Nine Johnson City Board of Education candidates spent nearly 90 minutes Monday evening fielding questions from the community regarding the state of education in Tennessee and the challenges the local system faces during the first public forum ahead of the April 23 Municipal Election.
The forum was held at Towne Acres Elementary School and was sponsored by the Johnson City Council of PTAs and the Towne Acres PTA.
Seven candidates are seeking four four-year terms, and two candidates are seeking the two-year unexpired term left by Jenny Brock, who is running for a seat on the City Commission.
Candidates for the four-year seats include incumbents Chairwoman Kathy Hall, Vice Chairman Richard Manahan and Tom Hager. Newcomers John Hunter, a local banker; Jonathan Kinnick, a local business owner; Kenneth “Herb” Greenlee, Carver Recreation Center supervisor; and Mahmood “Michael” Sabri, an associate professor at Northeast State Community College; also are vying for four-year terms.
Board Secretary Sheila Cox is vacating her four-year seat for the two-year unexpired term, while newcomer James Povlich, a father of three and graduate of East Tennessee State University, also is seeking the two-year term.
After each candidate introduced themselves to the small crowd, questions from the audience were read to the candidates.
Topics ranged from school safety and funding to maintaining high teacher salaries and improving academic achievement.
The following questions and answers were taken from the forum:
Q: What do you think are the main issues facing the school board?
Hunter: “As a banker in the community, I understand how to read a balance sheet. We’re talking 45 percent of the city’s budget is made up of the education system — $60 million. That’s a pretty big responsibility, and they’ve done a great job. I think I’ve got some fresh ideas that would be a benefit.”
Sabri: “One of the issues that I see ... is that we have heard more than once that we are the second best system in the state. That’s great. Excellent job. The problem with that is when you talk about the second best, people want to know who is the first.”
Kinnick: “There are some items in the budget that really need to be moved to recurring costs. We keep pulling out of fund balance or other ways to manufacture to pay for them one year at a time. They’re really recurring items.”
Q: Please describe your thoughts on controlling school violence at the local level.
Povlich: “I don’t know that you can ever prevent that. I think we can do the best that we can and continue to strive to improve student awareness, as well as teacher awareness, of potential dangers.”
Cox: “We are very fortunate to have received a grant called the HEROES Grant and right now that has just worked beautifully in many different ways, however that grant is running out and we’re having to try to find other sources to fund all that this grant provided us.”
Q: Does the board feel the responsibility to help the impoverished and economically disadvantaged students over and above what is required by the state?
Manahan: “I think our administration of teachers and everybody does an outstanding job on that, and it’s one that I know the board in talking to each one of the board members, and they’re all outstanding board members, they are very sensitive and very in tune to that issue.”
Greenlee: “Yes, they are. Sometimes we get in that situation where we don’t work with everybody at one time and there’s a lot of kids that just need help, cause before or after school they don’t get all that help, and that’s where after-school programs are very important in our system, because it helps with the reading and all of the things that they need to be doing to get ahead.”
Q: There’s a great concern for teachers to adapt to changes in our educational programs. What plans would you make to provide training for teachers?
Hall: “The more support we can give our teachers, the better. We do that in some ways with our academic coaches that are very successful in our system to help our teachers to make sure they are staying up to date on strategies, but also looking forward to this Common Core (curriculum), we need to do professional development as much as we can to make sure our teachers are up to date with what they need to be successful.”
Sabri: “I would like to see what changes the teachers need to implement. Before that, it’s hard to say. Again, as far as I’m concerned, we have the best teachers, we have the best environment, and we have the best system even if we are ranked No. 2.”
Q: Since Tennessee accepted Race to the Top funding, school districts are required to implement Common Core standards. If given the option, would you continue to support the implementation of these standards?
Hager: “My feeling is and was for some reason we’re trying to put all students in the same basket and not all students can learn the same ... but it appears the Common Core is trying to prepare all students to go to college when in reality not all students want to go to college or should go to college.”
Another school board forum is scheduled today at 2 p.m. at the Memorial Park Community Center.
The event is sponsored by the Johnson City Senior Services Advisory Council and the Johnson City Senior Center Foundation.