An audience of 50 people on April 15 heard from the four Republican candidates running for the District 4 seat on the Fayette County Board of Education. The candidates fielded questions on problems facing the school system, their position on the Common Core standards, their prior board experience, management style and problem resolution approach and their position on district voting.
Candidates for the Post 4 seat include Jane Owens, John Kimbell, Diane Basham and Mindy Fredrickson. Candidates were provided time for opening remarks.
Basham in her opening statement said she is a 30-year resident of Fayette County and had recently retired after 27 years of teaching in the Fayette school system. Prior to her time in education she worked in management and finance. Noting an aspect of the ongoing Fayette Visioning Initiative, Basham referenced the quality and impact of the local school system, both in the past and in the future.
“We’re at a crossroads and we have a number of issues,” Basham said. “As goes the school system, so goes the county.”
Up next, attorney Fredrickson centered her opening remarks on the federal Dept. of Education, with the third largest budget of all federal agencies, and its lack of interface with local school districts and students. Fredrickson said she would partner with state agencies to “prepare students for an excellent future.”
Fredrickson said school systems are big business.
“I have experience at that,” she said in reference to her current employment at Delta.
Also an attorney, Kimbell in his opening statements said he has a vested interest in education given that his wife is a local teacher and their children currently attend elementary, middle and high schools.
“I have the perspective of a small businessman,” Kimbell said, adding his belief that there are two key board priorities. One of those is fiscal responsibility while the other is a vision for the future where students can broaden their horizons by becoming lifelong learners and self-starters.
Owens, a 24-year Fayette resident, said she has taught in public, private schools and home school settings. As a school board member, Owens said she would be accountable to parents.
“I want to continue with what has been done right and move on from there,” she said.
The first of several questions asked candidates their opinion on the most significant problem facing public schools today.
Owens said the school board needs a solid foundation which requires continual review. Noting that much progress has been made in the school system over the years, Owens said, “The classroom is most important. What’s taught is most important.”
She said research on Common Core has opened her eyes on issues such as student testing.
Kimbell in his remarks said the school board should ensure the continuation of the programs which reinforce what has already been created, adding that the board should be judicious with tax dollars.
“The budget is key to service delivery,” Kimbell said. “We need to continue to be the draw we’ve been in the community, with like-minded people and goals.”
Fredrickson in her response said the most important factor facing public schools is academic excellence.
“Finances are also important, but academics are the key to creating an environment that encourages the involvement of parents and the county,’ she said.
Fredrickson said great academic options are also needed, as is having the best teachers and an accompanying compensation structure.
Basham said fiscal responsibility is the most significant problem facing public schools because it fuels the school system. She said the school board built a rainy day fund and committed to keeping it intact.
“With additional funds, they need to go back to the classroom. The goal is world-class education by retaining and recruiting quality teachers,” Basham said, adding the need to be creative in terms of students’ future educational needs.
Candidates in the second question were asked where they stand on Common Core and if they would fight it or support it.
Kimbell said after speaking with his local principal, board members and others he concluded that Common Core is a skeletal framework.
“The danger is not in the structure,” he said, adding the need to give students a similar basis across the county so they can compete in a competitive world. “The danger and the problem is if the skeleton is used by the federal government as a tool to seize power and take control of the education system.”
If that were the case, Kimbell said he would fight and resist it.
Fredrickson in her response said she was told that Fayette always teaches above the standard, though with Common Core “(students) are being evaluated on tests that are untested.”
Fredrickson said perhaps Common Core fits the academic bill, though that outcome is still unknown.
“I don’t want my kids to be lab rats and I will work to bring back local control,” she said.
Basham said local control is the ideal, though it is not going to happen. The more fitting conversation pertains to difference in the Common Core standards and in the curriculum utilized in the classroom, she said.
“We control the curriculum. The curriculum is how we teach our kids,” Basham said. “Are there holes in the standards? Absolutely. Our coordinators are filling in those holes. To be accredited we have to do what the state says we have to do.”
Owens in her response on Common Core said, “When we take money from the federal government there are strings attached. We have to be strong enough to resist.”
Owens suggested that Georgia see what other states are doing and emulate the best of those.
Adding a comment from the audience at the conclusion of the Common Core responses, school board member Bob Todd said the Common Core standards would become an issue if the state “told us how to teach.”
The evening’s third question asked each candidate to comment on their past experience serving on boards and dealing with budgets and how that experience could benefit the school board.
Fredrickson said she had worked with budgets with her school’s PTO and in her home and her department’s budget at Delta.
Basham said she dealt with budget issues while serving on several school system committees, her home budget and, prior to her work in education, she was responsible for budgets in her time in the private sector.
Owens said, as a church staff member since college, she had responsibility for budgets that were modeled on the perspective of having no debt while keeping a sizable rainy day fund.
Kimbell in his response said he has worked with budgets in his church and home, in his Kiwanis organization and in the law practice he has owned since 1998.
The final question asked that candidates explain their management style and to provide an example of the way they resolve conflict.
Basham said though her approach is hard to define, she is a detail person who questions everything. Basham described herself as collaborative and a consensus-builder.
“I believe top-down management doesn’t work,” she said, adding that the people hired should be given the responsibility to help resolve issues.
Owens described herself as a consensus-builder, referencing her 35 years of involvement with children, church groups and volunteers. She said her management approach is one that helps people understand they are important and prompts them to be a part of the plan.
Owens in referencing conflict resolution used an issue that arose with two children.
“I listened to both of them (individually) then got them together. They changed their story and reached consensus,” she said, noting the outcome that can be obtained when people have the opportunity to work together.
Kimbell referencing his management style said he is a “big-picture kind of guy.”
“Policy makers (should not be) micro-managers,” he said, explaining that he does not see the role of a board member as having a day-to-day involvement in the school system. “I see the big picture and cast the vision.”
On conflict resolution, Kimbell said he gathers information and assesses the situation.
“You can get results by sitting down and talking to people. That leads to people building consensus,” he said.
Fredrickson also described herself as a consensus-builder. Her work in employee relations at Delta leads to her working with new hires and executives.
“In my organization, all voices have to be at the table with input,” she said, noting that she manages staff to help them find ways to succeed.
Fredrickson said she leads numerous groups of employees and others, including in mediation efforts, with the goal of organizational success.
A follow-up question from the audience asked if the candidates supported or opposed the recent change to district voting.
Owens said she wondered if district voting would accomplish its primary intention.
“The school board is to represent the whole county since its decisions affect the whole county,” she said. “I think every board member should represent every citizen.”
Basham said her belief is that district voting is a unity issue, not a voting rights issue, adding that school board decisions are made for everyone.
“I think it could create divisiveness and an animosity we don’t need,” Basham said. “(Districting) lends some to serve their district at the potential detriment of other districts by ‘bringing home the bacon.’”
Kimbell in his remarks said the “pork-barrel” in Washington is a way of getting elected.
“It scares me that we will become divided,” he said, noting that while diverse, Fayette County is made up of the same people with the same values in education, churches and youth sports.
“District voting is tinkering with our unity,” he said.
Fredrickson had the final response to the district voting question. Fredrickson said she did not want to put school against school and district against district.
“We need to respect all the people across all districts. School closings were divisiveness enough. Also, I want all your votes. I think you have the right to select all board members and (the federal court decision) has diminished your rights,” Fredrickson said while complimenting the school board on its recent decision to appeal in the district voting case.
The winner of the May 20 primary will face Democratic candidate Ogechi Oparah in the November election.