A former Kansas lawmaker who admitted to abusive behavior toward women and was arrested twice while in office only needs to finish in fourth place to land a spot on the Turner USD 202 school board.
Former state Rep. Aaron Coleman is the only newcomer facing four current board members in the Nov. 7 election. In the Turner school district, all candidates are elected at-large, meaning each member represents the whole district and all five candidates compete for the same four spots.
Coleman, then 19, won a surprise victory in a 2020 Democratic primary. That left him unopposed in the general election for a seat in the Kansas House.
His bid for reelection failed in 2022 after a term filled with allegations of his past abuse — some of which he admitted — and with more incidents including two arrests, a legislative inquiry, being banned from a state building and accusations that he stalked and threatened government officials and staffers.
Coleman and incumbent Daniel Soptic were the only Turner school board candidates to complete a Kansas City Beacon questionnaire about their policy positions and priorities.
The other three candidates — Bryan Fishbaugh, Theresa Tillery and Becky Billigmeier — did not explain their lack of response.
Meet the candidates
Bryan Fishbaugh, a current school board member, did not respond to the questionnaire. He does not appear to have an active website or a campaign on social media. On his personal Facebook page, he described himself as a lifelong Turner resident whose sons graduated from Turner and whose grandchildren will attend as well. He encouraged voters to support the incumbent candidates.
Occupation: Law enforcement
Background and qualifications: Lifelong Turner resident and graduate. I have served on several boards in my community. I have experience in local government and make all my decisions based on what’s best for the families and children of Turner. Graduate degree from KU.
Favorite school-related event: Attending sporting events, particularly football games
Favorite subject in school: History
Theresa Tillery, the Turner school board president, did not respond to the questionnaire. She does not appear to have an active website or a campaign on social media.
Becky Billigmeier, a current board member, did not respond to the questionnaire. She does not appear to have an active website or campaign social media.
During a previous election cycle, Billigmeier told Wyandotte Daily that she was retired and first ran for school board in 2011. Her top campaign issue was “the success of every Turner student” and she said cuts to the district’s budget would be devastating. Her LinkedIn account lists her work experience as a principal in the Turner School District until 2012.
Background and qualifications: Elected in 2020, I declared my independence from the political machine in Topeka. I didn’t care what the party bosses thought. That scared them. My bravery had led me onto a path of honorable representation on behalf of Turner. I stand by my record.
Favorite school-related event: Turner aquatic center
Favorite subject in school: Currently in college math is my favorite.
Candidates were given a choice between two options for each question and allowed space to explain their responses. Those who skipped a multiple-choice question or indicated in their written response that they did not agree with either choice are marked as “neither.” Those who skipped a question entirely or did not respond to the survey are marked “no response.”
Soptic: We pass a budget each year that properly funds our district and provides students the needed tools to be successful. However, there will always be a need to work toward salaries that are competitive and allow us to hire and retain quality staff.
Coleman: Of course we need to spend more on schools. We don’t even fully fund special education. As a former SPED student myself, I know the harm that can be done if a child doesn’t have those resources. I will champion discussions to increase funding.
Soptic: Board members should be involved because they feel a need to serve, not because they are trying to supplement their income or use the district as a revenue source.
Coleman: I’m not sure about pay (stipend/salary). But I believe more importantly we should offer health care to our board members or the compensation to enroll into a plan. We would probably see more qualified candidates running if we had this already.
Soptic: I believe our district policy on our allowed books selections works as designed and allows staff to visit this issue as needed and address as needed. No changes are needed.
Coleman: N/A. I haven’t heard any current concerns.
Including LGBTQ students
Soptic: Our district makes it a priority to ensure all students are comfortable at school. School districts have to remember what they are for and that is to educate students.
Coleman: While I will continue to champion mental health awareness, the state of Kansas limits what would be possible on the issue of school board LGBTQ issues. Nasty laws have been passed to harm our community.
If elected to the Turner school board, what would you do to improve outcomes for students in your district?
Soptic: I always advocate we provide the best educational opportunities for our students. One way is to ensure we are competitive with salaries for our staff and work to pay teachers what they deserve. That, coupled with students taking responsibility for their educational future, is a winning combination.
- Champion discussions on bullying/mental health.
- Ensure no student has to suffer like I did in elementary.
- A generally more productive option on the board (i.e. Rooftop solar to save on electricity).
What is your biggest concern about the school board’s recent decisions or actions?
Soptic: I have no concerns about any of our recent decisions.
Coleman: The lack of discussion about bullying and behavioral problems needs to be addressed by the board. When elected I will use my personal story and professional experience to champion this issue.
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