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District 10: 2018 County Commission Candidate Survey Responses

Strong Schools asked individuals running for Sumner County Commission for their responses to the following questions. The responses for those that replied are below. (The primary is May 1 2018, with early voting currently underway.)

1.    How long have you lived in Sumner County?

Paul Goode:

“29/30 years”

2.    Do you (or did you) have children or grandchildren in Sumner County Schools?

Paul Goode:

“No."

3.    What is the best way to increase school security, and if additional funding was needed, how would you provide the funding?

Paul Goode:

“By request and design I’ve been on educational committee for 10-plus years. We started aggressively many years ago adding Sumner County officers to every school. We have continued that pattern ever since and to date have funded each school board request for added security including as part of a $73-million dollar renovation program that we’re wrapping up soon we have added security doors and more protection to each school. We must continue listening to our Director of schools, the board, the experts and keep doing everything possible to protect of kids and employees."

4.    Why should someone vote for you? What unique strengths would you bring to the commission?

Paul Goode:

“Being the creator and catalyst to Educate & Grow Sumner County, a program that’s now state wide I’ve been working to improve Sumner County students and education here for over a decade. Also, for well over a decades my experience including at every level of government and business. Mostly, I let my actions, my voice and especially my votes speak to that and thankfully, Hendersonville and the Sumner County citizens and elected and re-elected me to represent them overwhelming time and time again for well over a decade."

5.    What’s the best way to address long-term population growth in Sumner County?

Paul Goode:

“Keep doing what we’re doing. The current commission 3-4 years ago started planning proactively looking decades forward instead of band-aids as needed like the county use to do. By planning ahead the current commission has recently funded a $73M program touching and improving the overwhelming majority of schools county wide and, we are planning a brand new K-12 $100M campus in the middle of all the biggest growth in the county. Keep the same commission and keep looking decades ahead."

6.    Regarding funding education, are any options “on” or “off the table” to meet budgetary needs? Why?

Paul Goode:

“No, not really ~ however, we have certain avenues that we can use and some we can’t and that’s primarily all by start law."

7.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School teachers are compensated appropriately? Why?

Paul Goode:

“The current director of schools and board have proposed pay raises across the board for the past 5-6 years. I have be in favor of each one and voted that way. Also, the current commission has overwhelmingly supported those plans and will continue to do everything possible to get our employees the most possible and most competitive in the state."

8.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School staff are compensated appropriately? Why?

Paul Goode:

“Same as #7 our approach for both especially the past 4-5 years at the request and direction of our director of schools and board."

9.    Do Sumner County schools have adequate facilities to meet the educational needs of students? Why?

Paul Goode:

“No, we’ll always be catching up and doing everything possible to maintain all the needs of the ever changing world especially around technology. However, again the current commission (past 4-years) at the request of our director of schools & board have added more funding to every school class room(s) being updated, I.T. everything, county wide and more per-pupil money in the class room than ever before and we’ve kept adding more every year."

10. What are the three greatest needs, if any, do you see in our schools? How can the Sumner County Commission help address those needs?

Paul Goode:

“VOTE! Keep the current commission as much as possible that gets along and works with the director of schools and school board better than anytime in the history of Sumner County. Assuring that we keep looking ahead, planning for the future growth, when possible adding as much as possible to compensate teacher and employees."

Concerning Fine Arts Portfolios

The Sumner County School Board is proposing shifting to a "portfolio model" for evaluation of Fine Arts teachers in the 2018-19 school year. The Board will hold a study session and discuss the issue on June 5th at 6:00 PM. Here's more on the issue in terms of questions that have been raised over the course of this year about the model:

1) There was an initial suggestion that Sumner County is proposing using this portfolio model because of what is or will be a state mandate.

 

This is simply not true. There is not a state mandate regarding adoption of a specific portfolio model. In fact, districts choose in May/June of each year the evaluation options they will use to satisfy the state's TEAM evaluation model requirements. 

 

2) There has been a suggestion that the 18-19 year is a pilot for a "new" version of the portfolio and that  the decision for our county to pilot the portfolio was made so that we will have the opportunity to mold the final product. 

 

A Department of Education representative confirmed that their is no "pilot" or "new" model in 2018-19 at the state level. The Fine Arts Portfolio remains the same, with the difference being in the new standards and in the online platform (shifting to Educopia, which Kindergarten used this year). In fact, districts using the Fine Arts Portfolio this year already shifted to Educopia (with significant problems). 

