After serving three years on the Manhattan-Ogden school board, Aaron Estabrook is running to represent the 6th district of the State Board of Education.
Estabrook, the executive director of the Save Kansas Coalition and a K-State alum, said he is running as an independent because he believes education should be nonpartisan and because the parties have become too polarized.
“I want to solve problems,” Estabrook said. “I like to work with people. I don’t really care if they’re Republicans or Democrats. As long as they want to do some good work, they can come and help.”
Estabrook said local school board members don’t play politics when making decisions.
“We’re looking at what’s best for the district, what’s best for the kids and what’s the least expensive way to do it,” Estabrook said.
He also said the State Board of Education should delegate more authority to the local boards.
“The local boards should be where most of the authority, the final say, happens,” Estabrook said. “I believe in local control.”
Estabrook said it is more common for State Board of Education members to be former state legislators than to be former local Board of Education members.
His opponent is incumbent Deena Horst, of Salina, a retired teacher and former state legislator.
Estabrook said in his experience, Horst did not do a good job of communicating with local board members.
“I reached out (to Horst) numerous times as a local board member,” Estabrook said. “I’ve emailed her a handful of times … and never got a response. I’ve called her and left some messages and never got a response. It wasn’t until I started campaigning that she actually engaged me.”
Estabrook said Horst has been ineffective.
“We’ve had critical years regarding the history of Kansas education in the last four years,” Estabrook said. “We’ve had some huge, huge things happen — we almost had the schools shut down this summer. She hasn’t commented that I know of publicly, and she sure wasn’t leading any kind of effort during that time.”
The 6th district map includes all or part of 24 counties in northeast and north-central Kansas.
If elected, Estabrook promised to be an “open, transparent two-way street” between school districts and the state board and a “champion of teachers.”
Estabrook has never been a teacher himself, other than training other soldiers while in the military.
“I’ve never been a educator really in any capacity other than in the military as a noncommissioned officer I would do training, I would teach my soldiers,” Estabrook said. “That’s a little more effective because I can make them do pushups and all kinds of stuff.”
Employees of a school district are not legally allowed to serve as members of the local school board. Even so, Estabrook said a Board of Education should not be comprised solely by former educators.
“It’s good to have a few people looking at our schools that aren’t teachers,” Estabrook said. “Teachers are overly critical of themselves, just like anybody that does their job well, they don’t see things necessarily that maybe somebody outside of teaching would see and value.”
He also said more than just teachers should be involved in local education decisions.
“If (only) the teachers were running education, it wouldn’t truly be a citizen public education system,” Estabrook said. “You want to have parents involved, you want to have taxpayers involved and of course teachers.”
Estabrook’s campaign website, http://www.aaronestabrook.com/, contains greater detail on his views. One of them is early education for all Kansas children.
He said the state should provide public preschool for all 4-year-olds in the state. He said Oklahoma, which has done so for 17 years, has a strong program.
“The research is overwhelming, (investments in early education is) the best investment we can do,” Estabrook said.
He said investing in early education saves money in the long run.
“Kids are sponges, they learn so much in those first few years that if you can just kind of make sure it’s constructive rather than watching something on an iPad that has nothing to do with their learning habit, you can direct that curiosity and really shape it into something that’s going to help them the rest of their lives,” Estabrook said.
While Estabrook said he did not know how much money would be necessary to start the program, he said $15-20 million would be available if Gov. Sam Brownback signed the application that has already been completed.
“Some of our lawmakers will tell me that they didn’t have kindergarten when they went to school, so why should we have preschool,” Estabrook said. “Well, things change.”
One of those changes, Estabrook said, is there are few families that can afford to have the mother stay home with the children and prepare them for first grade.
“We live in a different America now where both parents are working, and they have to pay their house payment or to pay their rent,” Estabrook said. “It’s not that the parents don’t care about their kids; they do.”
This is an area where Estabrook said the government can do a better job with incentives for people.
“The incentives are backwards,” Estabrook said. “We’re more likely to pay somebody to stay at home and do nothing than we are for them to work and invest in their kids and a preschool program. That doesn’t make sense.”
On school funding, Estabrook said the new formula should start with the old formula. He said the old formula only needed a few tweaks and more funding and that most experts estimate an additional $500-900 million per year is needed to make the funding adequate in the eyes of the Kansas Supreme Court.
“What they’re really saying is that’s how much we have been getting screwed for the last however many years,” Estabrook said. “Our teachers do more with less than anyone else in the country.”
Estabrook said the top concern of the local teachers he has talked with is they are tired of doing more with less and not feeling respected and valued.
“They want to get paid more, but they don’t do it for the money,” Estabrook said. “They do it because it’s a calling, it’s a public service, similar to what I experienced in the military. Soldiers don’t join the military for the money; teachers don’t teach for the money. They do it because they care.”
Still, there is a teacher shortage in the state, Estabrook said. And to compound the problem, there are fewer education majors at Kansas universities.
“I would like somebody to be representing this whole district, all 63 school districts, with a lot more passion, a lot more invested — I have kids in schools — and just the backbone and the courage to stand up to the Legislature that I’ve already been doing from the local level for three and a half years now. To tell Gov. Brownback, to tell legislators, when they’re wrong, but also be willing to work with them when they’re right.”
Editor’s note: Candidates for political office representing the Manhattan area may contact the Collegian to set up an interview at firstname.lastname@example.org.