Hosted by the Scott County Chamber of Commerce, along with New Peoples Bank, Addington Oil and Food City, the event welcomed candidates for Virginia State Senate 40th Senatorial District, Virginia House of Delegates First Legislative District, constitutional offices, Board of Supervisors and school board. Candidates were given questions prior to the forum and were encouraged to answer the questions during their speaking time, though it wasn’t required.
School board candidates were asked the following questions: “How can the school board be more transparent with their assets and expenditures, including pay increases and bonuses, maintenance and teacher classroom needs?” and “How do you plan on retaining and attracting quality employees?”
Below are portions of the candidates’ responses. All candidates were present at the forum except for L. Steve Sallee Jr. (District 2), Linda Gillenwater (District 3), Gail McConnell (District 5), Larry Horton (District 6) and Robin Hood (District 6).
David Mark Templeton (District 1)
“The school board is run by taxpayers’ money. I’ve been on the budget committee for the last four years. Eighty-one percent of our budget money goes to teachers, school employees, nurses, resource officers, salaries and benefits. That leaves you with 19 percent funding for the calendar year for bills, power, building upkeep, buses, supplies, et cetera. We have no rainy day fund; we have to spend 100 percent of our money by June 30. Us as a board have a governed right to do what we want to do with that money in the best interest of Scott County.”
“We have raised nurses’ and resource officers’ salaries considerably in the last year. We gave teacher raises two of the four years, and every year we’ve given a step for the teachers’ salary. The most attractive thing that we’ve done as a board that nobody has done in the last 20, 30 years for the teachers that’s been with the Scott County school system, we have given the last two summers a $500 bonus for each full-time employee of the Scott County school system and $250 for each part-time, and that hasn’t been done for a long time.”
Josh Bolling (District 1)
“I would like to see our school board provide a quarterly budget report, similar to the report card that a child receives after every nine weeks. What this report could do after every nine weeks is provide details of how funds have been spent toward various items … instead of the vague budget summary that you see now at the end of the year and at the beginning of the year. … Also at the end of the budget year, I believe an additional report should be provided on how surplus funds were appropriated to end the budget year with a zero balance. …”
“The next question I’ll address is regarding how to retain and attract quality employees. The first step for this is to ensure we are offering comparable pay and benefits for all of our employees. I understand this can be a challenge based on funding; however, I feel that if our school system is unable to do so, then we should try to offer other incentives for our employees. … I think we can try to be creative to make sure that we retain our employees and then attract quality employees to come into our school system.”
William “Bill” Houseright (District 4)
“Right now personally for me, I think the best thing we could do for teachers is get them … a good, and all of our employees, insurance policy. I mean, it’s catastrophic. If something happens to you, I’ll tell you what, it’s $5,000 out of big Bill’s pocket, and there you are, you’re paying bills the whole time. That’s the kind of insurance you’ve got, or you can go to the doctor for a $20 copay, but it’s catastrophic insurance. A lot of people that sit on the board, they’ve been Medicare recipients and they’ve got Humana on the side and they don’t have to worry about that. I’m going to fight for a good insurance policy, a good benefit policy for the teachers.”
“But the most important thing we’ve got is our children. … We need to continue to make sure that our students go into college well-prepared, get us caught up on any kind of technologies that we need. Let’s get caught up on that stuff. Let’s make sure they’re prepared in the maths and the calculus and stuff when they go in. … I’d love to do everything in my power to make sure we’ve got the finest teachers and the finest facilities here for them.”
Karen “KC” Linkous (District 4)
“It’s kind of hard not to be transparent in this day and age with social media and also with the Freedom of Information Act. A lot of how you conduct your business is mandated to be accessible to the public, but I will also help to make sure that the public knows about how the school board spends on school expenses, transportation and maintenance expenses, instructional supplies, teacher supplies, salaries, benefits, bonuses and raises and make sure that that is accessible to the public through some reporting procedures.”
“In the years that I worked with the school system, I attended career fairs, and the three things that new employees were concerned about, the first was benefits … so I will help to make see that benefits are offered, good quality benefits, not just health but retirement, dental/vision, annuities, all sorts of benefits, long-term care and it’s offered at a very low cost to the employee. The second thing they were concerned about was salaries. … The third thing they wanted to know was the community and what it has to offer … and that’s a joint effort on all of the county entities that we make sure that there’s something here for the future generations.”
D. Stuart Williams (District 4)
“We need to communicate better, and we’ve got a website. We’ve got billboards there at schools to advertise we’re having school board meetings. People need to come out to a school board meeting, ask questions (on) what’s going on, but the easiest way, we’ve got technology here in this world, so let’s look at … what our expenditures are on a website. It’s real easy. You can look at it anytime if you can’t make a meeting, but communication is the easiest way for us to be transparent. …”
“The second one, how do we retain? … We should be doing a better job, or a quicker job, I should say, at getting a budget out for next year, where we are not waiting until August for contracts for new teachers or teachers at all. We should be doing it earlier to where we can go to job fairs … earlier, and not just talking to them when they’re getting ready to graduate but as a junior, and working with the colleges, because the professors know who’s going to be a good teacher, and we should be in contact with them to find out who the better teachers are to attract them here at an earlier age.”
Michael Edwards (District 5)
“With the Every Student Succeeds Act that was passed in 2015 and our Virginia Opportunity was ratified for 2017, we will start to see in December what each school district shows, how much money is being spent inside of each school individually, not just as a county as a whole. That’s going to cover teachers’ salaries and other expenditures that come within the school system, makes up the entire equation. … Let’s put it on the school website so everybody can see it. Let’s be transparent, because we all want to provide a great environment for each of our students at every county school. I do believe we do that, but let’s make sure people know it. …”
“We need to make sure we are preparing those who do not plan to attend college to be as successful in life as those who do. … I’d like to pursue finding partnerships with contractors for our students taking carpentry, electrical, HVAC and masonry. I’d like to see us bring in more information technologies, have a pathway to certification for Cisco, Lenox, Apple, Microsoft opportunities. … The earlier we can provide our students with a successful career path, the more likely they are to stay in Scott County.”
*Note: This is the fifth in a series of stories from the candidate forum.