Falls City Public School Board of Education holds informative debate

Robin Ankrom, the President of the Falls City Education Association and Falls City Public School K-5 music teacher, welcomed the good-sized crowd to the Richardson County Historical Society Building last Wednesday night for the District #56 School Board Debate. 

Ankrom introduced Burke Brown, who mediated the event. Brown is the I.T. person from District OR1 in Palmyra and the president of the Capital District for the Nebraska State Educational Association. 

The questions were prepared by a committee made up of Susan Finlay, the Media Specialist at Falls City High School; Jamie Milam, the sixth-grade teacher at Falls City Middle School and Kim Oliver, the Title I teacher at Falls City North School. 

Brown addressed the crowd and candidates, explaining his role as moderator for the debate. His role was to ask essential questions to the candidates as they sought to serve the Falls City Public Schools community as elected school board members. Time was also kept for questions, as each candidate had up to two minutes. Occasionally, Brown could add to the dialogue by rewording questions, asking for clarification or restating main points. At no point, though, could his intent be of persuasion. 

The debate was to be an exchange of ideas to help the community reach a more critically informed understanding of the topics affecting Falls City Public schools to promote an appreciation among participants and the community for the diversity of opinion that emerges when ideas are exchanged openly and honestly and to ultimately bring clarity to the voters in District #56. 

“Let us all embrace these ideas with the spirit of learning and let us ensure a high level of respect for the candidates and their willingness to serve Falls City Public Schools,” said Brown.

Candidates in attendance were Justin Courtney, Teresa Olberding, Cassondra Goff and Anthony Johansen. Robin Ankrom states, “Our sole purpose was to let the community hear the candidates and make an educated decision when they vote. I invited all the candidates, and John [Martin] and Richard [Malcolm] chose not to attend.”

The Falls City Journal has printed the questions in the order they were asked during the debate. Answers are exactly as they were answered and were only edited for redundancy. 

State your reasons for wanting to run for the Board of Education?

Justin Courtney: My name is Justin Courtney and I have four kids or three kids within the district and South school, North School, and high school. And I’ve sat on a school board before in Missouri and found it important to run.

Teresa Olberding: Hi, I’m Teresa Olberding; I have been on the school board in the past. Eight years ago, I served for eight years. I will have grandchildren coming into the district soon. I feel that it’s very important that we have a school board that works for the good of our district and students are important and I feel it in my heart that I need to be on the school board again.

Cassondra Goff: Good evening, everyone. My name is Cassondra Goff. I also have three children that are or will be in this district. I am a conservative businesswoman who has a lot of financial background and experience. I’m currently a regional vice president for Farm Credit Services of America and my husband and family farm here. So conservative values are very important, but also the values of my children’s education, as they’re all in this district, is very important to me also.

Anthony Johansen: My name is Anthony Johansen. I graduated from Falls City Public School in 1999, and my wife did as well. I’ve got a fourth-grade son, a seventh-grade daughter, and four-year-old that’ll be in the district here in another year. I love my kids; I care about my kids and I want what’s best for my kids. And there are some things that have arisen in the last year or so that I do not believe need to be in our schools. And that is why I’m running.

Please share a vision you have for Falls City public schools that will set you apart from the other candidates.

Teresa Olberding: I feel that we have a good resource in our Southeast Community College building or satellite school here and I think that it can be utilized more. I don’t know exactly how that can be accomplished. I know that there are programs out there that are benefiting our students and our community. I feel that we should maybe tap into that and see if there’s some more education that we can provide for students going into the future. Not everyone is going to go on to a four-year college and if we can give them heads up and maybe become a part of our community here and not leave our community. I think we need to look into that and see if that’s a possibility.

Cassondra Goff: So the vision that I have for our students and our school is to bring the best teachers into our district and to be able to do that, we’ve got to be competitive with pay, we’ve got to be competitive with benefits. But when we do that, we need to keep the parents involved. And that’s what’s going to be most successful for our students is having the parents and their values and working together with the teachers to have the best education for our students.

