SHENANDOAH JUNCTION – There are six candidates to compete for a seat on the Jefferson County Board of Education.
The contested seat is currently occupied by Gary Kable, who is running for re-election.
The six candidates outlined their platforms at a discussion hosted by the American Federation of Teachers at Jefferson High School on March 15.
Kable said he is proud of the work the school board has done, despite recent hiccups.
“We have a solid board that took over a system that was out of control. No morale, zero support from (School Building Authority), many employees were forced or left because of the climate. This board has increased pay and benefits and increased highly qualified employees from 90 percent to 97 percent,” Kable said.
“The basic of all human relations … is to treat everybody fairly and respectfully. And I think that’s what this board has done,” Kable said. “I think we brought the morale of the system back to where it ought to have been. We’ve had a few bumps here lately, but those will work out.”
Kable said recent teacher and service personnel layoffs, called RIFs, have been effective at keeping the county schools’ books balanced.
“In a system such as the Eastern Panhandle, funding is always an issue. Right now I don’t think it is the most pressing issue,” Kable said. “Contrary to what people are telling you, there is no deficit. We do have less money to work with for next year. We have been reducing staff and positions for the last three years.”
Jim Jenkins, who taught science in Jefferson County Schools before going on to teach at the Smithsonian Institute and Shepherd University, said he was spurred into action by recent teacher pay cuts and layoffs.
“With the recent RIFs and pay reductions – I thought that was intolerable. I wrote to all the members of the board concerning my thoughts. I received responses from two,” he said. “We need to do budgetary planning effectively so we don’t have the disaster that just occurred.”
Jenkins also argued for giving teachers more autonomy in the classroom and higher pay.
“I’m increasingly concerned with bureaucratic dictates from Washington, Charleston and Charles Town that have the effect of interfering in education. Teachers need to be more in charge of what goes on,” Jenkins said. “Cost of living allowance is imperative for teachers here – not locality pay. It costs more to live here. We should be paid accordingly.”
“To improve the relationship with teachers, we simply need to do things that work. Teachers these days spend an inordinate amount of time testing, recording, involved in stylistic innovation that has no impact on student achievement.”
Laurie Ogden, the mother of several Jefferson County students, past president of both booster organizations and her Parent Teacher Organization, said her experience as a parent will bring an important perspective to the board.
“I am running for the board because of my children and for my community,” Ogden said. “I feel I am uniquely qualified for the position because I have so many children.”
Ogden said the most pressing issue for the school system is resolving falling tax revenues.
“The most pressing issue right now is, honestly, to find out how we can go from a $5.5 million deficit to a not having a financial crisis,”“We have a 100 percent excess levy … (and) track money funds for both lottery and table games. We should be number one in our state at the very least. And our state should clearly not be 49th in the country.”
She said she would also emphasize social issues facing students.
“Teen pregnancy, drugs, social issues – those are big issues for me,” she said.
Mark Osbourn, a Jeferson County educator with 38 years experience and retiring principle of C.W. Shipley Elementary School, said the board should focus on resolving financial difficulties and getting input from teachers on policy.
“Our biggest problem right now is managing the budget and finding a way we can live within its parameters and project in future years ahead so we don’t have abrupt adjustments. Our public looks to us for leadership and stability, and we have not shown that,” Osbourn said.
“We improve relations with our teachers by involving them. I feel two years ago teachers, service personnel and principals were involved in the budget, and we had quite a bit we were able to say about the budget. When we get into a panic situation, I didn’t feel that we had the near input,” he said.
Osbourn also said he thinks expectations should be raised for all students.
“In No Child Left Behind, I think our primary focus was on low-achieving students. I think our primary focus has to be on high expectations for all students,” he said.
Former board member Lori Stilley said she decided to run again because she was “deeply concerned” with budget shortfalls and the resulting layoff of over 60 teachers and service personnel.
“Please understand that this school board knew in 2009 that the excess levy funds were decreasing, and this budget shortfall never should have occurred,” Stilley said. “The bottom line is that … we started the year needing $88 million to get through the school year, as we have in the past. We were $5 million short of being able to do that.”
She promised to work to restore the TEAM teaching program in Jefferson County middle schools, which she said has been endangered by layoffs and funding cuts.
“We lost funding for the middle school TEAM leaders, which has a detrimental effect on the TEAM approach which is important to children at that grade level,” Stilley said.
Stilley promised to focus on long-range financial planning, local professional development programs and increasing transparency on the school board.
Tom Delauney, an area air-conditioning technician, said he hopes to bring a working-class perspective to the board.
“I’m running because I’d like to give, maybe, a blue-collar perspective to the decisions that the board of education has to make. I don’t want to say uneducated, but more of a vocational education – somebody that gets their hands dirty and knows what it’s like to work out in the trenches.”
Delauney said he would work to restore public perception of the board.
“The faith of the community needs to be restored in the board of education because, from what I heard, they’ve kind of lost faith with them.”
He also promised to be responsive to popular demands.
“I may think we need to paint the clouds green, but if I get three or 400 people calling me saying, ‘No, we want purple clouds,’ I’m gonna vote for purple clouds. It’s not really what I think. It’s what the community, the teachers, the service personnel, the volunteers think,” Delauney said.