Perry teacher on campaign trail for 2nd District county commissioner
by Clarke Davis
Wayne Lebetter was suffering a little bit from jetlag Friday, having just arrived home Thursday night from Paris.
The candidate for 2nd District county commissioner was one of several sponsors who took 30 students of the International Club at Perry-Lecompton High School to France for an educational trip.
Ledbetter, 56, has a 35-year teaching career at Perry and will cut back to part-time this fall. He hopes in the meantime to be elected county commissioner.
The Republican candidate has a primany election challenger, Kyle Brown, Meriden.
“I’m serious about this,” he said. “It’s something I really want to do.”
Ledbetter filed in early January and has spent at least an hour with every county department head and elected official in the past few months. His teaching job has prevented him from attending many county commission meetings.
“I’ve been there to learn and become informed about issues,” he said. He has attended various meetings of city councils, water boards, and chambers of commerce as well.
There’s a sign in his classrom, “Knowledge is Power,” and it’s there, he said, because of his belief that people need to be informed.
“I am most impressed with the quality of the people — both elected and appointed — who run Jefferson County. They do an outstanding job,” he said.
In exploring the issues, he found the citizens to be pretty well satisfied for the most part and believes building the economic base is the No. 1 issue.
“That was the top priority when the health department conducted a health assessment of the local community,” he said.
Jefferson County has unique demographics, he said. Of the 105 counties, it’s among the top 29 in population; however, the other 28 all have a city of at least 10,000 population except Cherokee with three or four cities of 3,500 or more.
“That gives us some unique challenges,” he said, noting that he would be a real booster for tackling those economic challenges.
To drive home the importance industry can have on the tax base, he compared the two class 4A schools, Perry-Lecompton and Jefferson West.
He said Jefferson West households have higher medium incomes and higher residential valuations, yet Perry-Lecompton has the highest tax valuation. The latter has the Hamm Companies and a railroad.
For the last several years, Ledbetter has been the school district’s career coordinator, guiding students into various career paths and it put him in close contact with both small and large businesses in the area.
With 67 percent of the workers employed outside of the county real challenges are created for businesses, because it’s just too easy to buy one’s needs in the cities where the people work, he said.
A current trend in business is outsourcing services, which he believes people in rural Jefferson County should tap into. He also talked about temporary warehousing, something that would utilize the many empty structures available in the county.
While some question the return on the money spent for economic development, Ledbetter thinks the county might not have spent enough.
“You can be penny wise and dollar stupid,” he said. “I’m a fiscal conservative, but I believe we need to make a greater effort in doing things that will build the tax base.”
The teacher is a county native raised at Winchester where his parents, Marvin and Lillie Ledbetter, still reside and his father is the mayor. Wayne and his wife, Lynn, are both 1973 graduates of Jefferson County North High School.
The candidate graduated from Emporia State University and has post-graduate college hours from several universities.
“I got a call from the superintendent the night I graduated asking if I wanted to work at Perry,” he said. “It was the only job I have ever interviewed for and this is the only place I’ve ever taught.”
During those years of teaching, he has coached high school teams 25 years and middle school 10 years. He has 89 coaching contracts he keeps for souvenirs. He said he racked up 64,000 miles in bus trips.
“I’m a stickler for details,” he said.
He is most proud of having created the career guidance program along with another teacher 13 years ago. “We were ahead of our time, but knew we were meeting a need for our seniors who were facing some anxiety about their future,” he said.
The state has recently created a career path program that is almost a carbon copy of the local school’s. “I think we did the right thing,” he said.
The Ledbetters have three children and two grandchildren. Their son Mark is a commercial artist in Kansas City, son Aaron, Perry, is a heavy equipment operator, and their daughter, Dana, Lawrence, is a nurse who, along with her husband, own Lake Bound, a business at the entrance to Perry Lake.
“I love Jefferson County. I’ve spent my entire life here,” he said.
If elected to the office of county commissioner, he said he would want services to be top notch and the litmus test for his decisions would be: Does this add or substract from the quality of life for Jefferson countians?
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