School Board Candidate
Our Candidate Summary
These assessments are based on the answers or lack of answers supplied by the candidates. Whitney Lanning’s responses indicate a socially moderate position.
Whitney Lanning on the Issues
Why have you decided to run for the Saint Joseph School Board?
I have children in the school district and believe that I have the education, experience and work ethic to help solve our district’s problems.
What are the strengths you will bring to the school board?
I have over 10 years of professional management experience, which includes managing a nonprofit organization with over 150 staff and an annual budget in excess of $10M. I have also been a foster parent, social worker and have a master’s degree in Counseling Psychology; as a result, I believe I have a deep understanding of the needs of children and families. Additionally, as a Christian I am committed to leading with honesty, integrity, and kindness.
What changes/policies do you want to implement within the School Board?
My three immediate priorities are to 1) expand early childhood education, 2) create alternative educational programming to address negative behaviors in the classrooms and 3) expand Hillyard Technical Center programming. I am also concerned about the fact that our Finance Committee does not routinely review financial reports (such as a balance sheet, profit/loss statements, credit card invoices, etc). This is something I would want to see changed immediately to ensure financial transparency and long-term sustainability.
Many schools in Saint Joe are falling into disrepair. What would you do to see schools maintained and upgraded?
I joined the Facilities Committee in the Fall of 2022 to address this very issue. I have been advocating for the avoidance of deferred maintenance, as this often results in higher expenses over time. I have also been advocating for a comprehensive facility plan, that includes a listing of maintenance/repair needs by facility. If elected, I will continue to serve on the Facilities Committee and will ensure that these issues continue to be addressed.
How do you feel the mask mandate was handled by the School Board during the COVID pandemic?
The mask mandate was very difficult for staff to monitor and mandate. Staff were put in a difficult position of trying to educate children while also enforcing masking and monitoring contact tracing. I feel as though masking should have been left to each family’s preference, especially given the fact that virtual attendance was offered.
Would you be in favor of mandating face masks or vaccinations of students within the school district? Please elaborate.
No, vaccination is a deeply personal decision that families should be able to make for their children. The COVID vaccination was very new and all of the potential side effects still aren’t entirely known; as a result, it is understandable that many parents are hesitant to allow their children to be vaccinated. As a result, I would not vote in favor of mandating the COVID vaccine for students or staff.
Do you believe there are financial resources within the budget that are currently misallocated?
The District has an annual budget of over $168M per year. A budget of that size is sure to have areas where cost savings can occur. As previously stated I would advocate for the inclusion of financial reports in the monthly Finance Committee Meeting. This would offer board and committee members the opportunity to identify how revenue and expenses are allocated, and potentially address allocation methodologies that do not align with board priorities.
What are your top funding priorities?
My top three funding priorities are: 1) early childhood education, 2) alternative education and 3) Hillyard expansion. Currently our incoming kindergarten age children are scoring 20% lower than the state average for school readiness; we are testing below 50%. We need to expand early childhood opportunities in order to get to more children sooner; this will help to improve test scores, attendance and behavior. There is a high rate of violent child behaviors occurring in our classrooms. This behavior is likely driven by child and parent mental health issues, as well as parent substance abuse issues. I would like to see Webster Alternative School utilized specifically for the purpose of providing intensive services to children who cannot safely function in a regular classroom setting. This will help the children demonstrating negative behaviors and will benefit the staff and other students by removing this distraction. Lastly, our local workforce is struggling to meet the labor demands of local businesses. We need to expand programming at Hillyard and bring back adult education programming to help address the staffing shortage our community is experiencing.
How would you ensure financial transparency and accountability with the public?
As stated before, I will advocate for the inclusion of financial reports in the Finance Committee. These reports would include a balance sheet, trial balance by fund, profit/loss statements, review of monthly bank reconciliations and credit card invoices. Additionally, I have reviewed the District’s fiscal policies and would ensure that procurement policies are property followed prior to voting to approve expenditures/purchases/contracts.
What is the greatest challenge the Saint Joseph School district is currently facing?
Test scores. Our test scores are far below the state average. This is a result of many factors, to include poor attendance, understaffing, and distracting/violent classroom behavioral issues. Our District has a high rate of poverty (our District has a 70% free and reduced lunch rate), which means that many children and families need more resources to be successful. It will take a variety of strategies to address these issues and I look forward to challenge of helping to develop those strategies.
How do you feel about the current approach to special education within the school district?
As a foster parent I am very familiar with he IEP process; it took over 7 months to get my kindergarten foster son assessed, tested and diagnosed with autism and an IEP. Special education services are highly mandated by federal requirements. Unfortunately, this means that it can take an extended period of time to get children assessed and enrolled in specialized services. If elected I would advocate for solutions to expedite the assessment and IEP completion process.
What do you see as the most significant challenges teachers face within the district?
Our average salary is very comparable to nearby districts; however, given that our District has a 70% free and reduced lunch rate, there are a variety of additional barriers to educating SJSD students. Staff are struggling with violent behaviors in their classrooms and a serious lack of parental engagement. These issues create low morale and negatively affect our recruitment and retention efforts for both staff and students.
How will you encourage community interaction and receive community feedback about the state of Saint Joseph Schools?
I believe that student, staff, parent and community feedback is integral to continuous quality improvement. I support the facilitation of surveys, downhill events, focus groups and intend to regularly visit our schools to stay connected with students and staff. I am very active in the community and will continue to collect feedback from stakeholders and use that feedback to drive decision-making.
How would you encourage parental involvement within the school system?
Yes, parental involvement is a key component to educational attainment and student success.
Do you support transgender-inclusive or lgbtq+ policies for schools such as bathroom and locker room inclusion based on someone's preferred gender?
I support policies that promote inclusion and maintain safety for all students.
Would you encourage the introduction of materials into the school system based on Critical Race Theory (CRT)?
Do you identify as socially/politically liberal or conservative?
Additional Comments by candidate
My faith as a Christian is largely what drove me to run for public office. To be a public servant is to be a servant leader, just as Jesus was. His ministry was of concern for all people, especially children and socially and economically marginalized people; this is my focus as a school board member. As a school board member, as in all leadership positions I hold both professionally and personally, I intend to lead by example of my values of honesty, humility and kindness.