District 7 School Board candidates Donna Horn and Ralph Miller recently went head to head during a forum hosted by the Tyner Community group.
With approximately 35 spectators present, both candidates expressed their often similar opinions on budget cuts, communication flow with Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith and the County Commission, East Hamilton's recent rezoning and the challenge of representing students whose parents aren't part of the district that will elect them.
Miller, a retired band director and Hamilton County educator for more than three decades, stressed the importance of arts education in schools and stated his first choice in budget cuts would come from Central Office.
"I'm not passionate about arts; I live the arts. I'm going to be standing fast for no cuts for anything that supports the arts," he said before listing he is also an ardent supporter of athletics and vocational programs. "I know there will have to be suggestions so I'm going to opt for Central Office."
Horn, a retired teacher and court-appointed special advocate for children, listed the grants she wrote for arts programs at Wolftever Creek Elementary that totaled $25,000 as proof that she too supports the arts. In addition to arts funding, she said physical activity for children also ranks high on her priorities.
When asked about the school board's relationship with the current superintendent, both candidates expressed criticism for the level of communication between the board and superintendent.
"Based on what I have read and what I know, it always hasn't been open communication with the supertindent," said Horn. "And if you've read the newspaper articles, sometimes the board finds out things from the newspaper or the media and is blindsided by that information. We've got to figure out a better way to have those lines open up so he hears what the people need so we can act on it and get the job done."
After stating he knows Smith personally, Miller emphasized the fact that the school board's job is to monitor the superintendent and stated he would have no problem walking into the Smith's office to express an opinion.
The County Commission
After discussing the County Commission's role in relation to the school board, both candidates again agreed there was room for improvement.
"I think it's incumbent on a board member to work with their commissioner," said Miller. "If I am elected to this position, I will regularly communicate with my commissioners and other commissioners when I think it's appropriate. We can't continue with miscommunication, lack of communication and deception."
Horn said she is tired of the intense backbiting portrayed in the media and the image it portrays. She said moving forward it is important for commissioners and board members to work well together.
Both candidates criticized the recent East Hamilton rezoning and the fact that a standalone middle school does not exist in District 7.
"There is a serious issue of overcrowding, and hopefully the new board members will be able to make a difference and potentially reconsider the rezoning," said Horn.
Adding that overcrowding wouldn't be a problem if a middle school had been built in Apison as previously promised by the board, Miller said East Hamilton County needs new schools more so than any other area in the county.
Challenged with the unusual task of representing students whose parents do not vote in District 7 due to this year's redistricting, Horn and Miller said they would both work to represent them as if they did live within the district and stated that they support an expansion at CSLA.
"I am an advocate for education for everyone," said Horn. "Everyone deserves the same quality education. I'm a fighter who doesn't take no for an answer very easily and I will be fighting for the kids."
Miller said he would treat students' and their parents' concerns equally regardless of which district in which they vote.
The otherwise relatively calm forum was disrupted only when former Wolftever Creek Elementary assistant principal Lee Ann Bolick asked Horn to defend the fact that during her last year teaching at the school, she left two weeks into the school year. Bolick asked Horn why constituents would believe she wouldn't give up on them the way she had allegedly done so at the elementary school.
Horn declined to address the issue publicly and asked to answer the question in private with Bolick. Horn stated that certain circumstances prevented her from working at the school anymore and assured attendees at the forum that she would not give up on the school board if elected.