Jon Schuessler, 2016Jon R. Schuessler

Volunteer Movement Co-Founder

Candidate for Hillsboro R-III School Board



City: Hillsboro
County: Jefferson
Email: JonSchue@aol.com
Phone: (636) 524-1285
Mailing Address: 9212 Hwy. BB
Hillsboro, MO 63050

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School Board Views

Some interesting facts you don't get from the HSD home page:
  • The Hillsboro school district currently spends an average of $1 million per year paying interest on its debts.  That $1 million in taxes going to banks instead of the students.  That's $1 million in taxes lost to poor financial planning.
  • Current total enrollment at Hillsboro is slightly less than it was 22 years ago.  Enrollment peaked around 2006, and has been going down ever since.  Census projections for the next 10 years are not encouraging, either.  Hillsboro schools are not growing, and probably won't grow for some time.
  • Over the same 22 years, spending by Hillsboro schools has almost doubled when adjusting for inflation.  For the last 10 years, the Hillsboro School District has spent $30-$40 million per year (inflation-adjusted  for 2017).  This is more than the budgets for the cities of Hillsboro ($3.5 million), DeSoto ($2.7 million), Crystal City ($4.6 million), and Festus ($17 million) combined.  Hillsboro schools do not suffer from a lack of money - they suffer from a lack of management.
  • Spending for the Central Office Administration has increased by over 200% (adjusted for inflation) in the last 20 years.  By comparision, spending has increased far less for Instruction (58%), Maintenance (77%), Food Service (50%), and Transportation (34%).  Hillsboro is becoming more and more top-heavy with bureaucrats.
  • About 10 years ago, the Hillsboro School Board agreed to a terrible land deal, in which the district would pay a lease on about 56 acres of land off of Highway A for a period of over 20 years.  At the end of the lease, the school would own the land for a cost of about $2.2 million, whichcomes out to about $39,000 per acre!  That's at least 3 times what the land is probably worth.  The school district has currently paid off about $1.2 million on the lease.  Even for $1 million that remains, however, the price tag is too expensive for the land's value.  What's worse, the district no longer has any funds available to develop the land.  The Board doesn't need the land, either, because the district isn't growing like they thought it would.  Even though none of the Board members who made the deal are around any more, the current Board refuses to walk away.  Currently, the district is paying about $70,000 per month on this lease.  Why?  Because the Board doesn't want to say that $1.2 million was spent for nothing (even though it was).  In other words, the Board is willing to waste money in order to hide past mistakes.

Below is a list of my answers to a survey sent to me by the HNEA in preparation for a Meet the Candidates night on March 7th.

1)  List your school district activities:

    None.

2)  List your community activities:
    I recently co-founded the Missouri Volunteer Movement, an organization dedicated to empowering citizens to run for office and become more involved in their community.  I am a member of St. Paul's Lutheran Church and a participant in the Missouri Adopt-a-Highway program.

3)  List any public offices you have held:
    None.
4) What in your background qualifies you for a position on the school board?
    I have extensive experience in education - two years as a substitute teacher at Fort Zumwalt; two years' graduate work in education at Webster; completed my practicum and student teaching with 'A' average; worked as a private tutor.
    I am an alumni who attended Hillsboro from kindergarten until my graduation in 1994.
    I possess a broad knowledge and appreciation of academic topics, including art, theater, philosophy, English, mathematics, science, history, and civics.
    I am familiar with government budgets, the Revised Missouri Statutes, and local political figures.  I have over 1 year of practical political experience; I have run as an independent for state representative and received 3 times the average votes for a 'third-party' candidate (in a 3-way race) in the last election.
    I am deeply passionate about ensuring that members of our society are provided with the opportunity to learn to their fullest potential.