Anthony Johansen: I got to be honest with you; there are six people running for this spot. And there are things that have taken place that a lot of people don’t agree with. Things that are coming to the schools that shouldn’t be in the schools, you know, and I truly wish the other two were here. You know, they’re the incumbents. But that’s fine. If they choose not to be here, we can lead the way. That’s why we’re running. One of the questions that was in the questionnaire from the teachers was are we running as individual candidates, or a group of candidates and I found that was interesting. We are running as individuals. And to be quite honest with you, I don’t know that there’s a lot that I disagree with that with the four of us sitting up here. We all want school to be taught what we were taught, you know, reading, writing, arithmetic, science, accurate history of this country. And that’s about it. You know, so to say that I differ from these four sitting here, I don’t know that I do that much. But from the two that chose to not be here, there are a lot of differences.

Justin Courtney: Okay, so I’m not from here. I wasn’t raised here. I didn’t grow up here. So I don’t know a whole lot about the past of Falls City, but me and my wife invest in technology companies and things like that. And if you know, looking at my kids, especially my oldest kid, you know, a four-year degree is not something he’s looking forward to. Like candidate two said, technology. Use of that technology building, technology schools, more opportunity for kids to get into crafts or trades, trade schools, things like that, making them more of an option and making more people aware of the open opportunity for kids to do things like that. I think would be a good step in the right direction for the labor force moving forward.

Please identify what roles, if any, should the district assume in dealing with such societal issues such as poverty, hunger, emotional illness, trauma, or drug abuse.

Cassondra Goff: Our students come to school and they should have a safe spot where they have an open relationship with a teacher or confidant if they choose so. But it’s always very important that the parents are brought into that picture also. So, you know, of course, we want our kids fed and to go home to a safe spot, but never should it be in a measure that we’re distancing the parents from these decisions and we’re not bringing the parents or the caregivers into those decisions. So kind of going back to what I said earlier, you know, to make our school the best, we’ve got to bring the parents and the teachers together and be able to work and get the best students out of it.

Anthony Johansen: I think that the schools need to help kids all they can. We all know that it just seems more and more that kids come from broken homes or abusive homes or homes that have drugs in them, you know and the school needs to be a place where the kids can come to, you know, where they can feel safe, where they know the teachers care about them, where they know the administrators care about him. Somewhere that you know that they feel comfortable where they can just feel safe and secure. That comes with, you know, relationships built between the teachers and the students. I think we’ve got a good group of teachers that are doing a pretty good job. And, you know, I think we’re handling that for the most part.

Justin Courtney: Like any after-school programs, I can help with that. I don’t know how to say it, but you know, it’s pretty easy to spot the adults in this community that are meth heads and stuff like that. And you see them with kids and you see it, it just makes you sick to your stomach. We work with, I’m the commissioner of the NFL Flag Football League and we see it every Saturday. Kids that have parents that are engaged with the kids; parents that are not, so anything the school can do to, you know, after-school programs, things like that to give kids, extra meal programs on the weekend. I don’t know if they do that here. We did that in Missouri, where they could take a sack lunch home on Friday for Saturday and Sunday. Just any programs like that.

Teresa Olberding: Unfortunately, kids today, all of those things so many face and I know there’s a large number of our students that face at least one, if not a lot, of those issues. I believe our school programs where the lunches are free or reduced. I as far as I know, we still do the backpack program for the lunches on the weekend. As far as the trauma and the emotional issues, kids in our district need to know that they have counselors and teachers that they can go to that will keep confidentiality. Unfortunately, the home life is not what it should be for kids in that situation. So as long as our schools can provide that for students, it’s very important that they have someplace to go and unfortunately, the school district does need to pick up those types of programs that will bridge the gap that kids aren’t getting at home.

Please share two to three strengths in which our district can be proud and why do you think these are strengths. 

