By Brandi Underwood
Consolidation and state control were two heavy-hitting talking points among the five nonpartisan candidates running for a seat on Fayette County’s Board of Education Wednesday at the “Meet the Candidates” forum at Holiday Lodge in Oak Hill.
Current board president Steve Bush led off the discussion expressing his views on the county’s current status as a state-takeover county, and how he was working to get Fayette County schools out from under the state’s umbrella.
Bush stressed the importance of meeting the needs of each individual child, and mentioned curriculum, instruction and facilities as being his top three priorities for the county. Bush expressed his approval of the Common Core, but said that it isn’t the “silver bullet” that will get rid of the county’s ailment, but he believes that the clear standards established by Common Core could help boost student achievement, which has been a primary issue of the county.
Current board member Pat Gray further elaborated on the topic, stating that he believes transparency is key to the board regaining control of its county.
“We have to be transparent in what we do, and we have to illustrate to the state that our board is able to govern and be good storage for the children of Fayette County,” he said.
Gray said the board needs to be able to listen, understand the problems and be willing to compromise to bring solutions to the county.
“Consolidation … is not the entire solution, but it may be a big part of the solution in Fayette County and we can’t continue to sidestep it,” he said.
He said the county needs to work for a solution at the high school level where broader curriculum availability will help students succeed in a global economy, and also believes that technical school programming should be expanded for the future.
Candidate Teri Harlan echoed Gray’s sentiment of transparency, further adding that the county also needs to improve efficiency and safety.
“I think it’s very important to address the (safety) issues and make sure our schools are safe for these kids,” Harlan said. “We need to do all of this while we support our teachers.”
Harlan said that keeping the kids first will be among her priorities as she currently has four children of her own in the school system, and she’d like to see the beautiful county shine the way it should. She said she believes a 180-day-long school year is “super important” and also believes those values of attending school should be instilled in Fayette’s students.
“If we can’t get kids to school in the winter months … then we need to change our calendar,” Harlan said.
With consolidation having been a heated topic in recent years, candidate Patsy Holliday addressed the state’s push for consolidation and why she feels that it is the wrong move for Fayette County.
“I think we’re in a situation now where we think that we need to consolidate, and I am against consolidation.
“It doesn’t take a new school and all that extra money … I think that we can take our schools and tweak (them) and make them better in the classroom,” she said.
“If we don’t have the right math class, let’s fix that. Let’s put our students first.”
Holliday said that she has been researching solutions for the county’s missed days due to weather conditions, and she thinks it would be a good idea to look into the feasibility of deciding snow days on a “per school” basis, rather than the whole county.
Amanda Storey said that she agrees with Teri Harlan’s assertion that Fayette County would see a lot of benefits if the quality of the school system was on par with surrounding counties.
“I don’t really see the state takeover as a negative,” Storey said. “I would be very interested in working with the state to come to some common goals.”
Storey said that uniting citizens from all corners of the county together to work with the state board of education will be crucial for situating the county in the right direction for the future.
Current board member James Workman boldly stated that he feels the county needs a complete overall.
“I feel the answer is we have to turn our focus on education 180 degrees,” he said.
Workman said that it’s unnecessary to think individuals must have a college education to get a job, and proposed strengthening the county’s technical school programming.
“I propose a new direction for our schools,” Workman said. “I feel they need us towards an exemption zone where we would be exempt from regular state guidelines.”
He acknowledged that the county does have some drug abuse issues among its students, and said that he supports random drug testing and believes it could be a practical solution.
The meet the candidates event was sponsored by the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce.