Fayette Board of Education Republican runoff Post 4 candidate Diane Basham responds to questions from The Citizen

Fayette Board of Education Post 4 Republican runoff candidate Diane Basham. File photo.

The July 22 Republican runoff election for the District 4 seat on the Fayette County Board of Education is just two weeks away. To give voters the opportunity to hear from the candidates, The Citizen asked Jane Owens and Diane Basham to respond to seven questions with short answers of 100 words or less to each query.

Below are the questions and the responses from candidate Diane Basham.

1. Given that Coweta County operates a significantly larger school system (expenses for next year of $173 million compared to Fayette’s $170.5 million) and yet has a lower millage rate (18.59 mills), it appears on the surface that Coweta spends money more efficiently. What is your opinion on this? And at what point and under what conditions would you support a reduction in the millage rate to Fayette taxpayers?

Basham: “Comparing two school districts is, at best, a complex issue. Compared to Coweta County we spend more per student to maintain a lower pupil-teacher ratio, we have expanded programs for gifted and AP classes in the high schools and we have made a commitment to smaller populations in our high schools. Coweta has three (high schools) and Fayette has five,” said Basham. “These choices have been made with community support. Fayette County priorities are to continue to maintain the system quality, restore some austerity cuts and raise teacher salaries to a competitive level. Once these goals have been accomplished, I will support any millage rollback that can be afforded. However, we can certainly benefit from analyzing how Coweta and other county’s schools function. Furthermore, we should audit all positions in the school system to maximize our efficient use of resources. Since personnel costs make up almost 90 percent of our regular budget, we should always be looking for areas to be consolidated in order to streamline the operation of our system.”

2. What do you see as the role of a school board member?

Basham: “As a school board member I am entrusted with two of our community’s most important assets, their children and their money. Every child must be afforded the best educational experience to be career or college ready and to be prepared for their role as productive, responsible 21st century citizens. I will work closely with the school administration and other board members to continually review and adjust current programs to provide the needed rigor for raising student achievement,” Basham said. “Any new programs must be carefully studied before implementation. Research-proven ‘best practices’ and input from school administrators, teachers and parents must be used to ensure that tax dollars are spent in the most efficient and effective way. We must also work to maintain a competitive work environment for student success by retaining and recruiting quality personnel.”

3. Describe the areas of your background and competency in developing the school system’s budget.

Basham: “Before beginning my teaching career, I worked in the private sector for 15 years in the areas of management and finance. My responsibilities there included assisting in fiscal year budget development and forecasting, as well as managing my department’s strict compliance with the budget. As an economics teacher in Fayette County, I presented to the board on several occasions about issues with the system’s budget. I emphasized to my students the importance of fiscal responsibility. Each of my students was assigned a personal budget project as a practical experience to accomplish this goal. Sound fiscal management and being a good steward of the taxpayer’s dollars is one of the most important responsibilities of a board member. Although it is not the responsibility of a board member to implement programs, we can ask if a program is really worth the cost and whether it truly will be effective. All programs should be evaluated on an on-going basis,” Basham said.

4. Given the continued decline in student enrollment since 2007 (approx. 22,300 kids) compared to today (approximately 20,200), what do you see happening with school system enrollment and how will you respond to it?

Basham: “Over the past seven years the average student population in Fayette County has declined at a rate of about 300 students per year. If the current trends continue, I would expect enrollments to plateau or decline somewhat. Although population has increased, the demographics of Fayette County have also changed,” said Basham. “I am optimistic that we can reverse this trend as the county realizes the economic impact of Pinewood Studios, the establishment of colleges and universities, the announced manufacturing expansions and relocations and the potential for a surge in new jobs. More affordable housing and amenities need to be provided so Fayette County can once again be an attractive location for young professionals to live, work and raise their families. As a school system, it is absolutely essential that we watch enrollment carefully and base hiring decisions accordingly. Our goal is to continue the high rates of student achievement, cultural programs,and extra-curricular activities that have been the magnet that will lead families to live and work here.”

5. What is your philosophy on redistricting?

Basham: “Redistricting should occur as infrequently as possible with the fewest student and family disruptions. Students and their families create strong ties with friends, teachers and extra-curricular activities within their school. The school board must work collaboratively to maintain a clear line of communication with local and county officials, developers and real estate companies to have a distinct picture of how planned development will impact our schools. Because a change in schools disrupts lives, the school board must keep parents informed and formulate a long-term plan, with the input of stakeholders, so that families can be part of the process. As a school board, we have an obligation to offer all students a safe, healthy learning environment that over-populated schools simply cannot provide,” Basham said.

6. In terms of your political philosophy, to whom do you owe your first allegiance: school system employees, voters and taxpayers, or the children.

Basham: “Our children are our future. My first allegiance is always to the students we serve. My goal is, and always has been, to foster an appropriate learning environment for all our children. We owe it to every student who graduates from a Fayette County school to explore all avenues in order for them to be prepared to pursue the career of their choice. To ensure the best education for our children, we must recruit and retain competent employees. As a result, the voters/taxpayers are well-served by a school system that provides the best schools possible,” said Basham.

7. The final question dealt with the candidate’s response to a recent letter from a member of a parent booster group who made claims about Basham and urged parents to vote for Owens.