5) What do you view as the greatest challenge facing the district?  How would you meet that challenge?
    Our greatest challenge is a crisis in leadership - particularly when it comes to focusing on tests and administration over real teaching.  The turnover in teachers is way too high.  Administrative costs (adjusted for inflation) have more than tripled in 20 years; administrator numbers have more than doubled; and average administrator pay, counting inflation, has increased by 20%.  Yet the average teacher pay has not kept pace with inflation, with a 4% decline (inflation adjusted) over the same span.  Teacher numbers and instructional expenditures have been increased by only half.  Why?
    Studies have extensively shown that in school, the teacher is the most important factor in academic achievement.  Our district needs to lead the way in providing teachers with equitable pay, curricular freedom, and fewer distractions in the form of non-academic tasks (a.k.a. bureaucracy) during the school day.

6) If you could unilaterally make one change to the district, what would it be?
    Remove all obstacles, especially in policy, that hinder communications between the Board, the public, and school employees.  It is absolutely vital that the Board is better informed about what actually takes place in the district, rather than allowing others to completely control the flow of information.

7) What are your views/ideas on technology and how would you fund them?
    'Technology' is just another word for tools.  Good tools are important, but they are worthless unless a competent person is allowed to wield them properly.  We should focus on hiring and nurturing good teachers over buying and maintaining technology.  I would fund technology at employees' requests, and stated needs, rather than district-wide blanket upgrades recommended by the federal government or other organizations.


8) How can we make sure that students have a safe and orderly environment in which to learn?
    I am not aware of a marked increase in violence or other serious disruptive incidents within Hillsboro's schools.  As long as staff and teachers continue to monitor students and model professional behavior, there should be few, if any, problems.

9) What should happen to students who do not meet benchmarks?
    It depends upon the importance of the benchmark, the degree of failure, and why those students are failing to meet expectations.
    I believe that neither the policies of retention (flunking) nor social promotion (automatic passing) have sufficiently served students.  There are practical alternatives for remediation in between these two extremes, such as personal tutoring.
    In all cases, parents should be presented with more than one option, and consulted as to how they want their child's education to progress.  They should know that a complex IEP (Individual Education Plan) is not always useful, particularly if it simply lowers expectations rather than providing extra help.  Alternative school and summer school also deserve closer scrutiny or funding than perhaps they have received in the past.

10) How do you think we can better prepare students for life after they graduate?
    Our schools could improve curriculum to be more practical.  I believe that a great deal of practicality, and other considerations, have been sacrificed due to concern about state test scores.  Time should be devoted to real-world lessons.  Guest speakers, field trips, and vocational projects are some examples.
    Another improvement would be to include lessons outside of department textbooks and their highly sanitized content.  In civics, for example, one could describe actual voting and campaigning, a political primary, etc. (e.g., "How do you register to vote?", "Can you leave part of the ballot blank?", "Which four parties have ballot access in Missouri?")  More local knowledge could also be included, which is notoriously absent in textbooks.
    Finally, practical knowledge should be tied more to actual events.  True, these examples may be "messy" - that is, they will not always demonstrate perfect conditions or behavior.  A story about John Joseph Rizzo's controversial 2010 win by 1 vote in a Kansas City primary may not exemplify a by-the-book election, but it does make a good story, and an excellent lesson in practical politics.


11) How can the district improve its relationship with parents?
    Parents have two distinct roles in relation to the district.  First, parents are patrons.  Patrons deserve to be dealt with honestly.  Unfortunately, when it comes to finances - especially bond issues - the district is often deceptive.  The phrase "No Tax Increase!" and the lack of the legally required "Paid for" byline on the bond issue mailings are recent examples of half-truths.  This behavior must stop.
    Second, parents are co-educators.  While the district provides opportunities for a parent to be involved in various student activities, the roles are largely non-academic (e.g., chaperons).  If the district could provide more avenues for parents to bring their expertise into the school, or otherwise allow them to participate in an academic capacity, the relationship between parents and schools might improve.

12) What services can the school district offer parents to help them become better partners in their child's education?
    The district needs to build a framework that allows parents to easily contribute to students' education in an extracurricular setting.  Finding matches between students' interest and parents' expertise is paramount to any success.  Parents could possibly even host weekly or monthly workshops at school on a volunteer basis.
    Some colleges, co-ops, and smaller private schools deserve close attention for their level of community involvement.  Outside activities can enrich school classes, such as improv acting does for a theatre class.  Whether a parent knows CPR or how to play chess, there is always something which they can share with others, especially when a school teacher is willing to take the time to help that parent feel more comfortable in the role of instructor.