 

3) A suggestion has been made that Sumner risks BEP funds by "backing out" of Fine Arts Portfolios at this point.

 

This is also not true. The Department of Education confirmed that an evaluation "flexibility survey" was issued to districts on May 23rd and that districts have until mid-June to complete the survey and make the DOE aware of evaluation choices for the 18-19 school year. 

 

In other words: Sumner County currently has no obligation to proceed with this model for 2018-19. 

 

4) It has been suggested that Sumner's related arts teachers want to move to this model.

 

This is not entirely accurate, as the last survey of teachers on this issue was some six years ago. Since then, teachers have seen the full implementation of the state's TEAM model and have watched colleagues in other districts go through the Arts portfolio. Prior to the announcement in August of 2017 that Sumner intended to move to this model, there was not an additional survey or opportunity for teacher feedback. 

 

5) It has been suggested that "this is where the state is headed, so Sumner might as well get on board."

 

Only 16 districts in the state currently use the Fine Arts Portfolio. One of those districts is Nashville, and I understand teachers there have had meetings with district leadership about moving away from the model. The Fine Arts Coordinator in Williamson County indicated they have no plans to adopt this model as they view it as cumbersome for teachers and not helpful for students. We will have a new Governor after November and a new Education Commissioner soon after -- it's certainly not clear exactly where the state is headed -- though it does seem clear there's no groundswell of movement toward this model of teacher evaluation. 

 

6) The portfolio model is problematic

 

I've taken the time to talk with teachers here in Sumner County and with those in other districts. I know many of you are aware of the significant problems with Kindergarten portfolios -- they take up huge chunks of instructional time and result in significant amounts of uncompensated work for our Kindergarten teachers. 

Here's more on the trouble with Kindergarten portfolios: http://tnedreport.com/2018/05/story-time/

While the Kindergarten portfolio is state-mandated, the Fine Arts Portfolio is not. We have a state Department of Education that can't effectively administer testing and can't make portfolios work in Kindergarten - why would we subject additional teachers to a model designed and administered by this DOE? 

Here's more on the experience of related arts teachers in MNPS: http://tnedreport.com/2018/05/do-not-standardize-art/

The bottom line: When our teachers shift to this model, it will require additional time and will likely interrupt instructional time. It's burdensome to our teachers and not helpful to our students. 

While the current TEAM model leaves much to be desired, the answer should not be shifting to another bad model. 

Finally, it is sometimes said that a teacher's evaluation score "is just a number" and that our district does not punish teachers based on TEAM scores. However, when a teacher drops from a score of 5 to a 3 or 4, more observations occur. Below a 3? Another process for intervention/observation. This means more work for that teacher and his/her administrators. All in service of a model that's not been proven to benefit students. 

Will Sumner County continue moving forward with this model? Stay tuned ... 

What our Schools Need

Next week (May 15th), the school board will review next year’s proposed budget and then vote on it a week later. But our schools have needs. Big ones!

The school board won’t address them unless you urge them to include these essential items in their budget.

What you need to do:

Step 1
Contact your school board representative:

District 1: Tammy Hayes, (615) 824-7540, tammy.hayes@sumnerschools.org
District 2: Tim Brewer, (615) 824-7548, tim.brewer@sumnerschools.org
District 3: Alice Bachman, (615) 264-0262, alice.bachman@sumnerschools.org
District 4: Sarah Andrews, (615) 337-1887, sarah.andrews@sumnerschools.org
District 5: Jeff Cordell, (615) 859-5649, jeff.cordell@sumnerschools.org
District 6: Jim Hawkins, (615) 452-4411, jim.hawkins@sumnerschools.org
District 7: Andy Daniels, (615) 598-7016, andy.daniels@sumnerschools.org
District 8: Ted Wise, (615) 415-1813, ted.wise@sumnerschools.org
District 9: Patricia Brown, (615) 452-3801, patricia.brown@sumnerschools.org
District 10: Glen Gregory, (615) 325-9764, ggregory43@comcast.net
District 11: David Brown, (615) 644-4225, dave1brown@nctc.com

(If you need help identifying your school board district, refer to the "Board of Education Districts" maps: http://www.votesumnertn.org/resources/maps, or refer to your voter registration card.)

