March 22, 2007

Candidates Forum Gives Voters Insight on Upcoming SCR-I School Board Election

With the April election looming, eight candidates for the Scotland County R-I Board of Education took part in a March 19th public forum at the SCR-I high school sponsored by the Scotland County Community Teachers Association.

Following the introduction of each candidate, the CTA asked a series of seven questions, offering each candidate an opportunity to reply.

Candidate Doug Byrn, a lineman with Tri-County Electric Cooperative, was on-call for his job and had to leave prior to the start of the questions.

The first question asked by the CTA was:

“What influenced your decision to run for the school board and what qualities set you apart from the other candidates?”

The bulk of the candidates responded that they had kids in the system and wanted to do their part to help provide the best education possible.

Candidate Bill Cottrell set himself apart from the other candidates with his response. The former SCR-I teacher stated, “This was a personal decision. It was a decision based on what transpired last fall,” referring to a review of his conduct by the board of education that ultimately led to his resignation at midterm.

Question two asked the candidates “What do you see as the primary challenge facing the school district during the next five years?”

Incumbent Doug Shalley set the stage for the answer. Shalley pointed to declining enrollment as the largest concern.

“This year we are going to have roughly 50 graduates and enrollment for next year’s incoming kindergarten class is around 30,” he said. Shalley added that estimates say this trend could continue the next three to five years, making declining enrollment the biggest concern.

Question three forced the candidates to decide “What do you feel is the most important question that a school board candidate should answer this evening?”

The candidates agreed that motivations for running for the office were key information for prospective voters.

“The people need to know where we stand, what our interests are and what is important to us in our decision making process,” stated candidate Teresa Creek.

The candidates were then asked “If schools can’t do everything that is being asked of them, what should be the first to go?”

Education was the top priority of all the candidates.

“We want to keep what we have,” said David Kirkpatrick. “With declining enrollment, cuts might have to be made through classroom reductions, or the elimination of a bus route.”

Other candidates noted that extra-curricular activities would have to be considered for cuts if budget needs necessitated such a move.

Chris Montgomery said he would not be too quick to make such a move.

“I’ve known some kids that were in school just for the extra curriculars,” he said. “You take sports away from those kids and they may not have been here.”

When asked what specific goals and plans they had to maintain and improve the quality of education in this district, the candidates pointed to the staff.

“A good staff is paramount to a good education,” said Cottrell.

Creek noted that continuing access to improved technology is important while Stacy Alexander stated he would like to see the district replace retiring instructors with experienced educators instead of recent graduates.

The candidates were asked how they felt board members could best receive input from the staff and the community.

Kirkpatrick and Shalley both pointed to the district’s long-range planning committee that includes both faculty members as well as a number of citizens.

They all agreed that it is important to be accessible to the community, maintaining an open door for communication.

“You have to listen carefully, and maintain an open mind,” Alexander stated. “You have to listen to both sides in order to have all the information to make the best decision.”

The final question allowed the candidates to highlight an instance when the current school board did or did not meet the individual’s expectations.

Some questions were raised about the district’s plans to spend $1.8 million on HVAC upgrades to the campus.

Rader stated he attended several meetings and was impressed with the board members’ decision making process and the quantity and quality of questions that were asked of the prospective contractors for the project.

Cottrell stated he was disappointed in the board’s decision last fall regarding his resignation.

“They heard, but did not listen,” Cottrell said. “The ag program was hurt by this decision, the community was hurt by this decision and it is going to take a whole lot to recover.”

Kirkpatrick stated he felt the current board has worked well together highlighting the replacement of the roofs at both schools, new bleachers in the gym and at the football field, air conditioning at the North School and the implementation of Smartboard technology.

Each candidate had two minutes for a closing statement.

Montgomery stated he enjoyed his time at SCR-I and wished to get back involved.

Shalley pointed to his six years experience as a reason to vote for him.

Alexander said he wanted to help make his home an even better place to live. He related a higher-paid job offer in Columbia that he turned down because he wanted to raise his children here.

Cottrell pointed out that his decision to run was based on his relationship with the board stemming from his resignation last fall. He pointed to nepotism on the board and made a number of other complaints regarding past decisions by the administration before his two-minute time limit expired.

Kirkpatrick pointed to his personal values as well as experience on the board that had taught him fiscal responsibility and highlighted the importance of a good education.

Creek said she was seeking election because she wished to serve on the board and in the community because this is where she will raise her three children.

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