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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
540-483-5113
Fax: 540-483-8013

School board candidates discuss funding, priorities

Friday, October 18, 2013

By STACEY HAIRSTON - Staff Writer

Local funding and the importance of technology in Franklin County schools were recurring themes during a candidate forum at The Franklin County Library Tuesday evening.

All but one candidate for the open at-large seat on the Franklin County School Board participated in the forum, sponsored by Renewanation, a Christian world-view organization.

Candidates were asked several questions, some related directly to funding and spending, and were given three minutes to respond to each question.

Candidates Tyler Bamberg, Penny Blue, Robin Mays and Michael Pruitt participated in the forum, while candidate Gina Kennett did not attend.

Candidates first were asked about funding Franklin County schools and spending priorities.

Pruitt, a deputy division chief with Franklin County Public Safety, said that if carryover dollars were initially allocated for educational purposes and there is a need that is justified, he believes in reallocating the funds.

"It is very important as stewards of taxpayer dollars, as well as leaders of organizations, that if we cannot articulate those needs or how those dollars will be utilized, then perhaps they should stay in the general fund until such needs exist," he said.

Bamberg, a system's administrator for Franklin County, said that the problem facing the school system is image and communication.

"The school board should be applauded for having money left over, but there is no communication between the two boards (school board and board of supervisors) to plan together as a county which way we need to go," said Bamberg.

Blue, a retired IBM executive, believes the budget should be better utilized so that less money will be left over, and that more emphasis should be put on preschool education.

"Every child that is preschool age needs to be in preschool somewhere," Blue said, "because if they aren't, by the time they get to the first grade, they are already behind. Once a child is behind, it is very difficult to catch up, if they ever do."

Mays, a WIC (Women, Infants and Children) peer counselor with the Virginia Department of Health and the owner of Star Achievers in Boones Mill, said she is "flabbergasted" by the $80 million budget, and suspects the schools administration has not been forthcoming with all the information at the board meetings.

"There's a lot more that goes on behind the scenes that the average person doesn't know," said Mays. "The money is not where they say it is. That concerns me greatly."

None of the candidates said they believe the school board should have the ability to directly influence taxation of citizens, and three of them said they would not be in favor of raising local taxes to increase funding for education. The exception was Blue, who said the specific situation would determine whether she would support raising taxes for schools.

All the candidates said they believe that funding education should be put first, before funding extracurricular activities.

The topic of technology in schools sparked several different opinions amongst the candidates.

Bamberg said he is concerned that the school system is not using the resources it has to its full potential.

"Can our teachers use the resources given to them?" said Bamberg. "Do they have the proper training? Students need to understand how to socialize, not just type and text."

Blue said technology should be used and would be an easier and less costly way to educate; however, the school district should focus on the basics before utilizing technology.

"Textbooks are old and a lot of them are expired," said Blue, stating that technology would be cheaper in that sense. "However, some students have trouble adding and subtracting by seventh grade. We need to use the technology, but use it smartly and wisely."

Mays said technology would be useful in certain areas, such as math, but a lot of money is wasted on technology.

"Technology is great, but I more concerned with learning to read and write," said Mays. "There is a lot of money wasted on technology.

Pruitt said the core curriculum should be taught prior to teaching technology-related classes.

"Maybe it could be an elective," said Pruitt. "We need to make sure our students can spell without the use of spell-check."

All the candidates said the basis of behavior and morals should begin at home.

"Kids are a reflection of the best and worst of society, but more a reflection of their parents and home life," said Pruitt. "We need to model the behaviors expected of our students."

"There was no dress code when I was in school," said Blue. "My mama was my dress code. It is our responsibility to educate. I've never met a parent who didn't want their child to be educated and successful."

"We should expect students to behave, expect administration to support teachers in their discipline and expect everyone to do their part," said Mays.

"Schools should be allowed to discipline without the fear of lawsuit," said Bamberg. "We need family influence, a good moral sense and a good education."

The candidates were mostly in agreement that they would support partnerships with private schools and faith-based entities to provide support and opportunities to staff and students.

"We need to reach out to our community," said Blue. "The community brings a lot of knowledge and the school system is not utilizing enough of that."

Pruitt said the utilization of vouchers for private and homeschooled children would be a great idea.

Bamberg and Mays both said that parents of homeschooled and private school children should be able to use their tax dollars to choose which type of education they feel is best for their child.

All the candidates said they supported private and homeschooled children having access to public school sports and extracurricular activities, saying that those parents pay taxes in Franklin County.

Bamberg, 24, of Callaway is a graduate of Colorado Technical University with bachelor's degrees in business management and information technology (IT). He earned his master's degree in IT management while working for Interactive Achievement, an educational company.

Blue of Union Hall graduated from Franklin County High School in 1978. She earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Hampton University and a master's degree in business administration from Duke University.

After graduation from Hampton University, she began working for IBM as a programmer and retired 25 years later as a World Wide Delivery Project Executive.

Blue has spent the past five years tutoring and teaching math at local public schools and Virginia Western Community College.

Mays of Boones Mill is a 1985 graduate of Radford University with a bachelor's degree in health and physical education. She is also a certified director of youth ministry through the Methodist Theological School of Ohio.

Mays has also studied American sign language, early elementary education and reading remediation at Virginia Western Community College.

Pruitt of Union Hall earned a bachelor's degree in management from Bellevue University and a master's degree in public administration from Jacksonville State University.

He has been a volunteer with the Glade Hill Volunteer Fire Department and the Glade Hill Rescue Squad. He is currently a member of the Glade Hill Ruritan Club.

Melvin Adams, president and COO of Renewanation, organized the candidate's forum. Valarie Angle, a developmental education specialist at Virginia Western Community College, moderated the event.

 
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