|School board hopefuls address SURG|
|Wednesday, June 13, 2012|
Several current and aspiring school board members running in late August’s local elections attended a forum hosted by Sumner United for Responsible Government (SURG) members. Current members Tim Brewer (District Two), Glen Gregory (District Ten), and Ted Wise (District Eight) appeared before the politically conservative group, alongside challengers Tony Jackson (District Two) and Teddy Baird (District Ten). Ted Wise’s challenger, Nathan Miller, was not in attendance, and all other school board seats are either uncontested or not up for elections this year.
The forum covered a wide range of topics, from alternatives to college to the quality of education at the national and local levels, with each candidate addressing the audience in turn.
After affirming his Christian faith, life in the community, and fiscal conservatism, Brewer focused on his record on the school board. “I’ve been an advocate on accountability from day one,” said Brewer, who also touted his votes on a policy allowing parents to opt their children out of controversial topics discussed at school, new cost-saving measures, and new parent notification systems for emergencies, school lunches, and attendance.
Ted Wise also affirmed his Christian belief, but took a different tact than Brewer’s address. “I’m not going to stand here and tell you what I’ve promoted or I’ve done... because the school board as well as the county commission as any elected office operates as a majority. And what I’ve done... is not what’s important. What’s important is what’s best for the children.”
Wise, who has been a vocal advocate for Sumner’s underprivileged students, did point out the board’s recent decision to provide more meals to students whose family cannot afford the meals.
Challenger Tony Jackson moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Hendersonville several years ago for the small town feel and strong schools. He said he was running because he is “becoming increasingly concerned about the state of affairs in the school system,” and that he felt the reputation of the schools had become “tarnished.” He specifically cited the “strained relationships” between the county commission and board of education. Although he did not name any names, he targeted “some board members” for what he felt were poor attendance and voting records, and unavailability to school officials.
He shared his vision for a nonpartisan, more transparent board with a better relationship with the county commission.
The reporter was not present for the introductions of Teddy Baird or Glen Gregory.
The first question regarded the plan by school officials to institute themed academies at each of Sumner’s High School. Each school would have an academy which focused on exposing students to a particular vocation. All the candidates expressed cautious optimism about the program, and all agreed that students needed an alternative path besides the college preparatory path.
Gregory spoke mainly of Portland High Schools industrial-focused academy, and how the program works well with the area’s local industrial businesses. He felt the academy system would fill a knowledge gap for many Sumner students. “They’re doing very well academically but they’re not trained to do the jobs in our industry or business.”
With the first public draft school budget less than a week old, the next question posed to the candidates concerned school spending and efficiency. Jackson described the task of balancing the currently $7.2 million out of balance budget as “daunting.” He felt the solution was a better relationship between the county commission, which must approve the budget, and the school board which drafts the budget.
Despite the staunchly conservative audience, the sitting board members maintained that the draft budget was as lean as it could get without affecting the quality of education. Wise described the budget process over his four years on the board as “cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. If we cut again we’re probably going to bleed to death... We have to invest in our children. We have to.”
Brewer echoed Wise’s points. “The question comes to the point: well, how much more can we cut?” Any more cuts, says Brewer, and people will begin to lose jobs. Brewer sympathized with the county commission and the pressures to keep taxes low, “but we’ve got to find a way to fund the schools.” Brewer pointed out that Sumner spends less per student than any surrounding county.
by Corey Conley