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School Board Candidates Square Off at Catawba Forum

October 25, 2006

Category: Politics


By Holly Fesperman Lee, Salisbury Post

Candidates for the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education weighed in on key school issues during a Tuesday evening candidates' forum at Catawba College.

The forum, sponsored by Catawba College, The Salisbury Post and the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, gave candidates two minutes each to answer questions as well as the chance to make opening and closing remarks.

When asked to discuss their approach to working with the Rowan County commissioners on developing school budgets, incumbent Kyle Huffman and former board member Karen Carpenter, candidates for the District 1 North Seat, gave different perspectives.

Carpenter said she would ask new and old commissioners, "Do you want us to ask for what we need or what we expect we can get?" In order to move forward, "We've got to get those needs out on the table," she said.

Carpenter said commissioners need to know that if the school board truly asked for what was needed, the laundry list would be a long one. But it's the commissioners' job to tell the school board what is possible.

In addition to getting needs out in the open, Carpenter said the board needed to convince commissioners that the schools are providing a good product. "We've got to make our case," she said. Showing the added value a good workforce will bring to the county is part of making that case, Carpenter said.

Dialogue between the school board and commissioners is essential, Huffman said.

He proposed having this dialogue on a monthly basis and suggested that someone on the school board could attend the commission meetings and give updates or vice versa.

Commissioners also need to understand what is going on in the schools, Huffman said. Visiting school and seeing what money goes for would give commissioners this understanding. "I do not feel we waste any money the county gives us," Huffman said.

Jean Kennedy, retired Rowan-Salisbury teacher, and Karen Alexander, local architect, candidates for the District 6 Special seat, agreed that lottery funds should be spent on technology.

Forum moderator Dr. Michael Bitzer, chair of the department of history and politics at Catawba College, told Kennedy and Alexander that 35 cents out of every dollar raised by the North Carolina lottery will be spend on education. 

"What impact will lottery funding have to improve the school system in Rowan County," he asked.

Kennedy said she learned at the last school board meeting that Rowan County ranked 98th out of 115 counties when it came to technology. She said she hoped any lottery money could be used to upgrade technology and raise the system's ranking.

Alexander also said she felt lottery monies would be wisely spent on technology. Technology is how we will level the playing field, she said. Alexander discussed using technology to help students do independent studies or enroll in classes not available at their particular schools.

Candidates for the District 2 South seat agreed that rising material costs were a big reason why spending exceeds original budgets on bond projects.

Planning ahead could ease the problem, according to Michael Caskey. Caskey is a Kannapolis resident and works for Wachovia Bank in Charlotte.

"The worst thing about the government is you're spending other peoples' money," he said. Caskey suggested treating school money like it was the board member's personal money.

According to L.A. Overcash, a former board member, material prices fluctuate daily and weather delays sometimes happen. "There's nothing you can do about a lot of those things," he said.

Overcash suggested hiring an in-house architect to help bring costs down. According to Overcash, millions were spent on architectural fees during the last bond projects and having someone in-house to do the work would lower the price.

Patty Williams, Kannapolis City Schools' director of student services, began her answer by telling audience members that bonds are very important in education.   

"When these gas prices rise, it directly has an impact on what happens in construction," she said. Surprises in construction that aren't planned for also cause extra expense, she said. Williams said she wanted to make one point clear, "I am not in favor of rushing through a project." She also said she wasn't in favor of rushing to decide what students will fill a new school. Having elementary students change schools frequently is "ridiculous," according to Williams.

Current board member Kay Wright Norman is seeking re-election for the District 4 West seat. She is running unopposed. Norman was in the audience at the forum, and chose to give all available time to other candidates who have opponents.

Contact Holly Lee at 704-797-7683 or hlee@salisburypost.com.