published Thursday, July 12th, 2012

Katherine Benefield, Rhonda Thurman 'diametric opposites'

Rhonda Thurman is seen in this file photo.
Rhonda Thurman is seen in this file photo.
Photo by Alex Washburn /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

EARLY VOTING

Voters may cast ballots on Friday through July 28 at the following locations in Hamilton County:

• Brainerd Recreation Center, 1010 North Moore Road and Eastwood Church, 4300 Ooltewah-Ringgold Road; Northgate Mall, entrance at former Shanes Rib Shack/Pizza Hut next to Belk; Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

• Hamilton County Election Commission, 700 River Terminal Road, Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Source: Hamilton County Election Commission

School board contender Katherine Benefield says she's the "diametric opposite" of District 1 incumbent Rhonda Thurman.

Benefield, a retired technology employee for Hamilton County Schools, said Thurman is politically staged and motivated. She said Thurman's behavior is sometimes out of line and that she would offer a calm, steady voice if elected to the board.

She specifically pointed to a November 2011 school board meeting in which Thurman walked out in frustration during a presentation from Normal Park Museum Magnet School Principal Jill Levine. Benefield promised she would never make that kind of move.

"I think that District 1 has been left with fewer resources, which is an artifact of negativity there," Benefield said. "When there's a problem, you look at the problem. You don't start attacking people and institutions."

Thurman admitted that she can sometimes come across as crass, but she said she's just sticking up for the taxpayers in her district and speaking her mind -- traits she said her constituents appreciate.

"I happen to think they probably need somebody that's strong and willing to fight for them," Thurman said. "Sitting back and being quiet doesn't get it done. They need someone to stand up."

She said she was justified in walking out of the November meeting because Levine wasn't on the agenda and the principal was "berating" board members for a recent vote.

Thurman, who was first elected in 2004, said the board doesn't need the addition of another former school district employee. Currently, three of nine members are former school employees, though both candidates for the open District 7 seat are former educators.

"We need people to represent regular, ordinary taxpayers," said Thurman, who is a hair dresser.

Benefield said she would bring an important perspective to the board because she understands the benefits and challenges of technology in schools. She said the district is lacking some key pieces such as a backup of its servers.

"We're mandated to have some things in place we don't have," she said.

She also said her experience could help the board navigate upcoming technology purchases such as moving to digital textbooks.

Thurman dismissed Benefield's concerns and said the district's information technology employees are there to take care of such issues.

The two also hold differing beliefs on many local educational issues.

Thurman is a critic of teachers' unions and magnet schools but supports charter and virtual school programs. Benefield believes the opposite on all those issues and said teacher morale has sunk with recent reforms in teacher evaluation and tenure.

"The work environment is the student environment, and it has fallen apart," she said.

The election is Aug. 2.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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