The Ledger-Enquirer's weeklong series of Q&A articles continues with candidates for the District 8 seat of the Muscogee County School Board.
Former educator Beth Harris, who was elected to the board in 2010, is seeking re-election.
She faces challenger Frank Myers, an attorney and political consultant who has long been a critic of the board.
1. Should the school district divide into three regions -- east, west and central -- as proposed by the superintendent?
Beth Harris: Superintendent Lewis believes this organization will give him greater supervisory effectiveness, improve student achievement and help us deal with the reduction of State funding. I support his efforts to increase administrative efficiency.
Frank Myers: I am impressed with the Superintendent's creative thinking on this issue. However, many of the details of this plan remain unclear.
Our school system is "top heavy" when it comes to the number of administrators.
And that works to the detriment of having enough teachers and others whose job it is to give hands-on instruction to our kids.
As long as part of the Superintendent's plan involves more resources for classroom instruction and fewer people on the administrative payroll, I am not opposed to this plan.
2. Should every school have the exact same resources?
Beth Harris: The majority of the money to operate our district comes from the State with distinct stipulations attached to each group of funds. An example is the fact that special needs students receive higher funding per student; therefore, the higher percentage of special needs students a school has, the more funds that school receives. We are bound to obey the State funding formula. Expenditures per student should be equal, but resources might be differentiated based on needs, the state funding formula, or school-based decisions.
Frank Myers: In a perfect world, yes. However, I think it is near impossible for every student to have the exact same resources in any public school system. There are just too many variables involved.
I strongly believe every student in our local public school system should have an equal chance to learn and advance in life through our public educational system.
3. Was the school board right to vote against then-superintendent Susan Andrews' appointments in May 2012?
Beth Harris: Superintendents recommend principals. Boards vote on the recommendations. In Georgia, elected boards hire, fire, and evaluate superintendents. Boards are never expected to rubber stamp a superintendent's decisions, nor should they attempt to dictate them. Superintendents, board chairs, and other board members should work to assure everyone is on the same page.
When communication, trust, or the flow of information is impeded, embarrassing situations can occur. A majority of the board members individually determined they weren't ready to affirm these recommendations. This incident could have been avoided had there been better communication and a better working relationship among all parties. Andrews pulled one of her recommendations "in the best interest" of the candidate. She could and should have done so with them all. I believe she knew the majority didn't support her. She was probably the ONLY person in that room who was NOT surprised, yet we took the heat.
Frank Myers: Absolutely not! This shameful event may have well constituted the most flagrant abuse of power ever perpetrated by elected officials in Columbus, Georgia.
This is perhaps the most famous example of the petty politics that has hampered the operation of our school board for decades. As a result of this continued failure of leadership, our kids, and our community, are still paying the price.
Two of the five board members who were involved in the alliance that perpetrated this injustice were voted off the board in 2012. On May 20th of this year, the citizens of this community have the opportunity to rid ourselves of two more of these board members, John Wells, and my opponent, Beth Harris.
4. If elected, will you support another SPLOST?
Beth Harris: As the end of the current SPLOST approaches we will assess how many projects we were able to complete and what our pressing needs are.
I support efficiency; prudent, conservative transparent spending; and, adequate funding for our students. Columbus residents have shown that we prefer temporary sales taxes over property tax increases. In the Muscogee County School District, SPLOST funds have been a lifesaver in the past. I will support a future SPLOST if the superintendent and board, with the advice and counsel of citizens, deem such a measure to be necessary.
Frank Myers: I have a unique perspective on this question. As one who volunteered to help engineer the political effort for the 2009 SPLOST, I have been bitterly disappointed at how the school board has utilized financial resources in the last five years.
For instance, just last year, the school board voted to spend approximately $500,000 on a storage facility for outdated school records. All the while, students are forced to attempt to learn in rusted out portable trailers masquerading as classrooms.
In fact, one of the main reasons I am seeking this office is because I believe we must re-prioritize the spending of our educational resources.
So, whether or not I am elected, until the school board demonstrates a much better appreciation for the value of our tax dollars, and begins to spend those dollars more wisely, it is difficult for me to imagine supporting another SPLOST in the foreseeable future.
5. Should the school district open up the bidding process for law firms?
Beth Harris: The Muscogee County School District is not required to put professional services out for bids. A research study completed in January 2014, at the request of Superintendent Lewis, indicated that bidding out legal services is not practiced by most Georgia and Alabama school districts. The main reasons included the varied areas of specialization required and the quality of work. Another important factor is the development of a long-term relationship. This study can be accessed at www.muscogee.k12.ga.us. Search the website for "Hanover Legal Services Report" to view the entire study. The law firm is hired for one year at a time by a vote of the board at the recommendation of the superintendent. I support keeping that process in place.
Frank Myers: Yes. The public is both puzzled and outraged at the practice of selective use of no-bid contracts by our school board. People cannot understand how janitors are forced to bid for their work, yet lawyers are not. That makes no sense.
Every vendor who has a business relationship with the school district in excess of $5,000.00 per fiscal year should also be forced to bid for this business relationship. We comparison shop in our homes to find the best value for our money and the school board should do the same thing.
Substantial savings could be realized and there are many ways this money could be used to benefit our kids. As an example, we could end the unjust practice of teachers being forced to spend money out of their own pockets to provide supplies for their classrooms.