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The Monroe County Reporter
Forsyth, Georgia
May 2, 2018     The Monroe County Reporter
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May 2, 2018

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May 2, 2018 Page 7A porter Continued from Front Georgia Tech graduate, said he has six children, induding four who currently attend Monroe County Schools. He said he wants Monroe County Schools to be a positive example for the state of Georgia and someday the whole U.S. Howard, who moved to Monroe County when he was just six months old, said he's been involved in Monroe County Schools for his entire life as a stu- dent, a parent, a teacher (as was wife Penny), a football statistidan for 40 years and a school board member for 25 years. Howard said the school board's primary jobs are to hire the school super- intendent, create a budget and make system-wide polities. Williams, a 1994 Mary Persons graduate, said she currently has two children in Monroe County Schools, one at MP and the other at Hubbard Elementary. She said her children give her a vested in- terest in Monroe County Schools and an incentive for the system to thrive. Williams, who graduated from Auburn University with a degree in secondary education, said she taught sdence in Texas and Marietta before moving hack home to Monroe Coun~ Walker, who has served on the school board for 20 years, joked that he never thought the day would come that he would have to introduce himselfto a room full of Monroe Countians. He said Monroe County has a good school system but board mem- bers should always look for ways to improve it even more. Head, 41, said he has lived in Monroe County for his entire life, and he and wife MicheUe have raised their five children in the local communi~ Head said he. started his business debt-free and said fiscal responsibility would be a major pfindple ifhe's dected. Head said he is also a member ofthe Monroe County Develop- ment Authority, volunteers at the newly-opened Monroe County Boys & Girls Club and is well- known for attending children~ events dressed as Dr. Seuss' "The Cat in the Hat" Moderator Will Davis asked candidates their thoughts on the BOE'S effectiveness as financial stewards and about whether the system has too many administra- tors. Howard said there were only five persons in the BOE central office when he started teaching but said the system has neces- sarily expanded its staff over the years to meet the needs of increasing government regula- tions. Morris said governments, like businesses, can often get "too bloated at the top~' and said hed prefer the system to use excess finances to benefit teachers rather than hiring more central office staff Morris noted that while working for the railroad, he has naanaged $100 million over five years, including a $21 million project in Manchester, and said he would look at ways to maxi- mize available funds. Williams said she doesn't think any money spent on education is a wasted dollar. She said pay is not the only factor in keeping teachers happy and said it's critical for the system to prevent teacher burnout Head said hed idenlLfy items in the school budget that aren't profitable or are excess'we and eliminate them. Walker said he's a taxpayer ir~addition to being a school board member and said the systern~ strong student test scores are reflective that school board finances are being spent wisely. Davis then asked candidates whether they would support drug testing for Monroe County Schools athletes. Walker said he supports an equitable system for all students and wouldn't limit testing only to athletes. Howard said he too wouldn't draw the line at athletes but said the system could be liable if the testing wasn't done coorrectly, such as by random selection. Wdliams also agreed that the system shouldfft apply only to athletes and said it could be a good idea because it would raise the accountability level of the affected youth and might incentivize students to make better choices. She added that she's not sure every student could legally be tested and said it might be limited to exWaanricular partidpants. Head said he too supports the measure but added he would test system t hers, staffand even BOE members as well Morris, who said he too supports testin~ said account- ability starts as a youth and said drug problems are reportedly prevalent in the local commu- ni~ He added that teens should be educated on the potentially negative future consequences of drnguse. Davis next asked candidates whether they support arming school teachers with guns in case of a violent on-campus attack. Head said he supports having on-campus law enforcement officers present on each campus during the entire school day rather than arming teachers. He said the school system could even hire its own hw enforce- ment officers but proposed they have the same training as Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputies. Walker said uniformed school resource officers are already present daily on nearly every school campus. He said the BOE recently hired a school safety spedalist to evaluate each building and create a safety plan. He added he does not support arming teachers. Williams agreed with Walker, saying her children know their school resource offi- cers well. She noted that Monroe County Schools recently hdd a public forum to discuss school safety and said she's not sure that many teachers would want the extra stress ofworrying about having a gun in the classroom that a student could potentially