Step 2
Urge them to include these essential items in their budget:



Set a $10 Minimum for Hourly Employees
Too many Sumner County classified employees earn less than $10 an hour. Anything less is embarrassing for the important work we ask them to do. Urge the school board to bring the minimum pay for a Sumner County Schools hourly employee to $10 an hour.
 
Improve Educator Pay
While Sumner County ranks fourth in Tennessee in median household income and has the fourth lowest unemployment rate, our teachers rank 54th in average pay and our principals rank 37th. That’s a serious mismatch. We can’t keep, much less attract, the best teachers to Sumner County with substandard pay. Urge the school board to include a plan to bring pay for Sumner County teachers and principals to the top 10 in the state over the next three years.
 
Solve the Bus Driver Shortage
We have a massive shortage in bus drivers. Not only does this create logistical problems in the transportation department, but it also limits the transportation department’s flexibility to address transportation issues as they arise. The only way to solve the bus driver shortage is to entice more and higher-quality applicants with a sizable increase in bus driver pay.
 
Improve Communication
Finally, on a range of issues, Sumner County Schools does not communicate effectively with parents, teachers, and staff. Recent discussions on school transportation, state testing, and school safety on the Strong Schools Facebook page have highlighted the need for better communication from the district to its stakeholders. Call on the school board to take corrective action and create a climate of clear, transparent communication across the district.
 
Instead of the school board asking for what they can get, it's time to ask for what our schools NEED.
Contact your school board representative before it’s too late.

Strong Schools Statement on Accusation by Mr. Isbell of Involvement in County Executive Race

This morning Mr. Isbell, a candidate for Sumner County Executive, accused Strong Schools of producing a mailer highlighting his failings as property assessor.

That accusation is 100% false.

As our financial disclosure clearly states, Strong Schools has not received or spent a penny on this primary. Strong Schools has not endorsed any candidates in this primary.

We at Strong Schools are extremely disappointed that Mr. Isbell is needlessly and publicly dragging Strong Schools into the mud of Sumner County’s partisan politics.

We await a full apology from Mr. Isbell for his false accusation.

District 11: 2018 County Commission Candidate Survey Responses

Strong Schools asked individuals running for Sumner County Commission for their responses to the following questions. The responses for those that replied are below. (The primary is May 1 2018, with early voting currently underway.)

1.    How long have you lived in Sumner County?

Scott Langford:

“31 years total.”

Bill Taylor:

“I have lived in Hendersonville 28 years.  I have been a Pediatric Dentist in private practice in Hendersonville for 34 years.”

2.    Do you (or did you) have children or grandchildren in Sumner County Schools?

Scott Langford:

“I have two children in Sumner County Schools.”

Bill Taylor:

“Yes.  2 sons graduated from HHS; both played soccer for Coach Plummer and one played on the state championship team.  Their soccer experience secured both of them the opportunity to play soccer in college.”

3.    What is the best way to increase school security, and if additional funding was needed, how would you provide the funding?

Scott Langford:

“School security requires a multifaceted response.  First, there is the physical space of the school.  We have worked now to secure the entrances of all our buildings.  Second, the SROs are invaluable on many fronts.  They provide positive presence and connection with our students.  They deter/defuse many events, especially domestic situations, just by their presence.  Third, we must continue to train our staff and work hard to ensure that we are using best practices to keep our students safe.  Fourth, we need school cultures that promote healthy dialogue between students and between students and staff.  This culture allows students to speak truthfully about what they are going through and to identify other students at risk.  Finally, we need more mental health resources. We have more students that have suffered numerous childhood traumas.  They need help to provide health and well-being.”

Bill Taylor:

“The 2 critical ways to increase school security are:  1. Secure entrances/access to entering the schools and 2. School Resource Officers (SRO’s).  During the last 4 years, the County Commission provided the funds to construct secure entrances to all the schools in Sumner Co.  This month, the same commission voted to hire 5 more SRO’s immediately with the goal to fund (without a tax increase) an SRO in all schools in Sumner County in the near future.”

