Sparta water tower

Three Sparta residents are running for two available Sparta School Board seats in the April 3 election.

Candidates hoping for your votes have varying views on what some of the greatest challenges facing the district are.

After a nationwide March For Our Lives campaign March 24, the conversation about school shootings and the potential for stronger gun regulations is on the forefront of many American minds. This is true for newcomer candidate, Jacob Finney.

Finney, who works as a paraprofessional for the Nixa School District, said he wants to make students safe when they’re at school and thinks the school board has a responsibility to make this a priority.

“I understand security risks and things like that,” he said, adding that he’s previously worked in law enforcement. “I’m watching on the news people talk about teachers carrying (a gun). I don’t know what the exact solution right now, but I know I would be passionate about coming up with something that would make our students and teachers feel safe when they come to school.”

Incumbent Betty Braden, who’s served on the school board for 33 years, said funding is the biggest challenge in the district.

“As a small rural school, we rely heavily on state and federal dollars,” she said. “They’ve been discussing fully funding the foundation formula, but we have to be realistic that that might not happen again.”

Braden specifically mentioned the withholding from transportation to the school last year.

“”We have to try and do the most we can with what we receive,” she said.

Funding and keeping quality staff go hand in hand, Braden said. 

“Our minimum salary is $32,000. Our teachers can go to Ozark and Nixa and make $5,000-$7,000 more,” she said. “The formula is supposed to equalize that a bit, but it doesn’t really happen that way. It makes it harder to keep good, qualified people in the district.”

Incumbent Dennis Lilly, who is running for a second term, said Sparta Schools is more concerned with local growth at the moment.

“One of our biggest challenges right now is growth. (It) has slowed down and we need to find a solution to that problem by getting with the Sparta City Council and possibly the Sparta Chamber of Commerce and trying to get everyone on the same page with a game plan to try and get this area to grow,” he said.

If elected, Lilly said he wants to be a good steward of the district’s tax dollars.

“I always try to do the right thing with the taxpayers’ money. I get out and talk to the taxpayers of the district to try and see how they want their money spent and use that as a guideline for the school district,” he said.

Though Finney works with Nixa Schools, he’s a Sparta graduate and is a lifelong resident. He said his experience inside a school and having a vested interest in the success of Sparta schools makes him a great candidate.

“I would bring some knowledge and experience from inside the classroom. I think that’s something that’s needed,” he said. “It will help teachers know that there is someone on the board that knows what it’s like to be in a classroom on a daily basis … I feel like I understand a lot better than I used to the ins and outs of how a school board member can be effective change change in a positive way. I feel like that’s something I want to do for Sparta.”

Braden said she received so much from the school when she went there, for as long as she can remember, that’s been her reason to serve.

“I truly care about the Sparta School District. It gave me so much, and I feel like I have to give back and I still feel that way to this day,” she said. 

In her many years on the board, Braden said she’s been a longtime supporter of the 1:1 technology initiative.

“It’s really rewarding to see the way the students are using those resources,” she said. “Their imagination and the chance to be creative. They have think tanks and are doing a lot more hands-on things. Public education is a lot more that what people think it is. The things we are doing for the kids are valuable for them as they go to college.”

She said she also volunteers in other capacities such as secretary for the All School Reunion Committee, 4H and Sparta Sports League to name a few.

“I’m retired but I am not sitting at home in my rocking chair,” she said “I stay active in volunteer work.”

Finney said he hears parents talking about wanting a football program started for the high school and to improve school facilities. He doesn’t want those voices to go unheard.

“I want to be someone the concerned parents and citizens can voice their opinions to. I want to be their voice on the school board,” he said.

Lilly is running because he wants to see students succeed, he said.

“I’ve had kids in school for the last, about, 26 years, in Sparta schools,” he said. “I still got my youngest there in second grade. I want to make the district better and do the best we can for the students in our district.”

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