Anthony Johansen: I think there’s a lot of things; like I said, I think we’ve got it. A good bunch of teachers that care about their kids. I’ve got a list of every teacher my daughter Bella had and she’s in seventh grade. And out of that list, I’ve got one out of seven that we didn’t think was fit and she’s no longer here, to be quite honest with you. So, I got a good group of teachers, that’s something to be proud of. You know, I think Falls City has a lot to offer. I think it’s a great place to be a great place to raise your kids in a small town with small-town values. That’s great. It’s all I got.

Justin Courtney: We moved over here from Missouri-Mound City actually, because, one, the town was pretty much dying. So, we wanted to be in a bigger school district, a better school district than what we were prior to that. That was about four, four and a half years ago. I was excited; I was excited for our kids to athletically and educationally to be in a bigger district. So, I’m excited, you know, even for today, I’m still excited for the kids to have that opportunity, athletically. There’s way more opportunity for recreational and school. And you know, it’s opportunity in this town as well, with a couple of businesses and factories that this town has. So we were, I was excited to come here and my kids have a bigger opportunity. I came from a town of about 12,000 people. So, from, I think it was 2,400, no 1,700, 2,400? Whatever it is, to what is it 4,200 here? 4,500? So even that jump was awesome. And you know, all our kids were K through 12 in Missouri, and now the kids are separated to more of a group of kids they can associate with and have social groups. I don’t know how many I listed. But there’s got to be three there. Right?

Teresa Olberding: We do have a very good staff of educators; they’re very caring. You can tell that by setting this up tonight. So, we’re all here and voicing our stand. That is very important for our students. Teachers are with students so much of the day and they have a very strong influence on how the student is, what they learn and making them into good people; not just education, but they’re also there for their well-being. We have good programs for our underprivileged and also our SPED program. I know we have a lot of kids that have problems and we have always done what we can to help those students achieve and go on and be able to be a part of society.

Cassondra Goff: Number one is our teachers. Echoing what some of the other candidates said, our teachers are the best thing we have in this district. My two older kids have been in school and most of the time, at the end of the school year, they’re not happy it’s over because they’re sad, they’re going to miss their teacher and they’re not going to be able to be in their class next year. And it’s disappointing to them, which is good because they feel comfortable, you know? If there’s any issues, there’s great communication between the teachers and you can tell they definitely care about their students. So that’s a huge strength for our district. Our district also has a lot of opportunity, whether it be between the sports to the video game club or team or whatever it is to drama to music, you know, we’ve got a wide array-agriculture. There’s all kinds of things our students can be involved in. And that’s an awesome opportunity, especially when they’re deciding what they want to do later in life. And then, you know, the other asset to our district is the community that we live in. There’s always parents willing to lend a helping hand to, you know, cook, hundreds of baked goods for the PIE bake sale, or whatever it is, so that’s a huge asset is the parents that live in this district and that are willing to be so involved with their students.

What do you see as the three biggest challenges that we’ll be facing Falls City public schools in the next four years? What are the three challenges you see?

Justin Courtney: Well, inflation is going to be the biggest one right now. I mean, 70 percent of marriages, would survive on $500 more or within the households. So that’s going to be huge, you know, as we’re trending to be, you know, prices rising and getting worse and going to continue to get worse. What was the question again?

You know, financially’s going to be one. I don’t know, are the class sizes getting smaller? A little bit, are we going to be able to keep all the teachers and all the faculty that we have? I don’t know what we have going on there. But, you know, keeping everybody involved. You know, if people leave this smaller community to find better jobs, things like that, it’s going to be an issue. Then the third one is-kind of a tough question to lead with, thank you. You know, just community, as times get tougher, is community going to hold together, you know, if people can stay positive. That’s always important, you know. So that’s about all I got on that. 

Teresa Olberding: I agree; this is a tough question. I think that the changes in society and culture, in how that affects all of us and what responsibilities or possibly even mandates will come down that we will have to handle as a district and how we will handle those things. Testing, it seems like when I was on the school board, the last time the state has different testing, right? Specifications that need to be handled if that puts us pressure on our teachers. I don’t know. That’s something, since I haven’t been in the school board for eight years I don’t know how that has progressed. I know in the past, it’s been a problem to find time for teachers to teach and also test. Third problem? I don’t know.