find a wayto access. However, she added she wouldn't be op- posed to arming a teacher with a weapons or military background. Howard, who said he opposes arming teachers, said Monroe County Schools began preparing for a potential school attack back in 2012 after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, long before the Parkland school shooting earlier this year. He said the school system has learned things that don't work for safety, such as exterior doors to each dassroom, and said the board continues to look at new ways to keep stu- dents safe. Howard agreed with Walker that the school safety specialist is hdping with the issue and said some safety measures are better left undiscussed to prevent a shooter from knowing exactly what the systen~ security plans are. Morris said h~ in favor of arming teachers but said it needs to be the right person for the job. Morris, who noted that a North Carolina school recently armed security officers posing as custodians in case ofan attack said hed feel better about his kids' safety if he knew school staffers were armed. Davis then asked Head why he is seeking a BOE position when he and his wife home school their own children. Head replied that he and his wife are very active in their children~ education and said it's a "problem" that other parents are not as involved in then" kids' edu- cation as they should be. Head said his kids formerly attended K.B. Sutton Elementary when current Monroe County Schools assistant superintendent Alicia Elder was the prindpal there, and he liked many things about the school. However, Head said home schooling allows his chil- dren to experience things they might not experience in public school, such as a three-week-long family trip to historic sites along the Eastern seaboard. Head said, "Home school is not cheap ifyou do it correctly." Head then added that just because he doesn't have a child in Monroe County School doesn't mean he's not interested in the succe~ oflocal schools, noting it heavily impacts the local business communi Davis then asked Walker about his commitment to the board be- cause he reportedly missed seven out of 25 school board meetings over the past year. Walker replied that various health problems, induding colon cancer and a heart attack, have been responsible for his absences from board meetings. Davis then asked Howard about the board's hiring last year of a substitute teacher with a past child molestation conviction that was brought to light by the Reporter in March and asked ff the BOE hired the applicant out of fear of being sued. Davis sub- sequently asked ifBOE members ever apologized to concemed dtizens about then" derision to hire the substitute teacher. Howard said the BOE was indeed fearful of a possible lawsuit and had received a court order in error that prevented it from denying employment to the substitute applicant. Howard then displayed a letter from Monroe County District- Attorney Jonathan Adams that he said '~xonerates the school system from any wrongdoing" in the matter. Howard said board members were "stuck between a rock and a hard place." He added that he didn't know what board members should apologize for and said they made a mistake and publicly admitted it. Davis then asked if any policy changes had been made as a result of the situation and if any system employees suffered any consquences for recommending the sub~tute teachers hiring. "How do you punish someone who the DA says did nothing wrong?" Howard said. When Davis further probed Howard on whether the school system was actually "exonerated" from any responsibility in the matter, Howard said Davis was "trying to bring up an argument that I thought had been settled? Howard continued, "It was an unfortunate situation as I stated earlier.' Davis questioned again, "But you do not see a need to apologize to the parents whose children were exposed to this?" When Howard stammered in his response, Davis then detailed further the former complaint against the substitute teacher, saying "he offered oral sex to a 13-year-old boy in Bibb County School' information which was publicly available. Howard replied, '3xcording to the court documents, we could not count that against him? Davis then asked, '~So you were afraid of liability?" When Howard said, "Yes," Davis asked in response, "Does the county school system have li- ability insurance?" Howard again said, "Yes:' Howard then noted that Davis brought the matter to the board's attention and said the substitute was immediately removed from the sub list upon the Reporters revelation. He added that Mon- roe County Schools have not received any complaints about the substitutes actions while employed in Monroe County. As Howard continued to defend the board's actions, former Monroe County Schools director of fadli- ties and management Tommie Walker objected from the audi- ence to Davis' questions: "I don't think y'all are supposed to debate with each other," to which Davis responded to Walker's barb: "It's a debate? Davis then allowed the other candidates to weigh in on the substitute teacher matter. Head said the BOE never issued a state- ment of apology nor ~ taken any known corrective actions. Head said there's no reason something similar wouldn't happen again and said polities need to be addressed to prevent such an occurrance. Howard re- sponded to Heads comments by saying Monroe County Schools superintendent Dr. Mike Hick- man did issue a letter of apol- ogy and said a more thorough screening process for system ap- plicants is on the way. Morris