Crocker school board race draws four candidates seeking two positions
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
CROCKER, Mo. (April 5, 2010) — Residents of the Crocker R-II School District have a four-way race this week between two incumbents, board president Don Mayhew and board member Kris York, and two challengers, Kelly Newcomb and Mark Sasfy.
Mayhew, York and Newcomb are all longtime Crocker residents and graduates of Crocker High School; Sasfy is a relative newcomer to the area who retired from the Marine Corps as a drill instructor with the rank of master sergeant, and is now working on his master’s degree in education and preparing for a career as a teacher.
York, who works for a family-owned business, K. York Electric, initially agreed to an interview but then did not respond to repeated requests to be interviewed.
Mayhew, 50, said his experience is the main reason to re-elect him to the school board. In addition to serving as a board member for three years and as president for the last year, he was elected in a countywide race as surveyor for a four-year term from 2004 to 2008, and is also a member of the Republican Party Central Committee for Tavern Township. He’s also the self-employed owner of a surveying and engineering business.
Newcomb, 44, a part-time bookkeeper at Newcomb Hardware, said she’s running because she wants to be a positive influence on the school district.
“I want to help be a positive support and I would like to see more positive high school atmosphere and programs and just be a more positive place for kids,” Newcomb said.
Sasfy, 45, said having more communication and better communication between the school and the parents is key to his race.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people and the underlying current when I talk to a lot of the patrons around here is there needs to be a better partnership right now. We have one but we need to increase it,” Sasfy said. “The school district can’t do it by themselves and the parents need the school district; we need to work better as a team.”
Mayhew was a Republican candidate for Pulaski County Presiding Commissioner until the race became a three-way contest not only between Mayhew and St. Robert Alderman Gene Newkirk, but also fellow Crocker resident Dennis Thornsberry. A few days after Thornsberry filed, Mayhew withdrew his name from the race and called on other Republicans with three-way primaries to also consider withdrawing to allow the primary election winner in August to have a clear mandate rather than a potentially split three-way race in which no candidate received a 50 percent majority.
Improving the academic standards of the Crocker district has been a major part of Mayhew’s agenda since he was elected three years ago. A Crocker native, Mayhew liked the small-town environment and returned to the area after a few years working in the Kansas City and Springfield areas as a civil engineer after graduating with a civil engineering degree from the University of Missouri at Rolla, but said the schools need to work harder to provide better training for students that prepares them for college-level education, including math and science.
While Mayhew said many of his goals have been accomplished, some remain and he sees three major items that need to be finished.
“I would like to see our ACT scores come up to at least the state average. Currently we hover around an 18 and the state average is 21. I would like to see our math and science scores improve. We have instituted some new programs and methods that should help and we will monitor these closely to make sure we are headed in the right direction. I would like to see our tax levy reduced every year until we get to what it was in 2001,” Mayhew said. “We have been able to do that recently and I hope that we be able to continue that. Everyone in our community has been impacted by the state of the economy and reducing the levy will help. We have all had to tighten our budgets during these tough times and our government needs to do the same, including our school. School taxes form the largest tax obligation that we have locally and we need to use those funds as efficiently as possible.”
As the owner of a small business, Mayhew said he understands the impact that taxes have on area residents but also understands that state funding changes beyond the local school district’s control will greatly impact the local budget.
“Having enough funds to do the things we want to do is always an issue. However, with all the budget issues at the state and federal level, the next one or two years, I believe, will prove to be extremely challenging with regard to the district budget,” Mayhew said. “In the next couple of years it is highly possible that some hard decisions will need to be made and we could see cuts in some of our current programs.”
Board members need to focus on their primary role in managing the district, he said.
“I know and understand the people of the district and the challenges they face,” Mayhew said. “My education and experience have taught me how to tackle large problems and come up with efficient solutions.”
That includes careful oversight by the board of both finances and policies, he said.
“The school board establishes the goals of the district, monitors the district finances, creates and adopts district policies, and reviews and evaluates the various programs of the district,” Mayhew said. “The board is the people's voice in the district whose primary duty is to insure that the tax dollars entrusted to the district are spent wisely and appropriately. Our goal is to provide the best education possible for our children, one that will prepare them to meet the challenges faced in today’s world. We have an obligation to the children, to be sure, but we also have an equal obligation to the parents and the tax payers in the district. The concerns of all need to be balanced in order to accomplish our goals.”
Mayhew’s community involvement on other boards includes positions on the board of directors of Habitat for Humanity and the policy council for Missouri Ozarks Community Action, both of which are organizations that work closely with less affluent residents who are often most impacted by economic downturns.
Mayhew said he’s impressed by what Crocker students have been able to accomplish despite limited budgets.
“The children impress me on a daily basis. I have seen some amazing things done by our children with very little from a resource standpoint,” Mayhew said.
As the bookkeeper for a small family-owned business, Newcomb said she also shares concerns about good money management and sees that as a major part of the school board’s role.
“The main duties are to manage financial decisions and that type of thing, and to make sure the school functions properly and keep them in financial well being and hopefully try to make them better and keep it good,” Newcomb said. “Some of the biggest issues I see facing all of these small schools around here are state funding.”
