Friday, September 13, 2013

TOP STORY >> Martin, Raines run for Cabot School Board

Leader staff writer

Before Cabot’s school board election on Tuesday, The Leader asked the candidates — incumbent Dean Martin and Mark Raines, who are running for Position 5 — to share their views on the direction of the district and how they could contribute to its success.

Early voting is under way and will continue from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday in the Cabot City Annex at 208 N. First St. and at the county clerk’s office, 301 N. Center St. in Lonoke.

On Tuesday, voting will be held from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church, 204 N. Third St., and Mount Carmel Baptist Church, 163 Mount Carmel Road.

Cabot School District voters can place their vote at either polling location regardless of residence.

Martin, who is running for his second five-year term, has been in the military for 22 years.

He is a lieutenant colonel and commander of the 189th Maintenance Squadron for the Air National Guard at Little Rock Air Force Base. He oversees a multi-million dollar budget used to maintain 10 C-130 aircraft and to provide resources for more than 200 personnel. He has a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering technology from Memphis State University and a master’s degree in aeronautical science.

Martin has received extensive school board training and experience in personnel, curriculum, finances and classified and certified policies. Martin is the board’s disbursing officer and has been recognized by the Arkansas School Board Association as a master board member.

Martin’s wife, Ann, has worked as a school nurse for the Cabot School District for eight years. They have two sons, Barrett, a 2011 Cabot High graduate, and Joseph, an eighth-grader at Junior High North.

Raines, 47, is a Jacksonville High School graduate. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He was news director at KTHV, Channel 11 in Little Rock for 10 years and is currently an external affairs manager for an international energy company.

Raines and his wife, Caroline, have one son, Ryan, who is an 11th-grader at Cabot High School. They have lived in Cabot since 2004. Raines attends Cabot First Baptist Church, where he serves as a youth Sunday school teacher.

Why are you running for school board?

Martin: As a military officer for 22 years, I learned early on that if you take care of people, they will take care of the mission. I take pride in helping people and organizations solve problems and want to continue doing so for another term. My only agenda is to do everything within my power to ensure that every child has a great experience in Cabot schools. Our school board works well together and, while we may disagree, it is obvious that we all have the best interest of our students, faculty and community at heart.

There are too many examples of school boards that are dysfunctional, and the negative impact this can have on a school system and a community is tremendous.

We have challenges and areas that can be improved upon. I know that we have many areas for improvement, but we also take pride in our accomplishments. As a member of our school board, I can assure each of you that we have our eye on the ball, and we are focused on the continuous improvement of our district.

School board members serve a five-year term. It takes two to three years of training and hands-on experience to get a genuine feel of how the district operates and to build effective relationships with staff. Training and experience gained in all aspects of district operations are essential for an effective school board. I’ve learned that knowing what questions to ask is a key aspect of being an effective school board member.

We have an outstanding school district that receives great support from our community, and I am proud to be a member of this amazing team.

I will not make promises that I may or may not be able to keep. My promise and assurance to our students, parents and community is that I will be an advocate each and every day and in every way for the children.

Raines: A louder voice – I was encouraged to run for school board by several parents and teachers within the district because they felt as if they had no advocate on the board. I’ve heard countless stories from individuals who feel left out of the process; that their input was not valued. I believe a school board member should be an advocate for district patrons (parents and teachers) to help magnify their voice in a large arena; to solve problems by acting as a liaison between patrons and the administration.

Global competition – I work for an international company. At an April meeting at our North American headquarters in Houston, I looked around the conference room and noted the diverse ethnicity of those in attendance. There were people from Great Britain, Australia, Colombia, Trinidad, Pakistan and Canada. They were living and working in the United States.

When I privately questioned my boss about why Americans weren’t hired for those jobs, his answer was simple: there were none with adequate qualifications. I recently heard a similar story from an executive with Falcon Jet in Little Rock. It made me think of my own son and whether he is being prepared to compete in today’s global economy – and not just him, but all of our children.

When children leave Cabot schools, they will compete for educational opportunities and, ultimately, jobs in a challenging global environment. I want to serve to make sure our students are prepared to succeed.

To make a good school district great – I, like many other parents in Cabot, moved here because of the school district. Cabot has outstanding teachers and we, as a community, are blessed to have them. This is a good school district that is doing a lot of good things. But, to be a great school district, there is more work to do and new ideas for moving the district forward are needed.

What are the strengths of the Cabot School District?

