by Bill Bush
SEDGWICK—USD-439 has four four-year term positions up for election in November. The positions are currently held by Paulette Ware (Pos. 1), Open (Pos. 2), Michele Rowley (Pos. 3), and Shawn Chapman (Pos. 7). Seven people—Paulette Ware (Pos. 1), Wade Hansen (Pos. 2), Beth Sharbutt (Pos. 2), Dwight Wilkes (Pos. 2), Lee Bakker (Pos. 3), Lori Kasney (Pos. 3), and Shawn Chapman (Pos. 7)—have registered to be on the ballot.
Six candidates for the USD-449 Board of Education spoke at the public forum last Thursday at the elementary school multipurpose room.
Hansen and Wilkes are running for position 2. Bakker and Kasney are running for position 3. Ware (Pos. 1) and Chapman (Pos. 7) are running unopposed.
Dwight Wilkes (Pos. 2)
Dwight Wilkes, a Wichita State University graduate who wore the WU Shock mascot costume, has been in Sedgwick for 24 years. His son graduated from Sedgwick High School, his wife has been in education for 32 years, and he currently holds a substitute teacher license.
He’s been a police officer for three decades and is now a criminal investigator for Sedgwick County.
Wilkes said the first thing he would do if elected was get out and meet people. He wants to meet every employee in the district. Plus, he wants to help bridge the gap between the district and the community.
“I’ve been personally visiting every home in the City of Sedgwick,” Wilkes said. “I’ve left a flyer on every home to try and meet people.”
He also said he would listen and learn because there’s a learning curve with taking a new position like serving on the school board.
He said he would focus on the state board of education, because they only allotted $7.5 million for all the districts. He said that USD-439 spends around $19,000 per student, a lot of which goes to special education and that the district has to eat up the extra budget shorted by the state.
Wade Hansen (Pos. 2)
Wade Hansen was born and raised in Sedgwick. He has two children, one on the way, and his oldest just started preschool.
He works at Spirit and said when a lot of people start work, they’re not ready for the workforce. He said that schools need to do a better job at preparing students for life after graduation, and he would like to see internships to help students consider their workforce options.
The two main things he wants to accomplish if elected are closing the bond project and setting foundations with industries to work with the schools.
“The biggest thing I think we can do is start at an early age—kids that are in pre-k, kindergarten, first, up through high school—is preparing them for life after school,” Hansen said. “Give the tools to better prepare for that. I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
The first thing Hansen said he would do is get into the community and gather feedback. He said he has nieces and nephews involved in activities, so he’s already involved and would look for additional opportunities. He would also visit with the administration to gain their input and perspectives.
Lori Kasney (Pos. 3)
Lori Kasney grew up in Sedgwick and graduated from SHS in 2000. She has three children in school and chose to raise them in Sedgwick. Her dad served on the board of education when she was in school. Kasney now works at Mirror, Inc. in Newton.
She said that her main focus as a board member would be to improve on open communication between the board and the public. She wants to create a synopsis video after each board meeting that gives what she calls the “cliff notes” version of the discussions and decisions for people who aren’t able to attend or have time to watch and/or understand everything.
“It’s a huge problem and the number one reason I’m running for the board,” Kasney said when asked if she thought there was a disconnect between the board and the public. “I think there needs to be a healthy mix on the school board of people who have children in school and some who don’t so we can get perspectives of the community in all ways.”
She also thinks it’s important to work with city leaders, because if the board doesn’t collaborate, then they miss out on opportunities.
Lee Bakker (Pos. 3)
Lee Bakker grew up in a variety of schools in St. Louis and Chicago. When moving to Wichita for work, he and his wife chose Sedgwick to raise their two children because they liked the small-town atmosphere with Fall Festival and other events and the school with its strong history and good academics.
He said he’s running for the school board because he wants to be more involved. He said he reached out to the superintendent and administrators to learn. Part of his goal is for the district to be more transparent.
Bakker is the director of data analysis at Koch Industries and said one of the things he does well is seek information. He wants to understand how the district assesses student achievement.
“Are we achieving success, growing citizens to contribute?” Bakker asked.
He said he would call the seasoned board members and educate himself as quickly as possible about what data they use to understand success.
“You can’t make improvements unless you have an effective way to measure it,” Bakker said. “How do we get the right measures to see if we’re meeting our goals?”
Paulette Ware (Pos. 1, Unopposed)
Paulette Ware moved to Sedgwick 22 years ago because of the school district. Her two children graduated from SHS. She spent eight years as a stay-at-home mom but worked before and after that as a chemist in Wichita. She was appointed to the school board in 2021.
She said that the district is moving in the right direction. She said they have a great leader in Superintendent Dr. Rae Niles.
“Our school board is doing some yeoman’s work in getting the right people in the right places,” Ware said. “This school administration is working well together. Is it perfect? Nope. But we’re moving in the right direction.”
She said the community should be proud of the school.
On her wish list of things to change are eliminating distractions and dealing with mental health issues and family struggles. She also wants children to be able to go at their own pace, whether that’s faster or slower than the majority.
The first thing she plans to do if elected is bond with the new board member(s). She said that sometimes she votes against the majority but always comes together to support the vote.
Shawn Chapman (Pos. 7, Unopposed)
Shawn Chapman has been a lifelong member of Sedgwick. He’s been in law enforcement for over 20 years and is currently the undersheriff in Harvey County.
He said he had fond memories of growing up in Sedgwick, so when the opportunity presented itself to get involved, he started attending meetings and eventually ran for the school board. He is finishing up his first term and is excited about the things they’ve done.
Next up for the board, according to Chapman, is adapting to the end of the bond project. He said that the district has had a lot of changes in the last two years.
“I think what we need the next year, 18 months to two years is some stability, some same faces,” Chapman said. “We extended Dr. Niles is no longer part-time, she’s a full-time superintendent because we felt that’s what our district needed amidst the changes.”
He said the district has a good working relationship with the city leadership, and now it has a new partnership with the rec commission with the new gym and workout rooms.
He would like to see job-related programs and business partnerships grow to help students understand the jobs available to them after graduation.