However, Newcomb said being a board member involves more than just balancing budgets.
“I think you have to be a strong decision maker and being business-minded helps,” Newcomb said. “Being willing to care about our kids is the main thing, and care about our school system. I know a lot of people, everybody knows me and I just want to help.”
A key part of Newcomb’s goal is a focus on maintaining a good atmosphere in the district’s schools.
“My main reasons for running are I want to help be a positive support and I would like to see more positive high school atmosphere and programs and just be a more positive place for kids,” Newcomb said. “I want to have them leave here with confidence feeling they are going to be going out in the world and conquer it. It’d like to see more programs to build up our students and make them confident and feel like achievers. As my postcard says, ‘A voice for the students for a more positive school system.’”
Above everything else, that means candidates need to be “trustworthy and honest,” Newcomb said.
Newcomb said she’s seen numerous improvements in recent years but agrees there’s need for more work.
“I like our administration and I like the new high school principal getting some positive programs started. I would like to see more positive things,” Newcomb said. “Some things I would like to see changed are that I would like to see our kids more prepared for collage as far as maybe an ACT prep course or something like that, and more prepared not just as far as books. I want them more prepared confidence-wise.”
In addition to work as a part-time bookkeeper for the family-owned Newcomb Hardware business, Newcomb has been extensively involved in local community and church affairs. She’s a former member of the Crocker Garden Club and also served in the Crocker Booster Club. She’s also a member of Crocker First Baptist Church where she was formerly a Sunday School teacher.
“I’ve helped with the kids a lot and always helped with summer Vacation Bible School. I think that is a good qualification to be a school board member, to be a Christian,” Newcomb said.
While Mayhew and Newcomb both cited their years of residence in Crocker — Newcomb has lived in the community about three decades and Mayhew is a lifelong resident who said “practically everyone in my family attended Crocker High School including mom, dad, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins,” Sasfy moved to the area only five years ago and knows he can’t claim years of personal and family ties.
Before retiring with the rank of master sergeant in the Marine Corps Detachment at Fort Leonard Wood where he worked as the chief instructor for engineer courses, Sasfy had been a Marine drill instructor and curriculum developer. He has a bachelor’s degree in biology and environmental science and more recently, he’s been working on his master’s degree at Drury University where he expects to receive his teaching certificate as well as certification in middle school administration. He’s substituted for Crocker and Swedeborg schools, and wants to spend the rest of his career in educating children.
Running for the school board of his adopted community in Crocker is part of that desire to promote education, Sasfy said.
“I feel that the school board member is basically a representative of the patrons of the school district in office. They need to ensure that all patrons and their children receive the best education possible that is fair and equal,” Sasfy said. “Being on the school board, you are ensuring that the individual rights of the patrons are protected and that you look out for everyone, not just your own. You have to have a vision for implementing policies that may affect the needs for the district in the future, and you have to be able to communicate effectively. You have to listen to what the patrons are saying and stay in touch with the issues that are their concern. Everyone is a public servant and we have obligations to the community.”
Those obligations include communication, Sasfy said, which he said haven’t been as effective as they could have been.
“I am proud of things that have been accomplished in regards to my children’s development, but there are issues that are present that need to be addressed and require further improvement. The predominant issue right now, and I’ve talked to many patrons, is communication,” Sasfy said. “I feel that there’s tough times now, economic wise, and we all know it affects education because of the economic downturn. It is very important now to maintain positive communication with parents and the local community. There has to be a partnership that stands firm.”
Better communication means board members should develop “a positive working relationship across the board, one that welcomes all input whether it is positive or negative so we get feedback on the issues that are presented,” Sasfy said.
A greater emphasis should be placed on programs such as violence prevention, character, leadership and citizenship, Sasfy said.
“It definitely enhances the community and more emphasis needs to be placed on that at a district level. We build the moral fiber of our children as we progress through and hopefully the end state is we will produce highly educated children when they do graduate, which I think every parent would like to see,” Sasfy said.
Sasfy, whose wife is also a retired Marine, said he deliberately chose Crocker as a place to retire because of its small-town character. He attends Sweet Home Christian Church and volunteers with Boy Scout Troop 147 in Crocker as well as the Civil Air Patrol; his wife is involved with Girl Scouts.
While Sasfy said there are problems that need to be addressed, he didn’t want to avoid noting the positives of the district as well.
“I do like the fact that it is a small district. I think a small district is good. When I grew up, I grew up in a massive high school and you lose the individuality. Here everyone knows you and you have a personnel rapport established and I definitely like that,” Sasfy said. “It does me proud when it seems like pretty much the whole community is coming out for the events that are being put on. It’s good that the school district has that pride and that the community does rally for them.”
Sasfy has been assigned for training at Fort Leonard Wood several years before, liked what he saw in rural Pulaski County, and accepted an opportunity to return to Fort Leonard Wood in 2005 before retiring from the Marines in 2008.
“I liked the area and when the opportunity presented, my wife and I took advantage of it and came out here,” Sasfy said. “Much of what people do here as far as horse riding and getting out in the country are the same things we like and that’s how we came here.”