4.    Why should someone vote for you? What unique strengths would you bring to the commission?

Scott Langford:

“I was first elected to bring excellence to Sumner County.  One key component of that was to bring about greater collaboration between the county commission and the school board.  We have passed a budget in June each full year we’ve been in office.  We have funded a $75 million dollar renovation project.  We have reduced the number of portables to 8 from around 75.  We have increased dramatically the amount of money that goes directly for student instruction in the classroom. I bring the ability to communicate across the county and to get people to work together towards a common goal—the excellence of Sumner County.”

Bill Taylor:

“I have successfully started and managed a small business (pediatric dentistry) for 34 years, I fully understand the demands on operating in a business-like fashion, establishing an operating budget, then working within that budget. For example: When I first became a county commissioner 4 years ago, I surprisingly discovered that the previous County Commission had passed a budget that borrowed money from the county’s savings for recurring operational costs.  Every year, they were putting the county deeper, and deeper in debt.  The general fund was almost depleted.  As most people know, deficit spending will soon catch up when your savings are gone and there are no more savings/funds available.  That was not a prudent way to operate and we took the necessary steps, forced upon us by the irresponsible previous commission, to correct how we operated. Sumner County, I am proud to report, is now very sound financially.

5.    What’s the best way to address long-term population growth in Sumner County?

 Scott Langford:

“Much the same answer as above.  We need to work together towards a multi-faceted solution that includes the county commission, school board, cities, and state legislators.  The solution will require everyone working together.  I believe in managed growth that preserves the beauty of Sumner County.  I favor more green space, greenways, and parks.”

Bill Taylor:

“Sumner County is one of the most attractive places to live in Middle Tennessee.  Our schools are great, our property taxes are the lowest in Middle Tennessee, cost of living is reasonable, and our unemployment rate is at an all-time low. Middle Tennessee is one of the fastest growing areas in the nation.  Sumner County is part of that growth region.  As we face this coming growth, we must be smart, and plan with an eye on the overall benefit to the community.  I am confident that the current County Commission is committed to planning for our growth for the next 20 years and I intend on being an active voice in that plan.  For example, there are certain demographic demands for housing such as senior housing.  As we grow, we must also consider maintaining our character and natural beauty.”

6.    Regarding funding education, are any options “on” or “off the table” to meet budgetary needs? Why?

Scott Langford:

“Currently, we are chipping away at where we need to be year by year.  We have been able to do so through good planning and budgeting.  Our growth economically should give us more breathing room over the next few years.”

Bill Taylor:

“The County Commission does not determine the needs of the school system. That responsibility lays with the school board and Director of Schools.  Dr. Del Phillips has done an excellent job at planning ahead and delivering us a balanced budget each year.  I am open to consideration of any proposal presented to the Commission.”

7.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School teachers are compensated appropriately? Why?

Scott Langford:

“Teacher pay has improved over the last four years, but we must always continue to work to increase it.”

Bill Taylor:

“Again, teacher pay is an issue that must be determined by the School Board.  Based on anecdotal information and data I’ve reviewed, it appears that teachers annual pay could use improvement.  In doing so, we must review the entire compensation package for all employees, school district and county general, and make determinations on how best to allocate resources for those employees.  I am open for consideration any plan, including teacher/staff compensation.”

8.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School staff are compensated appropriately? Why?

Scott Langford:

“We have a plan that raises staff pay each year, but then also increases different bands of employees to more competitive levels each year on a rotation.  We are in a much better place than we were four years ago, but we still have work to do.”

Bill Taylor:

“See above.”

9.    Do Sumner County schools have adequate facilities to meet the educational needs of students? Why?

Scott Langford:

“The county does have adequate facilities.  I’m excited by the new technology money that we will begin receiving soon as a result of the Brown family’s gift.  I’d like to see us expand CTE and technical offerings.”

Bill Taylor:

“For too long our school facilities were neglected while petty political games were played by many elected officials.  In 2014, the school board and Dr. Phillips developed, then presented a thorough building program focused on getting the facility needs of our school district improved.  A majority of commissioners agreed to fund the building program to help eliminate portables that had been used as classrooms for decades, provide secured entrances to all of our schools, renovate and modernize buildings that had not been touched 30 to 40 years. That building program has been a great start but we still have work to do to meet the continuing demands from our growing school system.  The academic success of our school district is attracting many more people to move to our county.  As the county grows, we must be proactive in planning for our future needs.”

10. What are the three greatest needs, if any, do you see in our schools? How can the Sumner County Commission help address those needs?

