published Friday, April 6th, 2012

School board challenges

Change is coming to the Hamilton County Board of Education after the Aug. 2 election. Chip Baker, who currently represents District 2, and Linda Mosley, who now serves as representative for District 7, are not seeking re-election. Rhonda Thurman, the incumbent in District 1, faces a challenge from Katherine Benefield. Voters in those in those districts have a chance to influence the direction the board will take in coming years.

It appears that Jonathan Welch, a Signal Mountain dentist, will replace Baker on the board. At this writing, no other candidate had qualified for the post by Thursday's noon deadline. Ralph Miller and Donna Horn will vie for Mosley's post. George Ricks, the current District 4 representative will run without opposition in August.

Serving on the school board is a challenge that relatively few are willing to accept and a public service that carries with it great responsibility. It sometimes demands a thick skin, too. School board rulings often rile individuals and constituencies within the community, prompting loud and often unnecessarily personal attacks on those charged with making those decisions. Recent events -- particularly those involving zoning issues involving Normal Park and East Hamilton schools -- are a case in point.

Baker, who is completing three terms on the board, is especially familiar with both the pleasures and pitfalls of school board service. Mosley, elected in 2008, elected in 2008, knows, too, that hostility rather than praise and appreciation is often the lot of a school board member. Both, however, have served honorably and well, providing generally progressive viewpoints on a board often in need of such vision.

Voters in county school board districts 1 and 7 have a choice in the August election. They can elect an individual who embraces progress and pledges to build a school system that will serve the needs of youngsters who need superior education to meet the stiff challenges of the workplace and higher education. Or they can cast a ballot for an individual whose views are blinkered by parochialism and inspired by political partisanship and long-standing racial and economic animus.

The coming campaign should allow voters ample chances to question Horn, Miller and Benefield, whose views on public education are still unknown, and Thurman, whose past performance as a board member is a matter of public record, about the roles they hope to play if elected to the school board. Their responses should be examined carefully in coming months.

The education of the county's students is too important to be consigned to individuals whose interests and goals are more attuned to the petty intrigue and political bickering that have become a hallmark of the school board. The greater challenge is to foster equitable, countywide public education. The difficult and continuing task of building a school system that efficiently serves the needs of students and the community is best entrusted to those committed to meeting the challenges inherent in contemporary public education.

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