Three candidates seek two positions on the Nixa Board of Education.
With 33 years in office, Nixa Board of Education Secretary Glenn Scott is the longest-tenured member of the group. Mike Copeland brings nine years of experience to the school board. Dr. Tamara Fusco is the challenger in a race where three candidates are campaigning for two spots. Voters will choose two of three, with one candidate being left out when the final votes are tallied April 2.
The two persons elected will each serve three-year terms.
All three candidates answered questions from the staff of the Christian County Headliner News. The responses are given verbatim as the candidates gave them, and have been edited in some cases for length but not to alter the meaning of the response.
What are the key things that made you decide to step out and run for election to the Nixa Board of Education?
There are a number of things I bring to the school board, but the main reason I am running is to provide medical and mental expertise on the board. The pressures and expectations on children are very different than when I grew up. We are seeing increased rates of anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and behavioral disorders, just to name a few. While our school board is rich in people who are knowledgeable in finance, education, and law, there is no medical or mental health representation. I think the school board needs to be prepared to make good policies in light of these concerns.
While campaigning, what sort of feedback have you heard from voters about Nixa’s bond issue Question 1 and Question 2?
Throughout this campaign, I’ve loved going door-to-door in Nixa to talk to voters, as well as speaking at our local candidate forums, When I’ve talked to our community members, I have heard mostly positive feedback for both Question 1 and Question 2. I believe that our community recognizes that the future depends on the continued excellent of education to our children. For our children to learn, we need well-maintained facilities, adequate space for increasing numbers of students, superior teachers recruited and retained and up-to-date safety systems. A few people have mentioned concern about increasing taxes. Until we have a bigger tax base from businesses, I recognize that residential taxes will be the major funding source. Nixa has a history of supporting our schools and I believe Nixa will support Question 1 and Question 2 on the April 2 ballot.
What is your stance on Nixa’s salary structure for teachers? Does it need to be raised?
I support Question 2 with the increase in teachers’ salaries. For Nixa to continue to excel and provide exemplary education, we have to recruit and retain excellent teachers. When our entry-level salaries are not comparable to surrounding districts, we provide a disincentive for new hires. Our district continues to grow, so we have an increasing need to attract qualified educators and retain the ones currently employed.
In terms of infrastructure, are there any unsung building projects that you believe need to be completed in the near future?
I think Question 2 on the ballot addresses the most pressing infrastructure needs—expansion of classrooms at High Pointe and Century to be able to move the fourth-graders back from Summit. However, as Nixa continues to grow, I would like to see the future master plan include a new elementary school to keep class sizes down for the elementary students. I would also like to see the school work with the city and county to increase the number of sidewalks so that kids can walk safely to and from school. I see far too many children walking in ditches and on the sides of the roads with busy traffic.
What else do you believe voters should know about you?
The most important thing to know about me is that I am passionate about child well-being—physically and mentally. I have been a child advocate for the entirety of my 25 years as a general pediatrician and mental health provider. As the mother of three students, I am very familiar with all stages of Nixa Schools. My sons, Brendan and Heath, completed their entire education at Nixa. Amarra is currently a high school student. I have been active in the community with activities ranging from Girl Scouts to booster clubs to Project Graduation. I am an experienced board member having served on several boards such as Down Syndrome Group of the Ozarks, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Greater Regional Ozarks Breastfeeding Coalition. Lastly, I am a former member of the military serving eight years in the Army National Guard with a final rank of captain.
What made you decide you wanted to seek another term and continue to serve?
I just want to help the kids. I’m kind of the safety school board member. We all care about safety, but I’m on the safety committee, and we’ve got a lot of good stuff going on as far as trying to bring the best practices to the school district. I just want to continue that.
I want to continue working with Dr. Loden, who has only been here six months, and I want to continue working with him because he’s got a lot of good ideas and a lot of good things going on.
What are you encountering as far as people asking questions about Question 1 and Question 2?
A lot of people are asking questions about what we can spend the money on. Of course, Question 1 we can only spend on buildings. Question 2, the levy increase, we can spend on anything we want, which is going to be the teachers. That’s important to us, to get the teachers what they need in salaries to be more competitive in the area. That’s mainly what most of the questions are. Once we explain that, that it’s for teachers, then a lot of people are on board.
What is it important to want to have a higher teacher salary scale than, say, Springfield, Republic or Willard?