said the school board should have issued its own apology for the matter and said good leaders take responsibility for what happens on their watch. Morris said just because there were no reported inddents of wrongdoing by the substitute in Monroe County doesn't mean board members are exempt from apologizing to community members. Williams said it's too late to change the substitute teacher situation and said it's most important to iden- tify the system flaws that enabled the problem to arise. She added she believes that every Monroe County educator has the best interests ofthe students at heart. Davis next asked incumbents Howard and Walker why dtizens have to fill out a lengthy form several days in advance in order to address the BOE at a public meeting. Audience member Le'da Bass replied that the policywas designed to keep order in the meetings, but Davis responded the question was asked for the candidates to answer. Howard said Bass was exactly right. How- ard said by knowing what the dtizen wants to talk about in ad- vance, it better prepares the BOE members and school administra- tors to address the issue at hand. Head said he thinks elected offidals should be accessible and should not hinder members of the public from expressing an opinion. Head, who des~i. "bed the BOEs policy as "infuriating", said board members could set time constraints on comments without preventing members of the public from speaking without prior notice. Morris agreed with Head and said he frequently at- tends railroad meetings in which public comment doesn't cause the meetings to "descend into anarchy" Walker said members of the public have never been i'estricted from addressing board members as long as they abide by the board's rules of advanced notice. ' Davis next asked by far the most controversial question of the night when he queried the non-partisan candidates about whom they voted for in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Many audience members immediately shouted their displeasure with the question with some asking why Davis was bringing politics into a non-partisan election. Davis fired hack that the can- didates had a right to refuse to. answer his question, but that he intended to ask it anyway. After a minute of audience hysteria, induding several audience members demanding that BOE candidates refuse to answer Davis' question, Head stood up and said he thought it was a fair question and replied he voted all Republican in the 2016 election. Walkerwas next up, and he declined to answer, follow~ by Williams, who said she too voted all Republican. Howard said he was not going to answer either at which point all eyes turned to Morris, who said he also voted all Republican. After the dust-up with audi- ence members, Davis stopped asking his own questions and " tamed the debate over to dtizen questions. Ho,dever, the tension in the room would build even more when the initial citizen rose to speak. South Monroe County resident Byron Pitts, who criti- cally addressed the BOE to no avail in March over the ill-fated substitute teacher hiring, got his second turn in front of Howard on Monday. Pitts asked Howard why superintendent Hickmaff has not been fired and asked why BOE members aren't doing their jobs. Htts then publicly re- vealed he had learned that when current BOE member Stuart Hppin notified Hickman that he intended to make a public state- ment to the Reporter criticizing the systern~ administrators for supporting hiring the substitute teacher, Hickman's father, Mike Hickman Sr allegedlyverbally threatened Hppin at his place of employment the following day, causing Hppin to retract his statement. Htts said to Howard: "There was absolutely no apology from either one of them (Hickman Sr. or Dr. Hickman) to one of your board membersY Howard responded to Htts' attacks by saying under the cur- rent structure, the superinten- dent, rather than the BOE chair, is the true CEO of the school systerrr However, Howard said board members do receive hack- ground information on system hires but depend upon school administrators to obtain detailed background checks. Howard said DA Adams stated in his letter that Hickman did nothing wrong, giving the board no rea- son to fire him. He then said the board had no role in Hickman Sr's alleged threats against the BOE board member, telling Pitts he would have to ad .dr~ that issue with Hickman Sr. Head then jumped into the discussion, saying he feels Hickman has done a great job as superintendent. He said the substitute teacher issue stemmed from poor system polities and procedures rather than board members' individual mistakes. Morris said BOE members should never take firing anyone lightly but said employees need to be hdd accountable. He said protocols need to be put in phce going forward to prevent such a situation from re-occuring. Another dtizen, Greg Haire, then asked candidates their opinions on federal government intervention in the local school system. Morris said he would keep the federal government away from the local school system. Wil- liams then asked Morris if that meant rejecting federal fundin and Morris said potentially he would turn down federal funds. Williams said as a parent and former teacher she knows more about what's best for Monroe County Schools than the federal government does but skid she would still accept federal funding. She noted that no federal official ever asked to see her lesson plans when she taught chemistry. Walker said the federal contribution is only a small percentage of school funding anyway: Head