the school through the Web site. CPS is an excellent district — our teachers are good; our administrators are good," Flippin said. "We just need to regain that taxpayer support to move forward. It's critical."