BoE forum focus: Leadership, discipline, redistricting


Takeaways from the Republican Primary Board of Education forum

• Key: In best of times, worst of times, worked to ‘live within our means,’ restored reserve fund, gave teachers raises, lowered class sizes

• Hollowell: Provide fresh leadership for schools, stop falling behind in ‘attractive’ programs

• Anderson: Fix broken redistricting process, support principals to improve discipline

• Stopford: Don’t need big government, need local control; on discipline, not politically correct, pinpoint the problem, reduce class size, allocate more staff

A forum for Republican candidates for the two Fayette County Board of Education seats up for election in the May 24 primary was held on April 25 in Fayetteville and hosted by the Fayette County Republican Party.

Candidates for the District 3 (Peachtree City) seat included incumbent school board Chairman Marion Key and financial advisor Scott Hollowell.

Candidates for the District 5 (at-large) seat included software consultant Brian Anderson and property manager Susan Stopford.

The candidates were given time at the outset for opening remarks. Opening comments are usually significant since they tend to provide an overview of the candidate.

Hollowell was first to make his opening remarks.

A parent with children in the school system, Hollowell reviewed his affiliation with various school projects and associations dealing with schools and the community.

“I think it’s time for fresh leadership and new leadership for the school system,” Hollowell said, noting later in the meeting that Key had been on the school board since the early 1990s.

Key was up next and reviewed her history in the county and with the school system as a teacher and with the school board.

“During my service on the school board I have provided oversight on major building projects and renovations. I have dealt with budgets in the best of times and in the worst of times,” said Key, noting that it was several years ago when the school system put Fayette on a Ga. Dept. of Education “watch list” due to finances.

Though Key did not elaborate, it was a time when the majority on the school board did not listen to Key or former board member Bob Todd, both of whom maintained that expenses needed to be cut during the Great Recession and a reserve account needed to be established. “I am proud to tell you that now we have come to the point where we have a reserve fund. We have really worked hard to live within our means,” Key said.

Key said the board, under her leadership, has eliminated teacher furlough days, restored the 180-day school calendar, gave employees pay raises and continue to lower class sizes.

“I’m running again because I care. I care about children and I care about the fate of public education in this state,” Key said. “My public service is but a small repayment for the education my children received, and now my grandchildren will receive.”

Anderson in his opening comments noted that his race is for the at-large (District 5) seat. The winner of the primary will face a Democratic candidate in November.

Anderson also reviewed his background, education and work experience. He noted his work with various aspects of schools and the school system.

“I came here for the schools. I have four children. I’ve done everything you can do as a volunteer. I’ve done everything I can do and I realized there’s a problem,” said Anderson, noting a problem he saw when school attendance lines were re-drawn during redistricting. “It has nothing to do with the fact that my kids went to this school and (Hollowell’s) went to another. There were pockets of divisiveness all around the county. People broke down and cried during the redistricting process. I gave my life for two years to work on that. And as a result I realized that I can make a difference and exactly what we need to fix to bring the whole district forward.”

Anderson said education and training with skills necessary to succeed and a portable environment are the things children need to succeed in the world.

Stopford in her opening comments provided her background in education and the workplace, including with a conservative television network where she learned the basics in economics and in the fundamentals of politics. She has three children who attended Fayette schools.

“We don’t need big government, we need local control. You and I have to balance our budget, so does our local government, our state government and our national government,” Stopford said. “With that solid foundation, that’s what I bring to the Fayette County school board.”

Unlike most of the other forums conducted in the past week or more, moderators were able to have the candidates answer several questions from the audience.

One of those questions dealt with students who are discipline problems within the classroom and who can be disruptive. There are occasions when in-school suspension and other measures do not work, the questioner said. Anderson and Stopford were asked to respond to that question.

“I’m going to tell you, I’m going to get rid of the discipline problems right away,” Anderson said, with the questioner from the audience then asking ‘how.’ “I think as a board we support the superintendent. (The board provides) oversight. We’re not judge, jury and executioner. We’re here to give oversight and guide. But we give a mandate. At the end of the day if they’re disrupting the rest of the kids then that’s a problem and it has to be fixed. That’s why we have a principal and that’s why we give them the power to find out where the problem is and root it out.”

Stopford responded to the question, saying she had spoken to a school administrator about the same issue.

“This is not going to sound politically correct but here it is. In some of our schools you can have 30 kids in a classroom and things will be fine. In some of our other schools you cannot do that and it comes down to the parents, exactly what you talked about,” Stopford said to the woman in the audience who posed the question. “So the honest solution is we have to be sincere about where we have the problem and we have to have smaller classrooms. It’s as simple as that. We have to support our teachers. From one family you can have children who are high achievers in the gifted classes. And guess what, there’s no problems in the gifted classes, or very rarely. It’s in the medium level and in the regular classes, and that’s not fair for the kids in there who want to learn.”

Stopford suggested that volunteers or extra staff would help, adding that the focus should be on the schools that have those types of problems and, perhaps, make the classrooms smaller.

Another audience question was posed to Hollowell and Key. They were asked how the public school system could attract students in Fayette County who are being home-schooled or in private schools.

Key responded saying, “If we’re having discipline problems in the schools I think that’s part of it. We have a code of conduct that all the students (comply with). And we need to support our principals so that they will enforce the code of conduct. We don’t have to put up with this. And in the past we have not had those kinds of discipline problems in any of our schools. When we put kids out on the street they’re not learning. We have a wonderful alternative program and maybe we need to be putting more kids in that program because that will turn many of the kids around.”

Key said she wished the types of questions being asked from the audience were being asked at school board meetings since those meetings “very seldom have parents that come and say these kinds of things to us.”

Hollowell in his response said he would look at the private schools and do something along the lines of a competitive analysis to see what the private schools are doing that is so much more attractive.

“It may be a more disciplined environment, maybe the uniforms,” said Hollowell. “I think it may also be the programming and I think Fayette County is falling behind in the attractive programming that we offer.”

Hollowell noted that some area counties, such as Pike, Newton and Henry counties offer more programming than Fayette.

“A lot of school systems are racing toward STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and we seem to be taking baby steps,” Hollowell said. “Some people are sending kids to private schools for religious reasons. But I think we need to look at what the schools are offering that are so attractive. We need to make our schools so attractive that the decision to go to a Fayette County school and a private school is a difficult decision for them to make.”

Fayette County schools have apparently reached a plateau in enrollment for the past two or more years. That said, enrollment figures are in the range of 20,200 students. Fayette in the middle of the last decade, just before the Great Recession took hold, had a student enrollment of more than 22,300. Fayette schools today are seeing enrollment numbers similar to those in 2000.

It is noteworthy that while the room was full of supporters and Republicans for the forum, nearly every school board meeting is dramatically void of public attendance. Parents do attend, but they leave once their child receives an award at the beginning of the board meeting. Beyond that, nearly the only people left in the room, year in and year out, are school system employees.

The school board for the past several years levies a state-maximum 20-mill tax on property owners, far above the tax rate imposed by the county government and the municipalities.

For a complete video view of the forum visit