Cassondra Goff: Well, I think the first challenge is remembering that the teachers and the parents are on the same page. A lot of you know, the social-emotional learning and some of the stuff that came through the school board. And it was very well painted that it was a group of parents who were against the teachers. And that was absolutely not the case. And I’ve actually been sitting on a committee to provide a recommendation for that social-emotional learning. And it was actually alarming to me when talking to the teachers and realizing that what they were wanting to teach wasn’t even in the curriculum that we were teaching. So, you know, my biggest challenge to them was, let’s do better. Let’s find a curriculum that’s doing what you want and is also bringing the parents in and accomplishing what we need to accomplish. So I think keeping our eyes on the end goal and the prize, which is doing the best for our students, is going to be one of our biggest challenges and it’s not going to be-it cannot be an us versus them situation. Number two, I think we’ve already seen it a little bit, is faculty replacement and or faculty recruitment. I mean, kind of the location we live in makes it a little bit hard to, you know, get the best because, you know, the fact of the matter is that living two hours from many major cities is kind of hard, especially when you’re a young teacher, or a young businessperson. And then third is going to be the financial portion of it. I mean, we live in an ag community and at some point, this economy is going to break and inflation is going to get the best of us; our commodity, prices are going to go down. And we’re going to have a challenge when that budget is squeezed in the schools.

Anthony Johansen: Well, they’ve given me all the answers for this and I’m lucky to go fourth, so you know, I think the inflation, obviously, that’s a factor that’s already affecting all of our lives every day. So, I think that by, you know, we have a farming operation, we have a construction company, we have a trucking company, you know, obviously, we have to balance budgets on all that stuff. I think we do a pretty fair job of it; they’re all successful and profitable, you know, I can bring that to the school board and help out with things. One example is that, you’re probably going to hate me for this, but the diesel that we burn in our semis every day is $2.63 right now. Not $5, you know, things like that, we could see what was coming down the road. I heard somebody at a school board meeting say that two years ago, they had no idea the things that were happening would be happening. Well, we did, you know, and we’re saving tens of thousands of dollars and things like that, where you know, you have to have the foresight of things that, that you feel are coming down the road that you can do things in advance or balance things out. You can do things like that, to save money and not have to worry about, I mean, if we have the same amount of kids, you need the same amount of teachers, so that’s obviously not an option, in my opinion, you know? So, the second thing probably would be, Cassondra hit it, social-emotional learning, critical race theory, comprehensive sex education, you know, those are things that obviously, with the way society is going, are going to try and get pushed into our school systems. I got 15 seconds. I don’t agree with that at all. So, I’m going to keep that out.

Curriculum adoption and implementation is critical in meeting the mission of Falls City Public Schools. Do you have any specific changes that you would like to make in the curriculum offered in our district? 

Teresa Olberding: I do not have any curriculum, or I don’t personally have any changes I see, needed.

I believe our teachers have good input on curriculum and if they have changes that they feel are needed, I’m sure that they will bring that forward and it will be discussed and if changes are necessary, it will be done at that time.

Cassondra Goff: I do not have any specific changes at this time. However, what I will tell you is if I am elected on the school board, I will make sure that I do my resource research. And I will also use the people who are professionals. I’m not a curriculum professional. Finance and agriculture is my forte. But just like in my own business, I use an accountant or a lawyer and whatever else I need to, to be successful. And so, you know, I will use those same resources, whether it be the teachers, the curriculum director, you know, do my own research, find out what we need to do to make sure that we are providing the best curriculum for our students.