So we can get the good teachers. We don’t really have a problem finding good teachers, but it is important that we pay our teachers what they’re worth. Quite honestly, we can’t pay them what they’re worth because they’re worth a lot more than we can pay them. That may be a political answer, but that is true. We want to retain the good teachers. We don’t have a problem finding good teachers, but we know that we’re probably losing some to other districts, and we just want to have those good teachers because we’re the best district in the area.
Is there anything in the infrastructure package that you feel is maybe overlooked a little bit, or maybe a little unsung?
I think the new classrooms at Century, the new gym at Century and the new gym at Espy—and hopefully we can get FEMA funding for the new gyms to help us with that. I mean, if we can get FEMA funding, we can get about 75 percent of that paid for an get a FEMA-type shelter. If we can’t get the FEMA funding, we’re still going to put a gym there, but it’s not going to be a FEMA shelter.
Another thing is at Inman we had a mold issue a couple of years ago. Getting a new roof up there—because we desperately need a new roof. It’s not beautiful, but it is necessary to keep those kids and the staff safe there from the mold issues that we’ve had.
Mr. (Glenn) Scott is right next to you campaigning. Is it fair to say you are supporting each other?
Absolutely. I’ve worked with Mr. Scott for nine years and he is valuable for this board.
We both want to continue working with Dr. Loden and the rest of the board. We’ve got a very cohesive board right now and the board gets along real well. We have what we call, “intense fellowship,” but when we leave the boardroom we’re in agreement. No matter if we’re on the downside of the vote, we support the board vote, and that’s important to us. A lot of (school) boards around the state don’t have that, and we feel like we do that and we do that very well here.
You have been at this a long time. What has made you decide you want to try to get elected to a few more years on the Nixa Board of Education?
I’ve always enjoyed being on the school board, and I’ve always said if I ever get where I don’t think I’m contributing and I cease to enjoy it, no one will have to tell me to leave, I’ll just leave. There are a lot of exciting things going on in Nixa, and I wish to be part of it. I have three grandchildren going to Nixa schools, I have three daughters that graduated from Nixa schools, and with the new superintendent, I felt like staying on, because of my experience, I could help him and I felt like i have.
What are you encountering as far as people asking questions about Question 1 and Question 2?
Most of it is positive. I have heard mostly from seniors—I have heard a little negative, but most of it has been very positive. They know that we have a lot of children involved in the arts, sports, things like that, and they want to have the best facilities. Nixa has always been on a cutting edge.
We as a district with the board the way it’s set up right now—we have very diverse opinions, but once the decision is made, even if you’re on the losing side of a vote, our board has always been able to come together and support the decision. I think that’s what makes Nixa effective, makes the district effective, makes the board effective.
How important is it for the Nixa school district to look at its teacher wage structure and be able to pay the teachers a little bit more?
They say we’re fourth in the area, but there’s only a few hundred dollars (per year) separating us. Our starting salary, and that’s what they’re always talking about, is $36,781, and the average statewide for schools that have 4,000 or more students is $37,454, I think. Again, it’s only $600 or $700, but we don’t want to be below the state average. We want to be above it because our teachers are, in a word, excellent. We couldn’t have better teachers, and they deserve better pay.
Bond money can only be used for construction and repair, but levies can be used for anything. We’re hoping that it passes and we can give our teachers a nice raise. One of my colleagues used to say, “If we’re going to be No. 1, we need to pay like No. 1,” and I agree with that. Teachers, for the most part, are underpaid.
We have the rendering of Eagle Stadium and what it might look like, and our readers really liked that picture. Is there part of the infrastructure package that you feel is a little bit unsung, or maybe not as well-publicized?
I think we’ve done a good job of publicizing it. It’s not just a football field. It’s a sports complex, you know, we use that for other things. Right now, the way it is we could not sponsor a (Central Ozarks Conference) event, and with the new improvements we will be able to. It’s going to be a beautiful stadium if we get it passed. The fine arts center is going to seat anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 people, where now our current auditorium seats 600.
Our band is almost 300 members. Fifteen years ago it was 150.
Nixa is about excellence, it is.
I noticed you and Mike Copeland are campaigning together. Is it fair to say you are supporting each other?
We are a team. I support Mike, Mike supports me. He’s a good board member; I like to think that I am. We’re teaming up.