Martin: 1) Expectations – Our community has high expectations for every member of our school system. These expectations are fully understood and appreciated by our school board members. We hold everyone to a high standard. We may not always be able to share details but there is not an administrator or staff member not held accountable. We want the very best for our students and want our parents and community to be proud of our school district.

2) Reputation – Our district’s reputation of providing a first class education to all students drives people to want to be here. There are many districts that would love to have the quality of staff, facilities and support from the community we enjoy. There is also the expectation that we continue to improve in all aspects of the district, which is an indication that our best days are still in front of us.

3) Accountability – Patrons hold the district to a high level of accountability. Many of our patrons have moved to this area to attend school in this district. That is both a compliment and a challenge to ensure that we are meeting expectations!

4) Fiscal responsibility – The district has been able to provide salary increases for our faculty and staff not only to attract the best and brightest new educators to Cabot but to reward those that work hard for our district each and every day. Through strategic bond refinancing, the Cabot School Board has saved $3.6 million since Nov. 1, 2010. The savings generated have provided a balance in our building fund to not only complete the Freshman Academy but meet many other facility needs in our district.

Our ending balance on June 30, 2013, was strong once again. We must be forward thinking to not only provide for our current needs but to ensure that we are being fiscally responsible for the long-term stability of our district.

5) The district is nationally and globally competitive. We have students that leave Cabot and attend college or technical school, become a part of our military or become members of our workforce. It is our responsibility to prepare them to live and work in a world that we cannot envision. Technology has made our world much smaller.

Many of our graduates will compete for jobs against graduates not only from the United States but from all over the world. It is not only our mission but our obligation to provide every opportunity for every student once they walk across the stage and receive that diploma to be competitive for whatever position they may desire.

Raines: The teachers and support staff of our district are the most outstanding in the state. I love their passion and their desire to reach the hearts and minds of our children.

One of my campaign commitments is that, if elected, I would meet regularly with teacher groups so that they can provide input, counsel and wisdom regarding district policies and issues. I think, oftentimes, those who are working directly with students everyday get overlooked when it comes to implementing policies and procedures that will directly impact them.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I have a lot to learn, and I need for teachers in the Cabot School District to do what they do best – teach me! That will be an important relationship for me as a school board member.

What are the challenges facing the district?

Martin: 1) Increases in employee health insurance premiums (48 percent for most plans in 2013) coupled with higher deductibles ($250-$500), higher co-pays (risen from $25 to $35) and increases in maximum out-of-pocket increases ($1,000-$2,500) must be addressed now. It must also be understood that the short-term fix could be an allocation of funds to offset the immediate increase, but the system must be overhauled for the long term so that we aren’t dealing with this issue every year. Another concern is that our hourly employees are charged the same rate as our certified staff.

Many of our valued cafeteria workers, custodians and classroom aides will work each month simply to pay the health insurance premium, and there will not be enough take-home pay to support their needs.

The short-term impact of these increases will be the loss of great faculty and staff from their chosen profession because they cannot afford health care premiums. The long-term impact is the decrease in the number of potentially top quality educators choosing other professions rather than considering the teaching field simply because of the concern over health coverage.

2) Balancing the workload we place on our teachers must be a consideration. Adding the latest and greatest program to a teachers’ plates can take away from teachers’ ability to engage with students. It must be considered that what works for one district may not work for another. Common Core is a major work in progress and has been a tremendous challenge for our educators.

The new documentation requirements involved with (the teacher evaluation system) TESS (Teacher Excellence and Support System) only add to the stress that has been placed on teachers.

We need teachers working with students and not spending valuable time completing documents or trying to implement one more program.

3) Potential for drastic reductions in NSLA (National School Lunch Act) funding provided by the state is of great concern. NSLA funds are provided to districts based on the number of students that qualify for free or reduced-price meals. The funds are to be used to provide additional instructional support for these students. Cabot currently receives $1.8 million in funds from NSLA.

This money has been used to pay salaries of interventionists and other staff that focus daily on the needs of our at-risk students. We’ve strategically targeted literacy with our interventionists. I encourage everyone to review the Annual Report to the Public on our district website ( and pay special attention to our literacy gains.

During the last legislative session, new funding calculations were proposed which would have resulted in a $1.1 million reduction for the Cabot School District from this funding. It is imperative that our district continue to be involved in the future of this important funding. Children that qualify for free and reduced-price lunches in Cabot deserve the same academic support provided to children that live anywhere else in Arkansas.

