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Rockwood Board of Education Candidates Q and A: Keith Kinder and Stephen Smith

Rockwood Board of Education Candidates Keith Kinder and Stephen Smith respond to several questions from Chesterfield Patch.

Editor's note: Chesterfield Patch sent the following questions to each of the six candidates for the Rockwood School District Board of Education. We are running the candidates' responses in ballot order, two at a time. Check back Thursday for the answers given by Roger Stock and Kevin Mabie. Answers from Matt Doell and Mike Geller will run on Friday.

Candidates are running for three open spots on the school board. Terms last three years. The election is April 5.

Keith Kinder

  • Assistant professor in the graduate education department at Maryville University, retired Rockwood high school administrator
  • Doctorate in education, master’s in mathematics and bachelor’s of science in eduction
  • Has lived in the Rockwood School District for 24 years; currently lives at 523 Terrington Dr., Ballwin
  • Married to Ronda Kinder; They have two children who are graduates of Rockwood Schools

Kinder has an extensive background as a high school principal. He began his career as a match teacher and assistant principal in Pacific, MO. He was the principal at Sullivan High School in Sullivan, MO from 1976 to 1986. In 1986, he became an assistant principal at Lafayette High School. He was a principal at Marquette High School and Eureka High School before retiring in 2003.

Please provide a brief summary of your reasons for running.

My major reason for running for the Rockwood School District Board is to give back to the students, teachers, and community in Rockwood who gave me such a rewarding career for over 17 years and help Rockwood maintain its’ status as a premier school district.

I am running for the board of education because I have worked in education with youth and adults my entire career with the singular purpose of helping them realize their dreams and helping them achieve the knowledge and ability to be successful in the next phase of their career. I hope to continue that dedication to the future leaders of tomorrow.

What unique experiences or characteristics would you bring to the board that other members or candidates don't have?

In addition to my education and career experiences, I have a working knowledge of the cultural history of the Rockwood district and the educational management at the school and district level. I have kept up to date on school finance, developing and implementing curriculum, educational laws, and successful educational programs. I can make informed decisions while understanding the current/future ramifications of each decision.

Assume you win the election. What single thing do you most want to accomplish during your three years on the board?

If you view the Rockwood School District website, a nationwide report shows that we rank as a top school district in Missouri and one of the top school districts in the nation in terms of student achievement per dollar spent. Rockwood is facing a well-documented shortage of revenue and our reserve is reaching a dangerous level. Over the last four years and including next year, Rockwood will have trimmed $22 million from the budget as revenues from state allotments, federal government programs and local taxes have decreased significantly as a result of the current economy. We will, undoubtedly, have to continue reducing our budget until we receive more revenues. Anybody can make cuts in the district expenditures, but all cuts have severe ramifications immediately in our children’s education and possibly irreversible consequences up to 10 years or more in the future. I want to bring a sense of understanding of the consequences now and the irreparable damage down the road before we cut any program or personnel. We must not diminish the education of our students and future leaders of tomorrow. We must strive to finance the current high level of education we have in Rockwood.  

Would you favor a tax increase for Rockwood School District residents or a bond issue to supplement district funds? Why or why not?

There seems to be a lot of talk in favor of or in opposition to a tax increase among district patrons. It is still too early to know if our only option to stay solvent is with a tax increase, as we do not know how much revenue we are receiving for next year from federal, state or local taxes. We do know if the revenues continue to decrease we will not have a balanced budget and the only options are further cuts or a tax increase. After exhausting all possible options to continue the quality education we now provide and the only option left is a tax increase, the voters in Rockwood will have to make a decision on what kind of education we want. A (YES) will allow the top education to continue. A (NO) will signal the beginning of a decline in our student’s educational opportunities in Rockwood. I will do whatever I can to help provide the best possible education for our students so that they can be successful in the next step in their career.

As the district continues to face a budget shortfall and uncertainty over state funding, are there areas you think shouldn’t be cut? What areas have to be cut?

I do not think anyone currently running for the board (with the exception of the incumbent, Mr. Smith) can make an informed judgment on cuts at this time. My statements now would only be an opinion and these decisions are too critical to offer an opinion without the facts and figures. There are several items being discussed, some decisions have been made for next year, and I trust the judgment of the current board. The board made tough decisions, but we face many difficult decisions during the next several years. Cuts in Rockwood’s budget should only be made as a last option while continuing the best possible education for our youth.

What do you think is Rockwood School District’s biggest weakness, and what would you do to correct it? What is its biggest strength?

An area of concern in Rockwood, as in most districts, is finding the right formula to close the achievement gap and finding ways to keep the discouraged or disinterested students from dropping out. The goal in Rockwood is for every student to achieve success. Any student not learning to their maximum potential or any student not graduating from high school is a failure on our part and we must continually strive to have a 100 percent graduation rate. We have not succeeded yet. We need to continue the research on achievement for all and methods to keep students involved in school through graduation. Any current program not working in the above areas needs to be replaced with programs with proven success. Rockwood is constantly trying to find the right programs.

