King, Cushing elected to Columbia School Board

Tuesday, April 3, 2012 | 11:45 p.m. CDT; updated 1:21 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 4, 2012
Columbia School Board candidates Christine King and Paul Cushing were elected Tuesday in Boone County's municipal elections.

COLUMBIA — Christine King and Paul Cushing earned two seats on the Columbia School Board on Tuesday night. Voters also approved the property tax levy increase and $50 million bond issue.

School board to welcome incumbent and new member

Breakdown of the votes

School Board candidates:

The two candidates elected will serve three-year terms on the board, starting Monday.

  • Christine King: 42.36 percent, 9,041 votes
  • Paul Cushing: 21.15 percent, 4,513 votes
  • Melvin Blase: 18.43 percent, 3,933 votes
  • Rex Cone: 18.07 percent, 3,856 votes

Ballot proposals:

  • Property tax levy increase: Yes: 56.38 percent, 8,011 votes. No: 43.62 percent, 6,199 votes
  • Bond issue: Yes: 61.05 percent, 8,660 votes. No: 38.95 percent, 5,525 votes.

More from candidates and voters:

On continuing to stay involved with the district:

"My kids are involved," candidate Rex Cone said. "I'd be happy to continue work with committees. I live here, so I want to be a part of it."

"I've accomplished my primary job, and that was to pay back a high school teacher who had a tremendous impact on my life," candidate Melvin Blase said.

On the ballot proposals:

Claudia Jensen and Jack Jensen, who have been involved in the district for more than 30 years, voted in the election. Claudia Jensen said the school issues were key for her, because they are important to the district and to the community at large. Having a good school system brings in businesses for Columbia.

"Columbia would not be the quality community it is if not for the emphasis it places on schools," Jack Jensen said.

Jan Mees, a current board member, said the district has student needs that need to be met, and without funding it will need to make more difficult choices that it doesn't want to make. It has already spent years making cuts and doesn't want to do that again.

"I think that our district has rebuilt its credibility with the community, and the community understands its needs," she said.

Blase said he didn’t think he had a comment on the bond issue and tax levy worth mentioning. He said he felt both were needed, but that he wished there had been more information given about the bond issue at the outset, such as how it would affect small property owners and farmers.

On the candidates:

"We don't need attorneys representing us, you know, us working people," Cushing’s stepfather, Walter Frolick, said. "We want real people, and Paul is a real person."

Superintendent Chris Belcher said King did a good job serving on the school board during her last term.

"Christine’s been on the board for three years," he said. "You can’t work with someone three years and not become good friends."

Former Superintendent Jim Ritter was at King's watch party. He was interim superintendent when King was elected three years ago and has followed her career since then.

"The experience she has in the last three years could be really valuable to the board," he said.

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King, the incumbent, is currently the vice president of the board. She led the race most of the night with about 42 percent of the vote. Cushing, an IT Coordinator at Miller's Professional Imaging, took second place with about 21 percent of the vote, a narrow 3 percentage points ahead of candidates Melvin Blase and Rex Cone.

Cushing, a newcomer to the district, said he was equally thrilled and surprised when he was told he won. He said if he could describe the whole process of his campaign, it would be "fascinating" or "enlightening."

"I have a totally new perspective, looking back," Cushing said. "My view is much more positive than it was before … I've learned that it's a civic duty to support what we have (education), no matter what it takes."

Bill Mees, husband of current board member Jan Mees, said King talks to a lot of people, is active, responsive, involved in the schools and interested in students. He said she will carry on with being a good board member.

"If someone's done a good job, you want to keep them," he said.

Lori Richardson, a parent in the district, knows King through their children's schools; their children are similar ages, and their sons are on the same baseball team.

Richardson pointed out that when numbers came in and people were telling King that she was getting votes, King asked about the bond issue. She said that was a "simple statement of why she is a phenomenal candidate."

Community members on approved ballot proposals

The tax levy, which passed with the needed simple majority at 56 percent, increases property taxes by 40 cents per $100 of assessed valuation of real and personal property. The funds will help the district pay for operating costs, which include supporting current programming, addressing technology in the classroom and helping offset declining state funding. 

"I think CPS needs (the bond issue and tax levy increase)," Michelle Shepard, a member of the Columbia Missouri National Education Association, said. "It's time to invest in our future, eliminate the trailers, repair our older buildings and build new schools."

The bond issue and accompanying 12-cent debt service levy increase received 61 percent voter approval. Funds will be used for building renovation, new construction in the district and technology projects above a specific cost. Money from this bond issue will not be used until November 2014 at the earliest.

Kayce Soper and Josh Soper, friends of Paul Cushing, do not have kids and said they were hesitant to support the bond issue and tax levy because of the impact on their property tax. Although Cushing changed his mind and ended up supporting both proposals, Kayce Soper and Josh Soper said they always vote no when it comes to taxes.

However, they said they supported Cushing because of his good nature.

"He is so gracious," Kayce Soper said. "And he would do anything for anyone … He's got such a big heart. He's got the biggest heart in the world."

Other residents think the proposals are important because they will have long-term effects on the district's students and schools.

"I voted yes (on both proposals)," Beth Alpers, Cone's best friend, said. "I believe that we should always support our schools because they educate the people who are going to be our future."

Bill Mees said the state legislature keeps cutting funding to education, and if people in Columbia don't make up the difference, the district won’t have the quality of education students deserve.

What's next?

King and Cushing will be sworn in at the school board meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at West Junior High, 401 Clinkscales Road. Until then, Cushing said he's going to get up to speed with what the board has been doing.

"I'll wake up tomorrow, eat breakfast, go to work, and try to conceal my excitement," Cushing said. "I really want to make a difference."

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