agreed with Morris that there are often "strings attached" to federal dol- lars and said local dtizens should have more control over then" own school system. Another dtizen, John San- dus~, asked Williams what she meant when she mentioned sev- eral times that no dollar used for education couldbe considered wasted and took her to task for a "cavalier attitude toward spend- ing? Williams said she's in favor ofeffidencyin school budgeting but said she wants excess funds to go to helping teachers, noting that many teachers spend then" own mone~ rather than system funds, on materials for then" dassroolTlS. District 3 Monroe County commissioner John Ambrose then chastised the incumbents for their policy of prevent- ing dtizens from speaking at meetings without prior request, pointing out that Monroe County commissioners don't operate that way. Ambrose also said that DA Adams' letter did not state that BOE members had to hire the substitute teacher, a comment that provoked a head shake from Howard. Ambrose, who is running unopposed on the May Republican primar~ said he believes elected ot]idals should have term limits. Ambrose said sharply: "Y'all have been there too long. Things need to change? The final dtizen question of the night came from Forsyth real estate agent Kerri Swearin- gen. Swearingen, who noted that the success of Monroe County Schook is one of the biggest draws for homeowners to move to Monroe County, asked what each candidate could bring to the board to ensure that Monroe County Schools continues to outpace surrounding public school systems. Wdliams said her education experience as a student, teacher and parent makes her the right candidate to join the board. "I have lived in the trenches~' Wtlliams said. Morris said his experience handing large budgets at the raikoad and his passion and commitment for student safety makes him the right choice, noting he has created evacuation and active shooter plans for maDr raft yards. Head said he is focused on providing more effective Wade education for the "70 to 75 percenf' of students who dofft go on to get a college degree Head said he supports the BOE partnering with Genwal Georgia Technical College (CGTC) on expanding the systen~ technical school options. He added that as a successful heating and air busi- ness owner who bypassed a wa- ditional college, he uses himself as an example for students that leaming a Wade can be a viable career option. Howard said he agreed withHead on expanding technical school opportunities through CGTC and joked that former state labor commissioner Michael Thurmond gave a speech in Monroe Countylast year in which he said he encour- aged his grandson to become a plumber, rather than a doctor or lawyer, because of that occupa- tio potential for financial suc- cess. Walker said he heard some misinformation quoted by some of the challengers during the de- bate and said the accusation that board members don't review system polities is unfounded. The candidates then gave their dosing statements. Head said Monroe County has a great school system but said ther& always room for improvement He dted his current stint on the Monroe County Develop- ment Authority as proof that relations between the dty and county governments as well as the Authority have improved dramatically and said he could help foster a similar relationship between the BOE and other local governments. Walker said he's always been there for Mon- roe County's children and urged the voters for one more four- ' year term. Williams said she has a perspective that the other candidates don't have because of her teaching experience and said she unders~,ands the plight of the systemb educators. Howard said the BOEs chief focus in all ofits derisions is the systen~ student~ Howard, who said he was appointed by a grand )ury. to his BOE seatin 1992, said hds proud ofhis long tenure on the board and noted it was his idea to make the Monroe County Board of Education non-lyarti- san, which was why he declined to answer Davis' question about his voting record. Howard said he hears alot ofpeople say they moved to Monroe County for the school system. He added. 'Tve never heard anybody say rm leaving the county on account of the school syst,' Morris was the last candi- date to get his final sa~ and he cautioned the incunabents that Monroe County's current 28th- place position among Georgia school systems shouldn't be the ultimate goal. Morris said, %re need to push, we need to strive, and we need to be aiming for No. 1. We have the ab'tl@, we have the resources, we have the students to make that happe ' Early voting began Monday for the Monroe County Board of Education races with Election Day fast approad'ting on Tues- day; May22. any of the programs eligible for lifeline I# Medicaid Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps or SNAP) Supplemental Security Income (ssI) Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA) ,t Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit Total household income equal to or less than 135% Federal Poverty Guidelines Lifeline is a non-transferable, federal benefit that makes voice or broadband service more affordable.The program is limited to one discount per household.An eligible household may apply the monthly Lifeline discount to either broadband service or voice service but not both." Lifeline customers also have the option to apply the discount to a service bundle, such as home phone and home internet.The Lifeline voice service also includes toll blocking to qualifying customers without charge. ?