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Columbia school board candidate interview: Paul Harper


Election Day is less than two weeks away.

ABC 17 News is interviewing each of the seven candidates running for three open spots on the Columbia Board of Education. At least two of them will be new members -- only one incumbent is in the race.

Paul Harper has been endorsed by the Columbia Missouri National Education Association -- the teachers' union that has collective bargaining rights with the school district. He was until last year the general counsel for State Auditor Nicole Galloway. Now he's a legal counsel in the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Campaign finance: Read Harper's 40-day before election finance report

LUCAS GEISLER: Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your candidacy?

PAUL HARPER: Sure. I'm the father of two daughters. My oldest graduated from Rock Bridge High School in 2020. My youngest graduates this year.

I'm a lifetime public servant. I started out as a special education teacher and then decided maybe special ed wasn't for me, I went to law school, worked for the state for 20 years, still actually work for the state today. In that time, I worked seven and a half years as the general counsel of State Auditor Nicole Galloway,

GEISLER: You've made teacher pay one of the big parts of your candidacy. How can the district continue to afford future raises?

HARPER: We've got a big budget, we need to drill down into that budget. We need to find the money in a $250 million budget, we should be able to find various things.

For example, little things like the coffee contract that was $15,000. We didn't need that. Whenever I'm on the board, I intend to, I intend to drill down into those things and ensure that we have extra funds to pay not only teachers but hourly employees, bus drivers, extra supports for teachers. It's not just teachers, it's all employees of the district. We need to be competitive statewide, and we need to pay our people better.

GEISLER: What are your thoughts on where CPS is on the state's test scores? And what do you think would help kick those up higher?

HARPER: Yeah, to be fair, I think you're talking about the MSIP, Missouri State Improvement Plan, they just changed some things. So you really can't compare previous years to this year. But yes, it is low.

We received a 70% in the district. I think what is most striking, though, is that we've got schools that are in the 80s. And we've got schools that are in the 20s. And that's very disconcerting for me, as a taxpayer, as a parent, that we have such disparate measures within our school, because while we can't compare year to year, we can compare school to school within the same year. And we need to be doing more for those schools that are hitting those lower marks.

GEISLER: From a board perspective. what do you think you can do to help positively affect this?

HARPER: Well, we need to make sure that we put some more funds into those schools, right? Right now, it's, you know, it's almost even per student. You know, the Title 1 schools need more money. The schools, you know, there are several schools up north, that quite frankly, sometimes in order to achieve equitable education, you need to put extra money into different areas, you know, it doesn't mean, equality doesn't necessarily mean that you're giving everybody the same thing. It's that you're giving everyone enough so that everyone can progress on their educational goals. And that's what we need to be doing in this district.

GEISLER: There were three board members in January who abstained from renewing the superintendent's contract on the grounds that they felt the process was rushed. What do you think about the process of reviewing and evaluating the superintendent's performance when it comes to keeping the superintendent on board?

HARPER: Well, you know, one of the things that the scorecard does is it sets the framework for the district, and they're expected to ensure the district follows that framework. Well, it's pretty bad whenever the district doesn't actually follow its own rules. And they didn't that time because they ... rushed it. Several of the board members hadn't actually done their evaluations, they should have been following their own process, and they were right to abstain until the process is done. They should not have held that vote.

GEISLER: Any other big issues facing the district that you're looking forward to taking on if you're elected?

HARPER: You know, one thing that I've been talking about is financial transparency. We aren't always transparent in our financial matters. I would like to see more financial data online, I would like to see something like the state accountability portal where you can actually search exactly how we are spending our money because as an outsider right now, it's very hard for me to figure out where we're spending our money and whether that's getting our own or asking the state if we can get onto their portal because they've got a local government section.

I would love to see more financial data so that we can be more finding totally transparent.

Article Topic Follows: Your Voice Your Vote

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