Q&A with Muscogee County School Board at-large seat candidates

April 20, 2014 

The Ledger-Enquirer's weeklong series of Q&A articles continues with candidates for the at-large seat of the Muscogee County School Board.

Cathy Williams, who is in this position now, is not seeking re-election.

Instead, it will either go to Nate Sanderson, Kia Chambers or Owen Ditchfield.

Sanderson is the former Columbus NAACP branch president. Chambers, a real estate broker, is a former educator. Ditchfield is a former school board representative from District 7.

1. Should the school district divide into three regions -- east, west and central -- as proposed by the superintendent?

Nate Sanderson: I am optimistic about several of Superintendent Lewis' proposals, and his proposed realignment of our district schools has great potential. Our community desperately needs to rid itself of the north/south divide perception, and I applaud Superintendent Lewis for taking a step toward eradicating north/south divide perception in our community. I think it is very important that the MCSB give the superintendent and his team the freedom to implement the district realignment while exercising oversight.

Kia Chambers: The approval of the school system's new organizational chart was voted on and approved by the current board at the March meeting. Its success however lies largely on how this reorganization will be implemented. While a simple changing of how we group or "label" schools will not impact the fundamental issues and challenges that the schools face, I do believe that we have an opportunity to make an impact on student achievement if strategically structured. I believe that if/when this is implemented fully, clear objectives and accountability must be in place. If the regional person is seen as a personal resource and advocate for the success of the schools in their districts and not as a figurehead that requires more paperwork and documentation from the principals and teachers. We have to be careful not to take teachers away from what they do best, "teach".

Owen Ditchfield: Yes. Our priorities must be on the kids in the classroom. I believe this approach should help us reach the goal of every child, no matter where they live or attend school, receive a quality education.

2. Should every school have the exact same resources?

Nate Sanderson: I support Superintendent Lewis' recommendation for an equitable division of resources among district schools. I believe Superintendent Lewis' vision of Muscogee County School District being one of the best school districts in our nation is attainable. It will require selfless sacrifice from the entire community. The investment into our children's future is worth it and there will be a social and economic benefit of being one of the nation's top school district. It has the potential to enhance quality of life and our ability to attract new industry to our community.

Kia Chambers: One of the things I learned traveling from school to school as a university supervisor was that just like our students, our schools have different needs. If we say that all schools should receive the same resources, we are then saying that all schools service the exact same students and that simply is not true. I do believe that all schools in Muscogee County should have the basic needs met as well as the resources necessary to ensure the success of their program. Some of our schools have specialized programs for students with autism, or learning disabilities, or gifted students. While the resources needed may be different, the goal and the results should be the same … a quality education for ALL students in Muscogee County School District.

Owen Ditchfield: Many of our resource allocations is mandated by federal and state law. Non-mandated resources should be allocated based on each school's unique needs.

3. Was the school board right to vote against then-superintendent Susan Andrews' appointments in May 2012?

Nate Sanderson: The question is asking for a comment on a human resource management decision made by the MCSB. Often information is shared only on a need to know basis in HR matters. I was present the night of the vote. I personally watched the nominees for principal and their family members' disappointment at the MCSB decision that evening. And, if I were voting that evening I would have voted to confirm the nominees. There is a human factor in every vote and I do not think it was taken into consideration prior to the vote that evening.

Kia Chambers: It would not be productive for us to look back at what could or should have been. Looking forward, I can tell you that as a member of the board I will cast my vote based on what's best for our kids, the school district as a whole, and the candidates under consideration. I will vote my conviction each time. It is important to me that we keep our students first, give our educators the support and recognition they deserve, and to always keep the accountability to our taxpayers at the forefront of how we conduct our business as a board.

Owen Ditchfield: No. The School Board has the authority and responsibility to approve or disapprove the superintendent's recommendations. In this case, however, the board members should have privately informed the superintendent of their opposition, so as to not embarrass the nominees and their families.

4. If elected, will you support another SPLOST?

Nate Sanderson: I have two prerequisite in order to support a new SPLOST.

• If and when it is determined that all current resources are being used effectively and efficiently.

• If and when it can be determined that a new SPLOST can be linked to increased educational achievement goals by the MCSD. Otherwise, I will not support the continuation of the SPLOST. In addition, lower sales taxes have the potential to make Columbus a regional shopping hub and attract more industry to our community.

Kia Chambers: If it makes sense at the time yes, I will. If it doesn't, I won't. Right now, I believe we need to assess our priorities and analyze how we are currently spending our resources. Our children and our teachers are our greatest commodity and their needs and the resources that they require to improve student achievement comes before a new building, storage units, or other expenditures in my book.

Owen Ditchfield: I supported the first two educational SPLOSTs and I believe the money raised improved the quality of education for the kids in the classroom. Supporting a new SPLOST would be dependent on the projects for which the money would be spent.

5. Should the school district open up the bidding process for law firms?

Nate Sanderson: Yes, request for proposals are common business practice and must be encouraged. A competitive bidding process will create competition and afford the Muscogee County School Board greater options. As a member of the MCSB, one of the ways I will work to build greater trust, transparency and financial accountability is through a competitive bidding process.

Kia Chambers: One of the major responsibilities of being a school board member is analyzing all information and facts before casting a vote. It would be premature for anyone not privy to all the information to cast a definitive answer; I will state however that it is my personal belief that we should be good stewards over all taxpayers' dollars. That may mean that we need to look at the policy of how ALL professional services are acquired and set a standard. I will support a contracts process that is fair and equitable to all parties involved including the school system.

Owen Ditchfield: When selecting a professional adviser, such as a law firm, price should not be the only deciding factor. Experience and qualifications are also very important, especially when dealing with issues involving millions of dollars.


Q&As with the mayoral candidates

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