By MARINA WATERS
Early voting is underway in Washington County and the ballot includes nine candidates aiming to clinch one of six seats as a Washington County Board of Education member.
To better inform readers, the Herald & Tribune asked each candidate the following question: In your opinion, what is the most important issue related to the Washington County School System and how do you plan on addressing it?
Each candidate was asked to respond to the question using 250 words or less. The following candidates responded to the Herald & Tribune by press time. Any remaining candidates who respond to the Herald & Tribune will be published in next week’s edition.
Kerrie Aistrop, District 1
In my opinion, one of the biggest issues with our school system is the relationship between school board members and county commission. This large issue has caused many issues with funding for school security, teacher raises, bus driver raises, technical schools and capital projects. To be an effective board member, you have to put your personal feelings and agendas aside. You have to come together and put student safety and education first.
If I am elected, I will strive to make every effort in voting for students and teachers, not myself. When we all work together for the kids, we can create a school system that can be safe, and create a future for these kids.
Annette Buchanan, District 1
There is certainly not one main, important issue facing our county at the present. We have many issues at hand. One of the issues I feel is important is teacher/student ratio. For the teachers to be effective and our students to succeed, we must keep the classroom numbers low. I have shared this concern with the interim director of schools and will continue to voice my concern in the future. Another issue is unfunded mandates from the state. I would like to express to the law makers what a strain it puts on our budget. I also hope that I can be a part of forming a new, healthy relationship with the commission, reaching out on a regular basis and communicating with each other on a professional level.
Jason Day, District 1
In my opinion the most critical issue facing our school system today is the security of our children. As a father of four I have learned that our most precious possessions are our children. They are the future of our community and of our nation. They deserve the ability, not just the ability but the right, to learn in a safe environment, an environment that allows them to flourish as individuals and to meet their true potential.
Fear has become a real problem in the society we live in today, and I hope to eliminate that fear from the hearts and minds of our children in the school and in the classroom. We take for granted that the rural area we live in is a place where the evil deeds we see in other areas cannot and will not happen. One violent act is one too many and has the potential to destroy the fragile heart of a child. Therefore, I would recommend increasing the security on every campus, starting with a full time SROs in each of our schools, increased security and surveillance on campus grounds, and active shooter training for our staff. I would also implement a partnership with local law enforcement in the tragic event that a dangerous scenario unfolds. There would be many important improvements I would love to see and safety education and awareness outside our classroom for our kids is another. Education is important, but education without safety is a chance I am not willing to take
Chad Fleenor, District 3
The biggest issues we have are the Jonesborough School and the bus drivers. First, the Jonesborough school, it’s definitely time we fix the sewage issues and update what they currently have. I have seen the six different proposals. I would like to get the costs down and get the McCoy property so we aren’t landlocked. If we can’t get what we need under our cost, then we need to build in phases. We can’t build something just to get it under budget and not get our needs met.
Secondly, our bus driver situation. It’s clear that more than half of our drivers are unhappy and upset. I haven’t heard each individual story, but when almost half come to a board meeting, it’s clear there is a problem. I would let them have a voice, and then recommend Interim Director Dr. Flanary fix the problem. They are the first ones most of the kids see in the morning, and we trust them with our children’s lives. It’s an important job! I would be honored to serve our community as a school board member.
David Hammond, District 3
There are many pressing issues facing our school system from capital projects (including Jonesborough School) to funding unfunded state and federal mandates.
The issue of selecting a permanent school director will face the new school board in the upcoming months.
If returned to the board, I will strive to make sure the individual is accountable to, not only the board, but our entire community. The next director must have an open door policy for ALL and promote the entire system.
I will strive to make sure the next director focuses on vocational programs as well as college-ready programs. Vocational school funding and up-grades to prepare students to be career ready is a pressing issue.
I will do everything I can to make sure the next director is more about promoting our students, staff and school system than promoting their career. People first, promoting our system, and implementing board policies should be the director’s focus, not politics.
Mitch Meredith, District 3
There are many important issues — declining enrollment, substandard teacher pay, substandard classroom environments, workforce preparedness/economic development, County Commission relationship and state testing requirements. But the overarching issue is our Board’s lack of a shared strategic vision. It must be defined with one-year, five-year and 10-year goals. We need to know where we are going so we can begin to make the tactical decisions that will get us there. For example, as a County Commissioner, I fully supported the Washington County Board of Education’s commitment for classroom technology enhancements (audio systems, Cleartouch panels and one-to-one use of Chromebooks) by voting to provide additional technology funding.
I also helped craft a plan that would meet the BOE’s capital needs for the next 10 years, including the Jonesborough schools. Four years ago, the BOE had a plan to correct the problems at Jonesborough. That plan changed. Then changed again. And now it is still undecided with six different versions. All the while, costs have escalated and children have been negatively impacted. I am the only sitting county commissioner ever to relinquish his seat to serve on the BOE. I understand the commission’s concerns and believe I am the best choice to help bridge the gulf that has developed between the two elected bodies. Facing a stagnant tax base, the BOE, administration and commission must work together to provide exceptional educational value and economic prosperity to the taxpayers of Washington County. The taxpayers of Washington County deserve nothing less.
Early voting started on Friday, July 13 and will continue through Saturday, July 28. Early voting is held Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. The general election and final day to vote will be held on Thursday, Aug. 2.
For more information go to http://wcecoffice.com/