SCHOOL BOARD Q&A: Jonathan Sessions discusses budget, bond issues

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:24 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Editor's note: This is the second of four articles in which Columbia School Board candidates answer questions about their goals if elected and issues facing the district. Paul Cushing's responses were published Tuesday. Joseph Toepke's responses are being published Thursday, and Helen Wade's responses are being published Friday.

COLUMBIA — Jonathan Sessions is one of four candidates for three positions on the Columbia School Board. The general municipal election will be held April 8.

Sessions is seeking reelection after serving on the board for the past four years. He attended Columbia Public Schools from kindergarten through high school before attending and graduating from MU. He is the co-owner of Tech 2, a technology consultation and management firm.

The Missourian asked each candidate several questions about their goals if elected and about issues the district faces. Their responses were collected via email.

What experiences or characteristics would serve you well as a board member?

I am a Columbia native and received my entire K-12 education in the Columbia Public Schools, attending Russell (Boulevard Elementary School), Smithton (Middle School), West Junior High (School) and Hickman High School. My higher education degree is from the University of Missouri-Columbia where I earned a BES (Bachelor of Educational Studies) in Music and Elementary Education.

While at Mizzou, I assisted and student taught in Columbia Public Schools classrooms at Midway (Heights), Field and West Boulevard elementary schools. For the past 11 years, I have owned a technology consultation and management firm. Previously, I taught technology-related classes at the Columbia Area Career Center. I am currently a member of the Columbia Public Schools Board of Education.

What are your short-term goals if elected?

The budget. Immediately after the election, the board will be faced with finalizing the budget for the 2014-2015 school year. While there are always challenges when creating a $260 million budget, this year we are facing many unknowns with state revenue. While the governor is proposing fully funding the foundation formula within two years, the proposal from the House is drastically lower.

As the current chair of the board’s Finance Committee, if re-elected, it will be my goal to create a budget maintaining our current programs and following the salary schedules, while conservatively estimating revenues to ensure the district is fiscally responsible.

What are your long-term goals if elected?

If elected, my priority will be to keep the promises made to our community while maintaining a course of continuous improvement. Over my past four years on the board, I have played a key role in such decisions involving long-term impact. In a rapidly growing community like Columbia, long-term planning is essential and every community deserves to expect that promises made will be promises kept.

The district's 10-year Facility and Bond Plan is to build five schools to address overcrowding and community growth. At the same time, a district goal has been to get rid of trailer classrooms by 2020. What do you think the district should do to address overcrowding in the short term? What about in the long term?

The district’s 10-year Facility and Bond Plan is the long-term strategy to address overcrowding in the district. This plan is the first time CPS has implemented a data driven plan to address the overcrowding that led to the prolific use of trailers, while preparing for the ever-increasing student population we can expect in our growing community.

We’re at a place where the implementation of our long-term strategy is our short-term strategy. The opening of Battle High (School) has eliminated overcrowding and the need for trailers at our high schools and almost all of our middle schools (2010 Bond).

We will break ground on expansions at West Boulevard and Shepard Boulevard elementary schools this summer (2012 Bond), eliminating a substantial number of trailers and providing needed program space. Battle Elementary (School) is currently under construction in northeast Columbia opening in August 2015 (2010 Bond). In August 2016 the district will open an elementary on the southwest side of Columbia (2012 Bond).

The current bond issue (2014) is for an elementary school on the east side of Columbia with the goal of eliminating trailers at Cedar Ridge Elementary. Trailers did not appear overnight nor will they disappear overnight. The 10-year bond plan is working and over the next ten years, our community will see the success of long-term planning.

The district has also started discussions on the possibility of establishing a community school that would partner a new school with local agencies to provide students in at-risk situations access to academic, health and social development resources. Also in the works is the development of a nature-based school that would be located at Rock Bridge State Park. What do you think of alternative schools such as a community school and the nature-based school?

I am absolutely in favor of increased alternatives to the traditional school model. Our community has seen success in alternative models for years at Ridgeway and Lee (elementary schools), and we are already seeing the benefits from the transition at Benton to a STEM school (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). I think we should continue to investigate alternative models proven to help students succeed.

The district is asking voters to approve a 4-cent increase to the debt service portion of the property tax levy and a $50 million bond issue. The debt service levy increase would fund expenses such as construction, building improvements and technology. The $50 million bond issue is the third of six school bond issues planned through 2020. The funds would be used to build new schools and improve existing buildings. Do you support these ballot proposals and why?

I support the board’s request for bond authorization from the community. This bond authorization is a part of the 10-year long-range facilities plan the board developed in 2011 and is a vital step towards addressing the district’s growth and building needs.

During the 2012 bond and levy request, the board shared its plan to make the request for this $50 million authorization given that this 4-cent increase to the debt service levy will place the district in a secure financial position, allowing the district to request additional bond authorization every two years without raising taxes.

Is there a particular issue in the district that hasn't been addressed? If so, what is it and why do you care about it?

Like many schools across the nation, our district continues to struggle with the achievement gap. Again, our minority students performed below the state average. CPS must continue to focus on the elimination of this gap, and I am committed to bring new solutions to bear on this difficult and long-standing problem.

Supervising editor is Allie Hinga.

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