Some people may think the Muscogee school board is divided and dysfunctional, but that's just a perception, not a fact, incumbent board members told those gathered Thursday at a lunchtime political forum.
District 1 board representative Pat Hugley-Green said the belief that the nine-member board is divisive, disorganized and plagued by disharmony is "fiction." The board doesn't always reach a consensus, so different members vote differently, but that's to be expected, she said: "To vote unanimously all the time would just be a rubber stamp, and I don't subscribe to that," she said.
District 3 incumbent James Walker said board members have to represent their constituents, so they can't always agree. But they always have the children's interest at heart, said Walker, who has served about 15 years since Muscogee switched from an appointed to an elected board in 1993.
"I don't know of any time on the board that we have voted against the children," he told about 100 people attending the Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce-sponsored forum at Columbus State University.
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Their opponents challenged that.
"During the last four years, we have seen division on the school board," said District 1 candidate Mary G. Walker, who's running against Hugley-Green for the second time. In 2004, Mary Walker lost the first race by 621 votes, 1,359 to Hugley-Green's 1,980. Also running against Hugley-Green is Christopher Seldon.
Like Hugley-Green, James Walker also faces a rematch — with Duane M. Melvin, who on Thursday said that if all the board members really were voting for what's best for the children, their votes wouldn't be so divisive.
In 2004, Melvin lost to James Walker by 474 votes, 1,110 to Walker's 1,584.
Asked about the school district's preparing for a growing student population spurred by expansion at Fort Benning, Seldon said the district's facilities planning has been inadequate since the "Cool Our Kids" campaign to air-condition schools in the late 1980s.
He said the influx of new students could be channeled to Carver, which has lost students to other schools even though it has good teachers. Those teachers don't have the equipment they need to do the job, he said: "That's like putting a cop on the street without a pistol."
Norene Marvets and Ryan Newbern are competing for the District 7 board seat being vacated by Joe Roberson. Marvets stressed her 27 years of experience as a mother of six, and the time she spent volunteering at her kids' schools.
"By my being there in the school, I want to show my children how important education is," she said.
Newbern emphasized that he would demand "openness and transparency" in the board's operation. It should post financial audits and videos of its meetings online, he said. The way to prepare for growth is to get a sales tax passed, and the way to do that is to regain the public's trust, he said.