Anthony Johansen: I hit on that a little bit on the last question, the last answer. But, you know, overall, I think things are in pretty good shape. I would say that I think we need to promote tech schools maybe a little bit more than what we do. You know, this town has a shortage of plumbers, it has a shortage of electricians, it has a shortage of, you know, a lot of positions where people have to go out and get dirty and sweat all day long. I think that’s a society thing. You know, I think we need to promote that. It’s a need and those are good paying jobs that, you know, if you want to work hard for it, there’s money to be made there. You know, kids need to understand that. It’s not all about going to college for four years and coming out $120,000 in debt and then looking for a job after that’s over with. I mean, that’s one I think we need to make sure that we’re teaching kids about finance, about balancing budgets, about what interest is, especially right now, with that being six/seven percent. That’s not a whole lot of fun. You know, they need to understand that, you know, understand what it is to borrow money, how to balance a budget, and just basics to have, you know, to have success in life, if you’re, if you’re in debt over your head, you know, that’s, that’s not a good place to be, you know, it’s hard to have success when that’s happening. Third thing, like I said, overall, I think things are pretty darn well. Third thing is just make sure that kids understand, you know, the true history of the United States, where it came from, where it’s been, what it’s been through to correct it, you know, wrongs and that this is a place to be proud of. Be proud to be American.

Justin Courtney: As long as it’s the curriculum that’s mandated by the state, I have no issue with it. I see some things to try to get pushed in. 

No major changes, I think, you know, from what my kids are going through, I think everything’s great. Like Anthony hit on a minute ago, or candidate four that, you know, push more tech, take advantage of that building out there that pretty much sets empty and furthering education and if we’re going to hire a curriculum director, which I still don’t understand why we have to hire a curriculum director, then we utilize them correctly.

What will you do as a board member to address the problems schools face with declining funding, as they also try to meet the challenges of ever-changing enrollment, Children with Special Needs, high-ability learners, the arts and new educational technology? 

Cassondra Goff: First and foremost, you have to have a balanced budget and you need to prioritize where your money needs to be spent. Where are, you know, obviously, getting the good teachers, having the curriculum we need and teaching the core classes that we need the best we can for our students. And so, you know, once I’m on the board, I’ll be able to further analyze what our financial needs are, where, you know, where can money be spent better. Where can we cut costs that aren’t going to, you know, affect as many students. I know there’s been discussions on leasing buses versus owning buses, every dollar counts. So being able to just really understand where the money goes and where the needs are, is going to be the most important thing to keep that budget balanced and to be able to get through the tough times when we’re squeezing for cash and still be able to provide that great education for our students.

Anthony Johansen: You know, the decline in funding, like I said, every dollar needs spent, what’s spent, needs spent wisely and effectively. One of the things right now that I think’s going on with the current board is they’re discussing buying a charter bus. You know, if anybody’s driven by our bus barn, I think we have some pretty darn nice buses the way it is. They get a charter bus that won’t fit in the bus barn; it has to be cleaned outside; it has to be maintenanced outside; I think that is a complete waste in my opinion. So that’s one place that we can save. You know, we need to have the number of teachers, we need to teach the kids effectively and once we have that, I think I think we’re set. I think we’re in a pretty good spot right now. But we don’t need to have more people on payroll than what is completely necessary. Like, set right now. I think we’re sitting pretty good. Children with special needs, obviously. I mean, you know, every kid needs to learn; every kid needs attention. You know, there’s an extreme difference between my seventh-grade daughter and my fourth-grade son. Any teachers that have had them will know that. So, whether they’re a high-ability learner or they’re not, or they’re a handful, you know, every kid is going to need attention a little bit differently, but they all deserve the attention. They all need to learn. So, we’ve got to work with all of them.

Justin Courtney: So, start with special needs. Mom-Rita was part of that group that helped start that program. I can’t think the name of it, sorry. I should know this. In Missouri, we helped start a program, we helped fund it, we helped set up the bus routes, all that stuff. We based it out of Maryville, but we ran the financing for it out of Mound City and that was an awesome program. Still is a great program. So that’s, you know, had a lot of fun doing that and creating that opportunity over in Missouri. So, seeing it here they already have it in place and it already works very well from my knowledge; I could be wrong. 