The biggest strength in Rockwood is the total program we offer from early childhood through graduation to our students and the options they have for a diverse education (advanced courses in all subject areas, Advanced Placement courses, multitude of foreign languages, vocal and instrumental programs at all levels, gifted education programs, special education inclusion programs, technology programs, computer options, etc. There is no other school district in the state that can offer or has implemented the complete curriculum that we do. Our graduates are very successful in their pursuits after graduation. We, as a district and as stakeholders in the district, should be extremely proud of the education we offer to our students.

Stephen Smith

  • Has served on the school board since 2010, previously served from 1989-1995
  • Retired college administrator and project manager
  • Juris doctorate from Saint Louis University, bachelor’s degree from Central Missouri State
  • Has lived in the Rockwood district for 34 years, currently lives at 17030 Redwood Glen, Eureka
  • Married to Judy; has a son and daughter how have both attended Rockwood schools from elementary through high school, graduating from Eureka High School

Smith has been active in the community since moving into it more than 30 years ago. He coached and served as president in the Eureka Sports Association when his children were younger. He was involved in the Geggie Elementary PTO as a parent and served on the school board from 1989 to 1995. He was appointed to fill an unexpired term in 2003 and again in 2010. He has also served on the board of the Special School District.

Please provide a brief summary of your reasons for running.

At this point in my life, I can be somewhat choosier in my choice of activities. Last April, it appeared that there was a rift on the board just as a new superintendent was arriving. I felt that as an experienced board member whose strong point is collaboration that I could help the board and superintendent create the new team, which is necessary for a great district. This board has made great strides in this regard and I would like to be part of the continuation of progress as Rockwood attempts to enhance the Rockwood Advantage.

What unique experiences or characteristics would you bring to the board that other members or candidates don't have? 

I bring a great deal of experience in governance and a sense of continuity to the district. It is difficult to have continuous improvement without an idea of where we’ve been, or how we got to where we are. It is not that we should continue down the same path necessarily, but we do need to know why certain things have been done. That experience and continuity can inform the changes where they are needed and the continuation where it is best. I have been a collaborator in my work on the Rockwood and Special School District boards. In my view, those ideas and solutions that are best are a creation of different minds focused on the same issue.

My approach is to involve all board members in the work of providing the best education to our children. I do not have a monopoly on the solutions needed; I do have the willingness to work with everyone to make greatness possible for our district. Everyone means everyone: board members, administrators, teachers, counselors, nurses, special educators, bus drivers, food service workers, custodians and maintenance workers, parents, students and taxpayers. I understand that all have a stake in the success of our schools, ultimately in the success of our children. It is and will continue to be my approach to governance to pay attention to all as we craft the schools, which will make all of us proud to be part of Rockwood.

Assume you win the election. What single thing do you most want to accomplish during your three years on the board?

I would like to help stabilize the sources of funding for Rockwood, indeed for all of public education in Missouri. Many of us believe that the current levy and state appropriations do not provide enough for us to continue the Rockwood Advantage; the more serious issue is the instability or uncertainty of our sources of revenue. We do not know from year to year what will be available to fund the education of our students. While sufficient is helpful, even more necessary is the ability to plan knowing what is available.

Would you favor a tax increase for Rockwood School District residents or a bond issue to supplement district funds? Why or why not?

Unless something changes drastically over the next few months, we will need a tax increase to continue the Rockwood Advantage for our students. Certainly there are areas where cuts should be made, but I don’t believe that we can make sufficient cuts without seriously affecting the classroom. Bond issues provide funds for different things than tax levies. Bond issue funds must be used for capital expenditures. They cannot be used for teacher salaries or classroom supplies. While I believe that a bond issue may be needed too, the first priority must be operating funds and their stability. I also understand that my opinion is advisory only; a tax levy increase or a bond issue must be approved by the voters of Rockwood.

As the district continues to face a budget shortfall and uncertainty over state funding, are there areas you think shouldn’t be cut? What areas have to be cut?

While it is easy to say that cuts should not affect the classroom, it may be possible to increase class sizes by a student or two at some levels and in some courses without affecting education. That being said, class sizes should not be raised significantly. I believe that counselors and nurses affect the physical and mental well-being of our students and their ability to learn and should always be available to our students.

Things that have to be cut is a problematic issue. I have ideas, but I need a discussion to help me make those decisions. I believe that some transportation cuts are possible. I believe that some building administrator cuts are possible. I believe that we should at least review extra-curricular activities and their costs.

What do you think is Rockwood School District’s biggest weakness, and what would you do to correct it? What is its biggest strength? 

I believe that our biggest weakness is our strength. We believe that we are doing all we can to make our students successful. Objective measures prove that we are doing very well, better than most. In reality, we can work harder. We can produce better curricula. We can improve our teaching methods. We can make better use of our resources. We can make our students even more successful. It will take recognition and renewed dedication by all, including the board. It will happen because our biggest strength is people. Committed parents, teachers, administrators and other professionals, support workers and students combine to make our schools successful. Renewed dedication will happen.

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