Editor's note: These questions and answers are provided at the request of Columbia County's Democratic Party, and do not constitute an endorsement by The News-Times of the issues or opinions contained herein.
COLUMBIA COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD
DEMOCRATIC PARTY QUESTIONS
1. Are you in favor of an approximate 1.5 mill increase in your ad valorem property tax for the purpose of adding foreign language instruction in the public elementary schools of Columbia County? Yes or No and Why?
Donnie Porter: No. While I strongly support the foreign language program in our elementary schools, I believe that we can effectively implement the program in schools that want it by re-prioritizing our budget to reflect our commitment to it. Also, we can readjust our next SPLOST vote to help relieve items in our general budget such as purchase of new buses.
Wayne Bridges: No. I believe the citizens of Columbia County pay enough taxes. With the uncertainty of state funding I think it unwise to raise taxes at this time, except in emergency situations.
LouAnne Grove: Yes, I do believe and support the addition of a foreign language program at the elementary school level; however, we do not need to raise our taxes to accomplish this. We should continually review all our expenditures, conduct independent audits, and ensure that money is being spent in the areas needed. We must drive the money back to the classroom. We need to be creative, find practices that work best and implement these practices. We should not look to increase taxes before looking at the efficiency of the organization of government and be able to say--"We are delivering you a great product at the best possible price."
Mike Sleeper: I support the Foreign Language program in the elementary schools, but I am not in favor of 1.5 mill tax increase to fund this program. We must prioritize our needs in the system and fund our programs accordingly.
Roxanne Whitaker: No, but my reasons are not for financial reasons as must as individual school request. We have a healthy reserve but to spend it on frivolously would be detrimental to this county. To continually tax our citizens is placing an undue burden on their limited and strained "pocketbooks". We asked our individual Elementary School Counsels to exam their schools and tell us how they would implement foreign language in their daily schedules and they came back with various suggestions for what fit their school. All but one elementary school said they did not want to take time away from their existing schedules. Several schools would implement it as an after-school program. Two schools said they would not implement it at all and these schools were not from the Grovetown-Harlem area as suggested by a recent editorial. I believe we need to allow our schools to use funds for whatever works for their students to improve learning and self esteem. As a Board, we do not need to mandate foreign language if that school does not want it. We should supply them with the essentials to meet the needs of their population and hold them accountable. Putting more money into education does not mean the students are being educated. Columbia County spends less on education per pupil than most counties in Georgia and we rank close to the top in student achievement.
2. The Georgia Legislature has not given educators a raise within the last two years. Should Columbia County add at least a cost of living raise to the supplement already paid in those years in which there is no increase paid? Yes or No and Why?
Donnie Porter: Yes. In order to attract and retain the best and most highly qualified educators into our schools, the Board needs to demonstrate that it is dedicated to taking care of the professionals entrusted to teaching our children.
Wayne Bridges: Yes, I believe that is a good way to reward our teachers for a job well done.
LouAnne Grove: The teachers of Georgia will receive a state increase of 2% starting in January to offset prior years with no raise. Adding a cost of living raise would be nice as long as the increase does not affect our taxes, for then the raise would serve no purpose. In times such as these, salaries in most occupations are stagnated. However, as an educator myself, in order to recruit and retain the best and brightest teachers, we do need to be creative and look at other possible alternatives to salary increases.
Mike Sleeper: I am in favor in trying to find ways to provide a cost of living adjustment to our teachers. If we are to retain the best teachers, it is imperative that we find ways to compensate them sufficiently where possible.
Roxanne Whitaker: While Georgia has not issued a raise in the past two years due to money constraints, Columbia County has given each employee, certified and non-certified, a raise.
3. Are you in favor of changing the Georgia State Constitution to allow for empowering an at-large elected chairman of the Columbia County Board of Education? Yes or No and Why?
Donnie Porter: Yes. When 85% of voters say they want it, The Board should work toward making it a reality. Not only because it will align the school districts with the county commission districts, but also because it'll give voters another voice on the school board. Majority rules on this issue!
Wayne Bridges: No. Under state law the chairman has no more power as any other board member. I believe this would add a politically motivated reason for someone to run. Also, it would mean a school board chairman would be seated a full four-year term. Something we might need to think about real hard.
LouAnne Grove: This is an item that is on the ballot for a majority vote. One of the greatest benefits in this country is being allowed to vote and have the say of the majority. This is an issue that I feel should be left to the voters in our county. Personally, my vote would be yes. An elected chairman would be the voice of the majority of all people in our county, not just defined by one district.
Mike Sleeper: I support a county-wide elected chairperson because I believe that all voters will benefit by having 40% of the School Board responsible to them instead of the current 20%. However, this can be accomplished with legislation and does not require modification to the Constitution.
Roxanne Whitaker: No! First of all this was an idea that was derived by our legislators with no consultation or regard to the Board of Education. Secondly, the Board of Education formed a Task Committee headed by Dan Thornhill to study this and the conclusion was the people of Columbia County would benefit more from two at-large delegates than an at-large Chairman. Of the 180 school systems in Georgia, only 16 have a county-elected Chairman and two of those counties are returning to a Board elected chair. The reason being too much micro-management from the Chair. I have asked repeatedly, how will this improve education and have been told it gives the people two voices. Look at these 16 schools and how they stand educationally in the state of Georgia. Only two of these schools out-scored us on the 2004 SAT and these two systems are returning to a Board of Education elected chair. I believe this increases the amount of government in the school system. The way we are set up now, we each represent a cluster of schools and when we go to a county elected chair, some school will not have a representative. For example, right now the way the districts are drawn for the County Commissioners, Grovetown and Harlem do not have a true representative. That could be true of the Board of Education. The largest growth spurts over the past three years have been noticed in the Greenbrier and Grovetown-Harlem districts but they are required to share a representative. I have the study in its' entirety for anyone who is interested in reviewing it.
4. Should all appointed members of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission which regulates the standards of certified teaching personnel have at least a four year degree? Yes or No and Why?
Donnie Porter: Yes. This seems to be a reasonable standard since the positions are appointed. I would, however, be against the education requirement if the positions were elected because then the voters would ultimately have the say-so over who sits in position of public trust.
Wayne Bridges: Yes. I think if someone is in a position of regulating professionals who are required to get degrees, they should at least have that standard for themselves.
LouAnne Grove: Yes. To be able to educate the minds of students, an educator must be certified with the minimum of a four year degree. In order to certify and set the standards for me as a teacher, then the members of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission should also be required to meet the same minimum standards.
Mike Sleeper: In order to evaluate and render decisions regarding individuals who are required to have a degree (Bachelors, Masters and PhD), it seems fitting to require the evaluators to have obtained a four-year degree.
Roxanne Whitaker: Not only should a member of the Georgia Professional Standards Commission hold a minimum of a four-year degree, they should be an educator. Who knows more about education and what should and should not go on in the education field than an educator? Thank you for the support you have given me in the past eight years and I look forward to working with you and for you over the next four years.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.