Yeah, always money-always never enough money. Arts and high-ability learning. You know, I never went to school or anything like that, to this school, but I don’t know what they offer for high ability learning here. But I would assume there’s programs, community education, or some type of college night classes is something that’s offered. We had a junior college where I grew up. So, you could always take a two-year education on site and the fourth one was arts and crafts or something like that. Fine arts? 

Education and technology. I was actually in a conference call this morning at about nine o’clock and I might go over just a step. They’re a technology company me and my wife worked with; I was on a call with a buddy of mine through the fuel company, a billion-dollar fuel company out of Oklahoma. And we’re working on a technology program that uses A.I. technology for School Safety and business safety. So, technology’s like one of my favorite things out there. I’m always tinkering with stuff. So, I think there’s a huge avenue in that.

Teresa Olberding: We rely a lot on the superintendent to help us come up with new ideas and ways to make up the difference in funding. You know, obviously, taxes are not the way you always want to go, that affects everyone. And as far as all of the programs that you mentioned, when you see how much money you have to spend, you have to prioritize what we have to provide and what we can provide. So, some of those things, until you get into the situation and you know, what you have, you can’t make a decision. So, until you’re on the board and you see what we have, like Cassondra said, then you prioritize where your money is going to be spent most wisely, after it’s spent, where it has to be spent.

How will you support our schools to ensure our students graduate with the knowledge and skills they need to be college and career ready? 

Anthony Johansen: Well, I think that goes to having teachers and administrators that are dedicated, that you know want what’s best for the kids that want them to succeed. They need to be taught the things that are going to lead them into college or lead them into to a career at work directly after that. I think some of the things that I mentioned earlier, as far as, you know, things that we can maybe enter into our curriculum that will help along with that, you know, as far as trade schools, things of that nature. You know, between the teachers, we have the administrators, you know, overall, I think we’re doing pretty decent right now, like, I mean, I’ve said that before, but, I guess, continue what we’re doing and maybe improve on a few things with other curriculum we can add into it. I think the kids have to want to have success after high school. I mean, that’s another thing, you know, a lot of these homes they come from we we’ve discussed here already. Maybe a teacher can help along with something where they’re not getting home from a parent, you know, some guidance, some mentoring, you know, build some confidence in them too so that when they do take that next step, they’re ready to roll wherever that may be.

Justin Courtney: Well, something we did over in Missouri as a board member that I found to be the most important thing we did was, a couple times a year, we, [the board members] would have to go spend a half a day in the school, a half a day to all day depending on the time of year and all that, but I learned more about the teachers, how the teachers operated and the lack of funding they had in certain areas. One of them was the chemistry lab which at the time was short-funded. The technology class and the typing class, was short funded. So, we learned by sitting in the class for periods of time, learning what the teachers actually needed to operate well. And if you don’t have the funding and the things they need, how are the kids supposed to? So that was one of my big takeaways from Mound City. And, education, you know, colleges, I just read this the other day; I’ve pulled it back up since, in the last 11-12 years, they’re down 3.3 million students, 17 percent. So, are we pushing kids to go to college because that’s what their parents or grandparents did? Or are we pushing them for the right reasons? So, educating them to go to college for a reason, instead of sending them is a big thing and even the graduation rate is lower than that. So, you know, like Anthony said, using tech schools and opportunities like that, or taking trips showing kids-you know, Lincoln and these other schools, or quit putting an expectation for four years, instead of looking at two-year degrees as in junior colleges and things like that to where their books and tuition are free.

Teresa Olberding: As a school board member, the role is to ensure that we retain the good teachers that we have that are teaching our students. As a school board member, we don’t have control over the testing and all the things that go into making sure the students are ready for their future. So, we have to rely heavily on our educators and staff to make sure that our kids are receiving the education that they need so that they can meet those goals. And we can provide as many programs as cost-effective to help them find their place, whether it is a four-year college, or if we do expand-not just the nursing and the welding at SCC but maybe include some other tech areas for them.

