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Republicans host candidate forum

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By Tracy Harris

School board candidates had a chance to speak publicly at a forum last week, ahead of an important November election.

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Four of the five board seats are contested this year and many consider it an important time in Oldham County Schools’ history as construction is set to begin on Brownsboro Elementary and the district continues to tap into financial reserves to avoid raising taxes.

Although school board positions are non-partisan, the Oldham County Republican Party hosted a forum for candidates Sept. 25.

“We felt it was important to interject our influence and make it our business,” said party chair Phil Feigel.

Seven of the 10 candidates attended. 

Each candidate gave a five-minute opening statement and had three minutes to answer each of five questions. They concluded with a three-minute closing statement.

The forum started with about several dozen people in attendance at the Inspirational Grounds coffee shop in Buckner, but the audience dwindled by the time the forum ended at 10:30 p.m.

Candidates were sequestered until their district was called.

Joyce Fletcher, current school board chair, was the first candidate to speak and the sole candidate present in the Division 1 race. Her opponent, Donna Claggett, did not attend.

“I love children and believe passionately in public education,” Fletcher said. 

She said those factors, plus her belief in volunteerism, are why she seeks reelection.

Fletcher said she continues to support the district’s mission to make students 21st Century learners. 

“We’re preparing students for jobs we don’t even know exist,” she said.

From Division 3, incumbent Larry Dodson and newcomer Gary Gibson both attended.

Dodson spoke about the need to reform the state’s SEEK formula that determines how much funding each district gets from state funds.

Shelby County, he said, gets $677 more per student per year than Oldham County — nearly $8 million total.

“It’s not fair to punish Oldham County,” he said, and said unfunded mandates from the state are draining the district’s coffers.

Dodson said the board must “plan for 20 years from now,” not for the present. Land purchases that don’t make sense now will make sense later, he said, when new facilities or additional schools are needed and land prices aren’t as low.

Gibson said the district needs more fiscal accountability and said he’s opposed to building the Brownsboro campus and is against raising taxes.

Gibson claimed the district spends only half its annual budget on teachers and has 11 assistant superintendents, although both those statistics are incorrect.

Currently, the district employs one assistant superintendent, Dan Orman.

There is also a chief operations officer, chief academic officer and two directors of instruction.

According to the 2012-13 budget, about $40 million is spent on instruction salaries and benefits annually. That doesn’t include student support services and instructional staff support employees, which totals another $6.7 million. 

Those three employment categories comprise 62 percent of the district’s total budget.

About 84 percent of the budget is spent on salaries for all employees.

Gibson said he’d like to see the county’s school competing against each other in academic fields the way they compete in sports.

Candidates Kevin Woosley and Barrett Shirrell attended for Division 4.

Donnie Edwards, also a candidate in the district, could not attend because of his work schedule. However, his wife was given the opportunity to make a brief statement about Edwards’ candidacy.

Woosley, the division’s incumbent, said he learned a lot about school operation by serving on La Grange Elementary’s site-based council.

“That’s really where the rubber meets the road,” he said.

Site-based decision making councils oversee individual school budgets and policies.

But Woosley said his main reason for serving on the school board is to make sure children — including his own — have opportunities he felt he didn’t.

“My biggest regret in life is that I didn’t go to college,” Woosley said. “I want my kids to see how important it is.”

He said he’ll continue to support the county’s Arvin Center, which provides technical training in several fields for students interested in going directly into the workforce.

Woosley also cited his support of the Reading Recovery program and renovations for existing schools as highlights of his school board service.

Shirrell said his candidacy is “an effort of passion,” spurred on by the proposed closing of Liberty Elementary, which he attended.

“I hate to see something that was a part of my childhood put aside,” he said.

He said he believes a well-rounded district will have a school in each area of the county.

Shirrell said he’s proud to be a product of the Oldham County Schools system.

“The education I received has given me the ability to do what I do for living,” Shirrell, a contractor, said.

Although he has little experience for a school board seat, Shirrell believes he could make a difference.

“I have a vested interest in this district,” he said. “I hate to see the Oldham County I grew up with go away.”

Candidate Donnie Edwards was represented by his wife, Debra, who said her husband hopes to bring new and fresh thinking to the board if elected.

For Division 5, the race’s two newcomers, Rod Smothers and Jonathan Head, attended.

Incumbent Jennifer Beckner did not attend due to a previously-scheduled home evaluation concerning adoption, although she did submit a statement.

Head said, as a fifth-generation Oldham County resident, he is looking to give back to his community.

He said the district is already one of the state’s best but should look to be competitive against other districts in the region, like Indianapolis and Cincinnati. 

Head said he would not raise taxes without a county-wide referendum. 

A referendum is only required if the board raises taxes above the state-approved compensating rate or above 4 percent.

Smothers said he has concerns about the district’s land purchases and about school salaries.

“If we’re going to expect a lot, we need to pay a lot,” he said. 

Smothers has been an educator for 28 years and currently is the chief information officer for Trimble County schools.

Feigel read a statement Beckner submitted. She describes herself as passionate about education.

Beckner was appointed to the school board in 2011 after being selected by members of other school districts for the position.

Smothers also applied for the position to fill the vacant position in 2011.

In her statement, Beckner said she’s spent her entire adult life advocating for kids — through adoption agency work, PTA service and other avenues.

The Oldham County Republican Party offered endorsements of several candidates Sept. 28.

The party endorsed Gibson and Smothers but committee members voted to remain neutral and not endorse any candidate in the other two divisions.

Smothers is the party’s treasurer, although he did not vote in the endorsement selection.

State laws prohibit school board candidates to refer to a political party’s endorsement.

Registered voters in Oldham County will be able to vote for the candidate in their district only during the election Nov. 6.

The deadline for registering to vote in November’s election is Oct. 9. 

For in fo, visit oldhamcountyclerkky.com or call 222-0047.