Scott Langford:

1.    Addressing the educational needs of the next 20 years—technology,
CTE, and STEM.

2.    Continuing to manage growth by preparing the new Cottontown school campus.

3.    Increasing teacher and staff pay.

“Our economy and culture is changing rapidly.  We need to expand our tools and resources so kids will have access and training in robotics, coding, and other 21st century skills.  I’d love to see us add more 3D printers and other tools to give our kids the greatest advantages in the future.  I’d also like to see these resources available to our elementary and middle school kids.  We will also need to refit/retool to address our changing economic needs like advanced manufacturing.”

Bill Taylor:

1.    New K-12 school campus in Cottontown in the next few years and then plan again for growth.

2.    Technology: both instruction and tools/equipment.

3.    Ensuring that we don’t regress back to the days of using portables, allowing technology to age to the point of dysfunctionality, and letting our investment in our buildings go by the wayside.

“It is the responsibility of the school board to determine the needs of the of our schools and it is the responsibility of the commission to keep an open mind when reviewing those needs and then funding the requests accordingly.

Overcrowding at Station Camp High, Beech High, and White House High necessitate our newest school campus start sometime in the in the near future.”

District 9: 2018 County Commission Candidate Survey Responses

Strong Schools asked individuals running for Sumner County Commission for their responses to the following questions. The responses for those that replied are below. (The primary is May 1 2018, with early voting currently underway.)

1.    How long have you lived in Sumner County?

Jerry Becker:

“My parents moved to Hendersonville when I was 2 years old, and I am currently 42. I have been a resident of the 9th District in Sumner County for 40 years. Being a lifelong resident of Hendersonville, I've seen, first-hand, the growth that Sumner County has had over the years. I want to continue to actively contribute to the future growth of this great county.”

Jordan Banks:

“My family and I have lived in Sumner County since November 2013, so 4.5 years.”

Chris Taylor:

"My wife, Lorie and I moved to Sumner County in 1995 to start our family. We have been residents since (23 years)."

2.    Do you (or did you) have children or grandchildren in Sumner County Schools?

Jerry Becker:

“Yes, I have a son finishing Ellis Middle School who will be at Hendersonville High School next year, and another son who is finishing Indian Lake Elementary who will be at Ellis Middle School next year. My wife, Stacey (Youree), and I are both products of Sumner County Schools, as well: She attended Nannie Berry Elementary and I attended Indian Lake Elementary, and we both graduated from Hendersonville High School. Stacey has served as President of the PTO at both Indian Lake Elementary and Ellis Middle School, and I am one of the Directors of the Ellis Cougar Classic fundraiser. I also volunteer my time to coach the Ellis boys’ soccer team. Stacey and I chose to raise our own family here, and we want to do our part to ensure Sumner County is an attractive option for them to raise their own families.”

Jordan Banks:

“Yes, I have two daughters attending Indian Lake Elementary.”

Chris Taylor:

"We have 3 incredible kids currently in Sumner County schools. Noah and Rachel attend Hendersonville High School and came up through Indian Lake Elementary and Ellis Middle. Our youngest Nayliana, is at Indian Lake Elementary."

3.    What is the best way to increase school security, and if additional funding was needed, how would you provide the funding?

Jerry Becker:

“Over the long run, the best way to increase school security is to strengthen the family setting at home. Nevertheless, keeping our children safe while they are at school is of utmost importance. There should be a Security Officer of some capacity, in each of our schools. From a budgeting standpoint, we are now 20 positions short of having a School Resource Officer in every school. From a funding standpoint, I think we should leverage the recently passed "School Safety Act of 2018" that appropriates state funding for retired or off-duty officers to provide security at our local schools. Beyond that, the local funding is simply a matter of priority.”

Jordan Banks:

“Sumner County has already taken many of the necessary steps to increase security, starting with more secured entrances, cameras, and modern check-in methods.  To further improve security we need to add SROs to our schools, especially in rural areas where it will take longer for police to respond to an incident.  I would strongly heed the advice of our Sheriff and other law enforcement agencies as to other suggestions for better providing a safe learning environment for our children. Per the special called County Commission meeting we need 15 more SROs and one supervisor for an additional cost of just over $1M.  The Sumner County Budget Committee stated the only way to pay for this without increasing revenue would be to effectively eliminate the requested 3% increase across other services for the 2018-2019 budget.  This would come at the expense of expected increase to other vital areas such as Emergency Services and Veterans Services, so I see adjusting the tax rate or seeking state grants as the best current funding options. I do, however, have concerns about the need to raise revenue as the 2014 rate adjustment was intended to include $0.03/$100 of assessed value expressly for funding SROs in all of the schools as indicated in the 2014 Sumner County Property Tax Timeline. I would like to reexamine the existing budgets to determine where this funding has been used in lieu of its original intent.