Cassondra Goff: Well, you know we’ve discussed pension budget and what that’s going to possibly do. So, I think, you know, as a school board member, you need to be able to be creative. We have a huge number of resources, whether it be our hospital, the factories we have in town, farmers who are looking for help, you need to be able to get a little bit creative and maybe not provide that conventional level of education, but being able to pair people up with mentors and get some of that real-life experience and understand, you know, we don’t want to all just go to a four-year degree and then decide what we’re going to do. We want to go get our nursing degree because this is what we can do. And so, I think exposure and using the resources that we have right here in our community. I know I’ve done a number of different events through 4-H and through the schools coming and speaking to schools, whether it be about finance or what I do on a regular basis. And so just, you know, utilizing the parents and the professionals that we do have in this community is going to be huge. And then, I know, when I worked at Frontier bank, I talked to Mr. Heckenlively about implementing more finance classes. You know, have these students understand what it is to get their first car loan, to be able to get insurance, what it’s going to take to get credit, I mean, just those basic skills when it comes to taking out student loans and understanding what the long-term effects of that are.

How will you remain non-biased in a situation that involves personal beliefs or family relations? Or how do you stay neutral as a board member when it comes down to situations that affect you personally, your family personally, or your values? 

Justin Courtney: So as a board member, to get anything approved, it takes a group of a vote, right, so it has to have an approval by committee. So you know, it’s hard to take for anybody, personal emotions out of some things and see 100 percent because of beliefs and things like that, but common sense goes a long ways. And I think we forget to use common sense a lot of times on issues. So regardless of what your beliefs are and family members and things like that, if you lead with common sense, you’ll go a long way.

Teresa Olberding: Yeah, if we do work as a board, but we all have our own personal beliefs and they’re all going to come out when we have a discussion, then we have to cooperate, we have to listen to one another and come to a compromise because we won’t all see the issue the same. So, we work together to come up with the best solution and you take out your emotions. In as far as any personal members or family members, when there’s an issue that has to be dealt with, you need to-I would take myself out of that position; I wouldn’t have a vote in that. I would abstain from making a decision that I would have a strong personal connection to.

Cassondra Goff: So, as far as the personal beliefs, you need to stick to your core values, first and foremost, so everybody’s going to come in with those core values and ultimately, that’s the reason you’re being voted in because of some of your core values. But you need to allow us to come in with an open mind. A great example of this is the social-emotional learning curriculum that I discussed earlier. You know, part of the reason it was brought to my attention and why I did fight it and show up at the school board and bring a lot of stuff to the attention was because it didn’t align with my values. But digging into it more, I found that it didn’t necessarily align with the school’s values either and talking with the teachers and, you know, it takes you to be able to have those hard conversations with people who don’t necessarily agree with you to figure out what both sides of the fence is. As far as family relation, the only conflict of interest I have is my children attend the school. So, I’m not going to you know; I don’t have family members that are working for the school. So, there is none for me there.

Anthony Johansen: Well, that’s it’s an interesting question. You know, I have one aunt, that is a kindergarten teacher. You know, so as far as family relations, you know, is that what that means? Like, as far as?

Burke Brown: I think it’s asking if you have a child that got called to the principal’s office when “my son decided he was going to punch another child during science class.” And that kind of stuff. So just those kinds of situations.

Anthony Johansen: Anyway, back to my aunt Angie who’s a kindergarten teacher, that is the one family member that I have. We don’t always see eye to eye. A lot of times we do a lot of times we don’t; she’s giving me faces right now. So, there’s probably not going to be bias there. You know, as far as your kids being in the district, I’m not getting on here to get special privileges or anything. Like I said, I love my kids; I care about my kids and I want what’s best for my kids. I have values; I have beliefs that I instill in my kids. You know, Cassondra hit that when we were obviously at a board meeting several months ago, when a bunch of parents were there, you know, everybody talks about rights, rights, rights. I have the right to raise my children, you know; I need them to be educated; I don’t need them to be indoctrinated. You know, and my kids have the right to be left alone. I’m the parent, you know, and the parents have the right to raise your kids; the district has a right to educate them on the things they need educated on. But as far as you know, maybe favoring your kid for something because you’re on the board is, that sounds crazy to me. I mean, we’re here to work for our constituents and to serve the district. I’m not here to get any special privileges or special benefits to my kids.

