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From school projects to arming teachers, county school board candidates take questions from public

Jessica Fuller • Jul 27, 2018 at 12:01 AM

With two-thirds of the Washington County Board of Education seats up for grabs and several issues surrounding the school system, seven of the nine candidates vying for the six school board seats answered questions from the community at a forum hosted by county commission candidate Jodi Jones and the Johnson City Press Thursday night.

Three seats will be on the Aug. 2 ballot for both Districts 1 and 3. Candidates Jason Day, District 1, and Chad Fleenor, District 3, were unable to attend the forum. District 1 candidates Annette Buchanan, Keith Ervin and Kerrie Aistrop and District 3 candidates David Hammond, Donald Feathers, Trevor Knight and Mitch Meredith spent an hour addressing different concerns from the community.

The moderator was Nathan Brand.

• How do you propose to address the needs of Jonesborough Elementary School?

Aistrop: “I’m excited because I feel like we’re actually at the end of this process. We’ve seen many schemes on the Jonesborough school and the only thing I was advocating for was the safety of our environment. A lot of people, including the school board members, they had no idea how bad our school was. ... but we have scheme 6 and they have my blessing on it. They are going to gut all the pipes out, the plan that they have in remodeling it and adding on to the side, and they’re going to take care of all the issues the parents were concerned with.” 

 • The per student rate per Johnson City student is $1,400 higher than one county student. How do we address this gap or how do we provide more equal education to our students? 

Meredith: “As (Ervin) and others have mentioned, there really is no other way to close that gap in the present situation. The City of Johnson City makes a special appropriation to their schools to the tune of about $10 million a year and it’s what effectively creates that $1,400 gap. 

The only way to effectively equalize it is to get down to the nuts and bolts of the (Basic Education Program), which is going to be a legislative issue.”

• How has the school board listened to the community, and how should they listen to the community?

Hammond: “Three or four years ago, when I first came on the board, we had a town hall event at Boones Creek Middle School and listened to the parents. I don’t recall that happening in Jonesborough, to be quite honest with you.

“I think where some criticizing we’re delaying, I look at it that we’re crossing all our Ts and dotting all our Is. We’re not talking about spending $20,000 — we’re looking at spending $20 million-plus dollars, you better take time and think it through and make sure you’re looking at everything.”

• The new board will be electing a new director of schools. What type of leader do you think that person should be?

Aistrop: “I think a leader of a school system, I would prefer them to have been a leader of a school system before. I would also like to see them bring a culture, we can’t pay our teachers the same amount as Johnson City, we know this. So if we can’t pay them, we have to give them a reason to want to stay, so I would like to create a culture of an open-door policy for our teachers.”

• Looking to the future, what do you see the board’s objectives being during your term?

Ervin: “The future, in my opinion, I’m a strong (career technical education) person. We’ve got to teach these kids a trade, not every child is going to go to college.

We’ve also got to teach these kids to read, that’s the most important thing.”

• What is the greatest need for improving education in the county school system?

Buchanan: ”In my opinion, it’s our teacher-student ratio. When you overcrowd our classrooms, you cannot expect these teachers to have the time to spend with every single child every day. The more time they have with each student, that’s your impact right there.”

• With the increasing number of school shootings across the country, the state of Tennessee has proposed legislation to arm teachers in the classroom. What are your thoughts on these proposals and what role do you believe the school board can play in the safety and security of our students?

Knight: ”I think that police presence in every school is important, sure some more extreme measures might need to be more looked into ... I’m for carrying a gun if you want to do that and you have a permit to do that, but for arming all of our teachers, I’ve not been in favor of that as many would not want to do that.”

• What is your response to concerns that your position as the county finance director will be in conflict of interest if elected?

Meredith: “I think you’ve got somebody that understands school finances, you have somebody who has an existing relationship with the county commission and hopefully the new commission, I think it’s a plus-plus, win-win situation for the school board, to be honest with you. It’s not a conflict of interest, my job as finance director is basically to make sure we make payroll, we pay vendors ... I see no conflict whatsoever.”

• Nepotism and patronage is rampant in Washington County. What are the county’s plans for developing a nepotism policy?

Feathers: We’ve got to get rid of these ‘Good Ol’ Boy’ networks ... I have no problem hiring a family member if they’re qualified for that position, if they meet the criteria, give it to them. But just hiring somebody as a family member ... that’s not right, we need to stop that.”

• What is your opinion on funding the sports complex over money for classrooms?

Hammond: “I’m an advocate of (sports), but first and foremost, we must make sure the classroom is covered, period, and that’s from payroll to facilities.

Education is the business we’re in, and that has to be first and foremost.”

Email Jessica Fuller at [email protected] Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.

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