13) What can be done to make the district's accomplishments more familiar to district citizens?
    Clever advertising can turn a trifle into a triumph, but in my experience, accomplishments of true value speak loudly enough for themselves.
    If people don't know what Hillsboro schools are doing, it's either a problem of transparency or interest.  The former problem can be solved by allowing easier access to records and by removing buzzwords; the latter problem can be solved by involving citizens more in the business of the school.
    At the end of the day, however, the real worth of our schools isn't measured in test scores or awards - it's measured by the character and capability of our graduates.  Every student is a living testament to the district's scrupulous dedication and energy, or lack thereof.

14) My top 5 spending priorities are:
    1. teacher workload, 2. curriculum development, 3. academic programs, 4. competitive salaries & benefits, 5. reducing/redistributing current levy

15) Why should you be elected to the School Board?
    The Board as it currently stands is not fulfilling its duties to either the public or to its employees.  When it is not abdicating authority to outside government and private organizations, most of the Board is blindly following the first opinion it hears.  An old proverb states that there are two sides to every issue, but one would not know it by attending a Board meeting.  Votes are almost always unanimous, and the discussion is downright spartan.
    Student enrollment is actually slightly lower than when I graduated from Hillsboro over twenty years ago.  Tax revenues have been anemic since the Recession.  Hillsboro R-III's income, when adjusted for inflation, has been flat for ten years, while its benefit costs have more than doubled and debt payments have ballooned.  At the same time, government agencies have been calling for expensive (often technology-based) accountability measures on many fronts, which are largely viewed by the public with mistrust.
    These challenges must be met with dynamic leadership that includes as many voices as possible.  Passive rubber-stamping will only contribute to a slow decline in the quality of a school district that deserves much, much better.
    If elected, I will be an effective advocate for fiscal responsibility, equitable pay, teacher freedom, and citizen engagement.  I will strive to always be accessible to school employees and to the public, and to be consistent and fair in our dealings.  While I understand that others on the Board will have different views than my own, I will not change my vote or temper my stance just to fit in or exchange favors.

    In short, I will not let the students down.

Political Views

You can click on the following list to view a few articles that I've written:



Candidacy

March 31st, 2017

   
Jon Schuessler is running for the Hillsboro R-III School Board, alongside seven other candidates.  The public will choose three of them to sit on the Board when they vote in the General Municipal Election on April 4th.
   
The other 7 candidates are:    Dan D. McCarthy
                                                    Angie O'Shia
                                                    Jane Heine
                                                    Chad Nicholas
                                                    Zachary Gibson
                                                    Dennis Bradley
                                                    Beth Petry

Biography

Jon was originally a student of engineering at the University of Missouri-Rolla (now the Missouri Institute of Science & Technology). He earned his BS in Electrical Engineering in 1998. Instead of pursuing opportunities out of state, however, Jon worked various odd jobs in St. Louis, Kansas City and Columbia. In 2007, he briefly left Missouri to live in Hutchinson, Kansas and later Seattle, Washington, before returning in 2009. Since that time, he has pursued a career in teaching, with an emphasis on mathematics and history.

Jon attended Webster University for two years while working as a substitute teacher at the Fort Zumwalt School District. Later he taught as a student teacher at both McCluer South-Berkeley High School (in Ferguson) and Fort Zumwalt South High School (in St. Charles).

What he observed during those years nearly broke his heart. Children from all walks of life and economic backgrounds entered elementary school with curiosity and eagerness. By high school, however, many had learned to hate math, hate reading, hate history, and hate learning in general.

From that time three years ago, Jon decided to embark upon a quest to change our institutions. He co-founded the Volunteer Movement in December of 2014 with several colleagues in the St. Charles area. When he is not engaged with private tutoring, he devotes his time to the Volunteer cause.