Basham: “Given my support of students, and my time as a teacher in Fayette County, it should be obvious that this information is inaccurate. Fine arts are exceedingly important. Many budding artists and actors find their passion in our fine arts programs. Music, drama, art and extracurricular activities are all vital to the development of well-rounded students and to suggest that I believe otherwise is simply false. Educational research supports my personal belief that the benefits of music and fine art programs reach far beyond the classroom. Students who have music instruction do better in math, have fewer discipline problems and show better time management skills,” Basham said. “Fayette County schools pride themselves on offering a comprehensive curriculum, one that includes core classes, fine arts programs and extracurricular activities. As a board member I commit to looking at all fine arts and extracurricular programs and making responsible choices. As additional funding becomes available, we must prioritize reinstituting programs that were eliminated due to austerity cuts.”

[Diane Basham, 65, is a 30-year resident of Fayette County who recently retired after 27 years teaching in the Fayette County School System.

Before her time in education she worked in the finance department with Micronics International. Prior to that time Basham worked in the hotel industry.

Basham graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University. Her master’s and specialist degrees were earned at the University of West Georgia.]

ginga1414
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BOE Candidates Diane Basham and Jane Owens

It is more than apparent that BOE candidate Diane Basham is far and away the best qualified candidate.

I was very impressed with Ms. Basham's knowledge and evaluations of the Fayette School System and that of Coweta County. From her evaluation, it is easy to see that Fayette County is accomplishing a great deal more for our students with less money than Coweta County.

A school system cannot be run effectively unless the board members are very experienced with managing a budget as large as that of Fayette County.

With Ms. Basham's 15 years experience in management, finance, budget development and forecasting, she is highly more qualified as a BOE member than Ms. Owens.

In her position as an economics teacher for Fayette County, Diane Basham has cared enough about our school system to address our school system budget with the BOE.

Comparatively speaking, Ms. Owens experience as a music teacher offers nothing in the way of financial qualifications to run an entire school system.

Based upon her knowledge and budgetary qualifications, Ms. Basham is my choice for the Post 4 position on our school board.

Spyglass
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Diane Basham is also my choice..

She was my Son's teacher here in PTC. I too will be voting for her.

NUK_1
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ginga: whoa

I'm not going to dispute the Fayette vs. Coweta school systems because right now, Fayette is still slightly ahead. The claim that FC does it with "less money" isn't true at all. Coweta has about 25% more population than FC and also at least 15% more students, yet their budgets are similar.

The cost of what Coweta spends per student and what FC does is not a good comparison at all for Fayette as FC obviously spends a lot more per student, and then especially when the previously incompetent BOE hit the ceiling on the millage rate years ago and cannot raise taxes any longer and Coweta actually can (and will).

I think Basham is a good candidate also, but not because of anything to do with Coweta schools in comparison to Fayette. That's a non-issue to me.

NeilSullivan
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NUK some disagreement

Hey NUK

Can't comment on County population, but as far as school FTE Coweta had 1,521 more FTEs in 2013 or 7.4%. For finances in 2013, Coweta received approximately $3.5M in state funds for special education (on approximately 350 kids ) than Fayette. In addition, Coweta had $3M less in funds taken for the 5 Mils fair share taken in 2013 versus Fayette. I would like to welcome Coweta to the 10% "wealthiest" school ssytems in the state. That cost them approx 5 - 6 M per annum.

When you look at the cost per pupil,the significant difference in spending per pupil is in the area of "instruction" where Fayette spent $657 more per pupil that Coweta. That is a cost difference I am willing to make. I don't have 2014 numbers yet, but I think it will be interesting to see what the numbers look at after closing 4 schools, getting rid of 1st grade parapros, and increasing class sizes.

In QBE funding, lower grades get higher funding, and it tapers as a student gets to bigger class size in middle and high school. Nearly 60% of Fayette students are 6th grade and higher in 2013 while slighly more than 50% of Coweta students are at the same point. The funding mechanisim is set against us to begin with and then the State Legislature has taken more than $100M from Fayette Schools through austerity cuts while growing their back door voucher program.

I disagree with your comment about Fayette being slightly ahead in academics. It really depends on your metric but Fayette is usually much better than Coweta on things like the CCRT. There was an article that Coweta had closed the SAT gap a while back but when I dug at the numbers it appeared that there was a significant gap in the percentage of the population of juniors and seniors taking the exam. Coweta has good schools for sure, but on a pure county to county basis on perfromance, our peer group tends to include Columbia and Forsyth counties. Ironically, Forsyth is now headed by Dr Jeff Bearden.

ginga1414
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Neil Sullivan, Very Helpful Figures

Thanks so much for posting the figures.

NUK_1
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Neil: No argument from me

I just don't think Coweta vs. Fayette is a really good comparison of two school systems, though obviously they border each other. Coweta still has a way to go all-around to get to Fayette's level overall. The 20+million renovation of East Coweta HS is pretty huge, but Newnan HS also needs a lot of work done too.

Both of my offspring did Oak Grove-Rising Starr-Starr's Mill and I sure have no complaints whatsoever about what they received and what my taxes were. The amount of excessive spending and the Rivers' ordeal or the bus graveyard/Fairgrounds......those are parts I did not like at all.

I don't think people are leaving FC for other school systems....it's more like what is more affordable for the bang vs. the buck. In that regard, Coweta is not like you just pulled your kids out of FC and dumped them in a Clayton Co trash heap.

Forsyth itself is changing and it will be interesting to see how Bearden does there. I was not his biggest fan.

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