Chris Taylor:

"The best approach is multi-faceted and addresses the structural security, provides a reactionary response and also is proactive in prevention. Our work with the schools to provide 70 million for improvements has helped address the structural concern to a large degree. Now all schools will have secured entrances that allow the school personnel to view who wants to come into the building and through remote access, unlock the exterior door for them. The second aspect is mainly addressed through the assignment of an SRO to each school and the school having process in place. We are not there yet, but are committed to filling those remaining SRO vacancies. The preventive measure is provided by the school system itself. The best way to stop potential threats is to discover them prior to happening. The school system has done an amazing job supporting students/teachers and parents in bringing early concerns to them and working with the Sumner County Sheriffs office to deal with them."

4.    Why should someone vote for you? What unique strengths would you bring to the commission?

Jerry Becker:

“Nothing can substitute for the Experience I have gained over the last 4 years on the County Commission. I have served on the Budget Committee and Legislative Committee, and have been the Chairman of both the General Operations Committee and the Financial Management Committee. From an educational and work experience standpoint, with my Industrial Engineering degree, I have a continuous improvement mindset and process improvement skillset. If you live in the 9th District, I would greatly appreciate Your vote. If you don't live in the 9th District, I would greatly appreciate Your support by telling all of your 9th District family and friends to cast their vote for me.”

Jordan Banks:

“My willingness to serve others, my tireless energy to advocate for my neighbors, and my fresh outlook are three of the main reasons someone should consider voting for me.  I am relatively new to this county, but I have lived and worked in other areas of the country that have experienced similar growing pains to Sumner County.  I believe this perspective coupled with my unique professional experience of managing large budgets on a daily basis, working with a diverse team to accomplish a huge goal, and being hyper focused on technical details are why I am a strong candidate for County Commissioner.”

Chris Taylor:

"I have been committed to supporting the school system and working for what’s best for the county over the past 4 years and intend to continue to do so. I have been on and lead the budget, finance and emergency services committees. I believe that we have to continually seek the counsel of others and find experts in the areas we are evaluating/legislating. Proverbs 12:15"

5.    What’s the best way to address long-term population growth in Sumner County?

 Jerry Becker:

“As our county's population continues to grow, the more vital it will be to have proper planning and vision for how the school system and necessary infrastructure will be able to accommodate that growth. This type of forward planning needs to be a collaborative effort between the county government, the city governments, the school board, and the business communities. Without doing so, the vision will always be short-sighted. A great example of forward planning in my time on the Commission is the purchase of property off of Long Hollow Pike for a new campus for an elementary, middle, and high school.”

Jordan Banks:

“We must invest in our existing communities rather than continue to sprawl into rural areas.  A good example of this is the revitalization of the Kroger Marketplace shopping center in Hendersonville. We also need to focus on future mixed-use planning to encourage walk-able communities with transit options.  This will allow our businesses and economy to grow, bringing in new families without the corresponding additional traffic and stress on our infrastructure and roadways. Finally we need to bring higher paying jobs to Sumner County.  This will lead us to having fewer Nashville commuters and mitigate the daily rush hours.

Chris Taylor:

"We have to involve all aspects of government for Sumner County, because every element impacts it. We have to involve a funding source for county services that is  tied to new construction/development by the various municipalities. And their needs to be a unified plan for infrastructure development and maintenance. In addition the county has to address the current zoning codes which desperately need to be updated."

6.    Regarding funding education, are any options “on” or “off the table” to meet budgetary needs? Why?

Jerry Becker:

“I believe that the foundation of great growth is the education system. We must provide our school system with an appropriate level of funding in order to properly educate and train our children. When we cut corners on our children's education, we are impeding the future growth of our community. On a broader scale, our county spending must continue to be more controlled and more responsible. I am very pleased with the progress we have made over the last 4 years in this area. Non-emergent large expenditures should not be approved outside of the normal budgeting cycle. We must continue to hold our county departments accountable for staying within their approved budgeted amounts. More responsible and controlled expenses will allow us to keep our property taxes at a low level, and we must continue to be good stewards of the taxpayer’s money.”