The candidates each had a final two minutes to give a closing statement on anything they would like to address. 

Teresa Olberding: I enjoyed being on the school board the last stint that I did. I feel it’s very important for our community to have a school board that works together. Yes, everyone has different ideas; that’s human nature, we all should have different ideas, we should all bring those to the board as a whole. Members have a responsibility to the students to provide the best education that we can; we have a responsibility to make sure that we do it within a reasonable financial situation for our constituents. And I just feel that it’s an honor to be able to do that if I get elected. To be there for not just my grandchildren in the future but all students that go to our school district. And go out and vote for whoever you’re going to vote for, go out and vote. That’s the most important thing.

Cassondra Goff: First of all, I would like to thank the Teachers Association for putting on this event tonight. I think it’s a great opportunity for the candidates to express their opinions to get everything kind of out in the open. It is disappointing that the two incumbents weren’t able to make it tonight. But hopefully, that’s their loss for not being able to express their opinions. But wrapping up, it’s just I believe I have a lot to bring to the board. Many of you see me all over the community. I’m a leader in many different organizations, probably too many at some times, but my passion really is just for my kids and for the kids of this community. Because, you know, we’re the only ones that can make it better. We’re the ones who can lead them to get out of their poverty, get out of the situations there at home. So having a successful school is going to be the number one priority there and so, you know, with that, I’m a successful businesswoman. I have a lot of financial experience and I can bring that to the backside of the board as far as balancing the budget and staying, you know, true to the taxpayers because that’s also important. It’s a slippery slope to be able to get everywhere you need to be, but the money is not endless, just like in every situation. So, like Teresa said, get out and vote and I hope to be able to serve you in the next few years.

Anthony Johansen: Thank you for putting this on. I hope that we gave you some answers to think on. I hope you make your decisions on who you want to vote for. As Cassondra said, it’s disappointing the two incumbents aren’t here. I think that’s pretty telling to be quite honest with you. You know, I want to lead, I don’t want to follow; I want to lead. There are a couple of reasons that I am sitting here, that I’m running. Like I said, overall, I think things are pretty well within the district. Like I said, I had a complaint with one teacher and she’s no longer here. And I’ve got the list of every teacher that my daughter has all the way from kindergarten to seventh grade. That’s not why I’m here. The reason I’m here and I’ve expressed this already. I mean, I think we need to stick to the basics, you know, if they would teach my kids what I was taught, you know, in the 80s and 90s. You know, I’m perfectly fine with that; it’s just that when you start, you know, you talk about personal beliefs when you start bringing politics into our schools, that half the population or more than that don’t agree with, you know, there’s not a place for that. I’d like to see that not happen. You know, finance, like I said, we’ve got two or three businesses we have, none of them went broke yet. So I think I can help financially put things in the right direction. And I just, you know, I want what’s best for my kids and I’m what’s best for anybody else’s kids as well. I’d like to work for you. I think I would do a good job serving on this board.

Justin Courtney: All right. So, closing statement is yeah, we’ll see what happens. Hopefully, I get on the board. If I don’t, it’s not the end of world, but I’m hoping I do. You know, I’ve been on a school board before, I care about kids. You know, that’s why we do the NFL, Flag Football League. You know, if you get on Facebook, you’re going to see and hear a lot of things about me that aren’t true by a lot of people I’ve never met. And that’s fine if they got that kind of time, good for them. But I find it amusing that people go that low just to talk about people they’ve never met. But going forward, you know, regardless if I get on the board or not, you know, I’m going to support the school board and support the school and support the teachers. So just see what happens and hopefully I get on, if I don’t, it is what it is. But I’m excited for the future.

The debate was an exchange of ideas to help the community reach a more critically informed understanding of topics affecting Falls City Public Schools. The Falls City Education Association appreciates the open and honest dialogue and hopes it will bring clarity to the voters of Falls City and District #56.


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