This is not the only funding source under attack. The facility partnership program has been advantageous to our district due to our economic base. We’ve been able to build new facilities and complete many renovations using partnership funding provided by the state. Foundation funding is the base amount of funding we receive for every child in the district. We must advocate for increases each year as it becomes more costly for every district to operate.

We simply can’t be good stewards of our taxpayer money. We must be great stewards of these funds if we are going to remain financially stable while providing every resource necessary for our staff to teach and our children to learn.

4) The safety and security of our children, faculty and staff is a priority not only for Cabot but for every school system. Our world is changing and there are people that want to do bad things that are inconceivable to the vast majority of us. We must continue to plan and implement security measures across the district.

This is certainly a priority within the budget. The challenge is to balance a safe and secure environment with one that is also welcoming for our students and parents.

Raines: Teacher Health Insurance Rates – This is the most immediate problem facing the district and it will require legislative action to help remedy. The portion of the premium that teachers are required to pay in the public school employees’ plan will rise at least 50 percent.

In the short term, the district needs to do what it can to assist our most valuable resource by looking hard for efficiencies in the district’s budget to help offset some of those out-of-pocket costs.

Over the long-term, I think the law needs to be changed to allow individual school districts to shop around for better policies and competitive prices as opposed to being tethered to one plan, which is the State and Public Life and Health Insurance Board.

If elected, what improvements would you to help the district make?

Martin: We must offset health care insurance costs for district employees and analyze the salary schedule to ensure that we remain competitive and able to retain current staff and attract the best candidates in the future. Teachers are drawn to the profession because they love children. They are able to stay in the profession when health care premiums are affordable and there is a stable retirement system.

Continuing to ensure we meet the academic needs of our Advanced Placement students and students with learning challenges, while placing increased emphasis on our larger segment of students to reach their full academic potential.

Interventionists have played a pivotal role in engaging students with deficiencies in literacy. I will advocate for implementation of intervention support added in the area of math in our elementary and middle school programs. Our curriculum has become so rigorous that we need to make sure we have the resources available for those kids that need extra support.

The opening of the Freshman Academy will provide a support system for those students during that critical freshman year. Students that struggle to graduate often fall behind in the ninth grade and are likely to lose hope and have disciplinary and/or truancy issues. We believe that the new Academy will have a great impact on the success of our students.

Technology and infrastructure support purchases must be considered in the future. We must provide our faculty and staff with the tools they need to promote the integration of technology into daily lessons.

We must also prepare for state testing to be conducted using computers. We must never forget that the most important variable in the overall success of a child is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. Technology will never take the place of our teachers, but will provide those that are already doing a great job one more tool in that tool box.

I encourage every patron to visit my website to learn more about our past accomplishments and my vision for what our district can become. (It is)

Raines: Improve parental involvement in district affairs. Cabot parents are extremely involved in their children’s education. We need their energies and insight when it comes to conducting the overall business of the district as well. I propose the following to help make it easier for them to participate:

 Move school board meetings from a 6 p.m. start time to 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. Cabot is a stereotypical bedroom community. The majority of our residents work elsewhere and getting home by 6 p.m. is difficult for many. Delaying the start time might encourage better attendance.

 Take school board meetings on the road – out of the boardroom and into the neighborhood schools. During the school year, consideration should be given to conducting meetings at the various schools on a rotation basis. The schools can conduct an open house centered on the meetings.

 Provide a live video/audio stream of all meetings on the district’s website and archive them for future viewing.

 Encourage future passage of Senate Bill 587 to align school board elections with November general elections. It was defeated during the 2013 regular legislative session. On average, only 600 people vote in September school board elections. That’s about 2 percent of Cabot’s population. Moving the elections to November, when people are accustomed to voting, will automatically increase turnout and make people become more informed, which is never a bad thing.

 School security audit – I would like to see the district conduct a comprehensive security audit and risk assessment. It will reveal where the district might be vulnerable from a safety and security standpoint and should give a thorough evaluation of all facilities, buses, playgrounds and athletic venues. If the audit reveals any issues, then the district can begin to address those. This is a worthwhile endeavor in order to provide our students, teachers and staff with peace of mind.

Online checkbook – I propose that the district create an online checkbook that details a thorough accounting of all district expenditures and the recipients of those funds. This level of transparency will create a greater sense of accountability and let patrons know exactly how their tax dollars are being spent.