It was supposed to be a forum between challenger Charlie Cave and Fayette County School Board District 4 Post incumbent Bob Todd.
But instead, the event June 17 at Christ’s Church at Whitewater was a one-man show, with Todd making his case for re-election and fielding questions from the audience of about 60 people while Cave was home sick after eating lunch at a local restaurant.
“This election is the most significant since I’ve been here. If you are happy with the last eight or nine years, you need to vote for my opponent,” Todd said, in a reference to the election of Terri Smith and Janet Smola to school board in 2001 and Lee Wright in 2003.
“But if you want an open board that’s responsive and accountable, I hope you will vote for me.”
As is now a customary format for candidate forums sponsored by the Fayette County Tea Party and the Coweta-Fayette 912 Patriots, Todd was given several minutes to make his position known. What followed were questions from the audience.
Todd referenced the many accomplishments of the Fayette County School System, then went on to say that the issue behind the July 20 primary election would center on one thing.
“The quality (of the school system) is here. The support is here. It’s the money, and nothing else, that’s going to be the issue,” Todd said.
Todd noted the poor financial planning by the school board, where land was purchased though not needed and where it will take millions of dollars to operate schools that “We don’t need until our enrollment grows to the point where we can pay for it. More than that, we are forced into the position of maintaining quality at the same time we have to operate and pay for excess capacity.”
Specific to his platform, Todd said he had always believed in public education and quality teachers, adding that he knows maintaining that quality takes money.
That said, Todd turned his attention to the school system’s lack of maintaining an established reserve account. As opposed to a fund balance in the general fund, Todd has stated at a number of school board meetings that the school system should establish a reserve account that would require board action and approval prior to spending those funds.
“I’m here to tell you that I know the difference between a fund balance and a reserve account,” Todd added, apparently in reference to a number of discussions on that topic that have in school board meetings. “A fund balance is nothing in the world but carrying money in your checking account that you can spend as you choose.”
On another issue, Todd said the school system should be aware that future cuts from the state are likely coming. And when they do we have to be smart enough to know what to cut to avoid damaging teachers and students, he said.
Todd also said the school system does not have a sufficient handle on its inventory, adding that he would like to see the development and implementation of a plan that would let the school system manage all its assets.
Yet another issue, said Todd, was the need for the school system to develop a customer service attitude towards the community, one that acts responsively when a citizen requests information.
Questions from the audience included those such as increases in school system spending, under capacity schools, the need to post the entire budget online and the potential for re-instating the employees’ 4.5 percent pay cut.
Of that, Todd said he had no problem with giving the pay reduction back with the understanding that the school system amass sufficient money to prevent having to take it back again later if the economy does not turn around.
A former teacher and administrator, Todd served from 1995-1998 and returned to the board for the 2007-2010 term.
As for Cave’s absence, the candidate sent an email to event organizer Jim Richter at 4:24 p.m. on the day of the forum.
“This afternoon I attended a board of directors meeting for a local non-profit group that served us lunch at a local restaurant. Before leaving the restaurant I became very sick. I have just been able to return home and am heading to bed. Please be informed that I will NOT be able to attend this evening’s forum due to being extremely sick. I am happy to reschedule this event if you care to postpone it until a later date,” Cave said.
Regarding Cave’s email, Richter said he received the email near 4:30 p.m., less than three hours before the forum was scheduled to take place. Richter said he was sorry to hear that Cave had taken ill, adding that the forum, scheduled to begin at 7 p.m., could not be postponed at the last minute since the announcements had been made and the room was in process of being set up for the event.
Though Cave was not at the forum, some of those attending had questions they would have asked. Among those were questions about his relationship with either Smola or Smith, his thoughts on reorganizing the central office to make it more efficient, his position on budgeting and why he decided to run for the school board.
A video recording of the forum is available in the Board of Education section at www.tbfaco.com.