School board on the cusp
A relative handful of people attended an October 20 Chamber of Commerce forum for school board candidates, but they got a clear picture of what’s wrong with our current school board.
Phil Daniel of WZEZ 100.5 FM moderated both forums. “The good doctor Phil,” did an outstanding job of keeping the discussion on schedule.
Incumbents contended that current difficulties are the result of budget cuts; the whole kerfuffle over the past few school budgets was generated by a handful of parents who got crabby when their favorite programs were cut. They touted their experience and dedication to delivery of a quality education for all county students as justification for reelection but gave few examples.
Challengers by contrast offered a wide range of innovative approaches to the problems faced by Goochland schools that do not necessarily include increasing property taxes.
The very fact that new people are running for every school board seat clearly indicates widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo.
Once again, as the bland nature of questions put forth offered copious shelter for incumbents, challengers used the opportunity to paint a clear picture of what can be accomplished with a new school board.
Subjects covered were general and, for the most part, ignored the question of the superintendent.
Incumbents never explained why the school system failed, for at least the past two budget cycles, to prepare proposed budgets based expected actual revenues. Instead, the schools presented budgets far in excess of expected revenues and demanded that the supervisors raise taxes to fund them.
(An October 23 revelation by District 3 incumbent supervisor Ned Creasey that the schools had about $1 million left over at the end of the last fiscal year gives credence to allegations by challengers that the school budget is essentially based on magical thinking rather than hard facts and real numbers.)
Incumbents in Districts 4 and 5 did not seek reelection. John Wright faces no opposition in District 5. Beth Hardy and Phil Davis, both excellent candidates are running for the District 4 seat.
Several challengers compared this year’s election to Goochland hiring a team to lead the schools for the next four years.
The new candidates bring complementary skill sets to the task.
Only Penny Palen, who entered the race to ensure that District 2 incumbent Ray Miller, allegedly a member of the Bowles/Quarles clan, faced opposition, offers little in the way of real world experience.
Palen’s unsuccessful suit against the school board to prevent another extension of the superintendent’s contract indicates that she is not a team player. Palen’s involvement in or schools and commitment to excellence in Goochland education is commendable. However, if she truly wants Miller replaced she must withdraw from the race and throw her support behind Kevin Hazzard. A three person race works in Miller’s favor.
Hazzard brings impressive career credentials and boundless innovative energy to the table. Suggestions he presented during his brief comment period included establishing a junior ROTC program in Goochland, which could be done with no cost to the school system. The leadership and personal discipline skills taught by such a program are useful no matter where a student’s life path leads.
Hazzard, who has skills and connections in the education and information technology worlds also believes that it is possible to ensure that all students, regardless of socioeconomic status, have access to some sort of broadband connection so that they can keep up with their school work. He contended that Goochland schools currently do nothing to prepare students for the skilled labor market.
Michael Payne, District 1 challenger, who is a vocational tech teacher in Henrico, strongly believes that removing vo-tech opportunities from the Goochland curriculum has hobbled many students from reaching their full potential. Payne contended that all students can benefit from this kind of pratical learning opportunity, which sometimes makes the importance of “classroom learning” like math more accessible by illustrating real world applications.
All challengers have children in Goochland schools and well aware of the good and bad in our educational system.
John Lumpkins District 3 challenger got a round of applause when he advocated keeping the library at the high school open for student use all day.
All of the challengers said that the school budget should focus on teachers, which they believe are the foundation of a good education.
Hardy said that our teachers should be respected as professionals and be able to speak openly about their concerns without fear of reprisal. She believes that fresh eyes on the schools and new leadership will provide the inspiration to get things back on track.
Davis concurred stating that our schools need to create a supportive environment to untether teachers from restrictions that prevent them from using all of their skills to light the fire of learning in our kids. Goochland schools, he said, are at a turning point. People are fed up with incumbents saying the same thing year after year and never getting things right.
Lumpkins knew there was a serious problem with the school board when the supervisors imposed a holdback on some school funds following repeated failure of the schools to comply with requests for explanatory budget information.
All challengers repeatedly took issue with the lack of school board discussion before voting on issues. Indeed, attend a school board meeting to see the term “done deal” in action.
The challengers will bring new energy and insight to issues that face our schools and regain citizen trust. The incumbents just need more of your money to fail to accomplish what they’ve failed to accomplish in the past.