Jordan Banks:

“No options would be necessarily “off the table” to meet budgetary needs.  We must be constantly vigilant against waste and misallocation of funds, but there are also instances when the only option is to bring in additional revenue.”

Chris Taylor:

"When it was needed I worked on the tax increase and voted for it. With the current fiscal health of the county and the excellent leadership for the school system we have already purchased land and are actively planning for a brand new K-12 school complex.  With additional revenue sources (TIF money, increases in current revenue streams projected forward, etc) we will be able to meet operating cost as the new schools are opened."

7.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School teachers are compensated appropriately? Why?

Jerry Becker:

“As with any industry, there are certain organizations that can pay lower salaries because they have better benefits and/or amenities than their competition. Similarly, I think Sumner County provides some amenities that other counties are not able to provide. However, our teacher and staff salary structures are not at a level where we are able to keep all of the best teachers and staff in our county. There should be no reason any of our higher quality teachers or staff should want to leave Sumner County for ‘greener pastures.’”

Jordan Banks:

“I disagree with this statement.  It is shameful that we are in the top 5% of counties with regards to wealth, but we are in the bottom 38% of TN school systems in teacher pay.  We should not keep asking teachers to do more for less and expect them to do so simply because they truly love teaching.”

Chris Taylor:

"I have always felt our teachers and school staff are underpaid. I am proud that during the past 4 years the schools have given raises each year and we expect to continue to do so. In addition they have been able to correct severe pay imbalances for various classified employees and will continue for those still lacking."

8.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School staff are compensated appropriately? Why?

Jerry Becker:

“See answer for #7 above.”

Jordan Banks:

“Again, I disagree with this statement.  The recent increase for substitutes is a good first step, but we need to do more.  The minimum livable wage in our area is $14.28 an hour for a home with two working adults and two children.  (http://livingwage.mit.edu/metros/34980) If Sumner County is focused on families, we must provide ample income to encourage them to come here.  These jobs are not summer or after school jobs, and they should not be treated as such.”

Chris Taylor:

"See above."

9.    Do Sumner County schools have adequate facilities to meet the educational needs of students? Why?

Jerry Becker:

“We have made tremendous strides over the past 4 years while I have been in office to upgrade our facilities. There should have been no reason for schools to have faulty roofs, leaky windows, long-term use of portables, etc., but those issues have been addressed during my 1st term. In the 9th District, alone, there has been a recent expansion at Hendersonville High School, a brand new roof installed at Indian Lake Elementary, eight (8) new classrooms constructed at Nannie Berry Elementary, and Ellis Middle School is currently undergoing a complete HVAC replacement. I am extremely proud of the improvements we have made over the past 4 years. Our facilities need to be better maintained, going forward, so that there is not a huge spike in need like there was recently.”

Jordan Banks:

“I believe we have come a long way in the past four years, eliminating most of the portable classrooms and making other building improvements, but we still have more to do and it’s not all about the size of the buildings.  We also need to provide adequate supplies and technological advances in all of our classrooms, regardless of the PTO’s ability to fill in the gaps.  Our county is continuing to grow, and our facilities must stay ahead of that growth.”

Chris Taylor:

"Currently we are good. We have dramatically reduced the number of portables, there are improvements in technology and the budget for it. We have invested 70 million dollars into our school facilities. But there is always room for improvement and I don’t believe you can ever get to a point where you stop trying to make them better."

10. What are the three greatest needs, if any, do you see in our schools? How can the Sumner County Commission help address those needs?

Jerry Becker:

1.    Safety

2.    Technology

3.    Overcrowding

“Since I touched on Safety in one of my responses above, I will speak to Technology here. Although I see it first-hand in my IT role at my company, I think everyone knows how quickly Technology is evolving. In March 2017, Sumner County Schools received an $8 Million endowment from William Brown. Mr. Brown's will established the "William and Martha Brown Education Technology Trust" and specified that the interest and dividends earned from the Trust must be used annually to assist Sumner County Schools with Technology. The value of the Brown family's extreme generosity will be felt by our Sumner County students for generations to come. Beyond Technology in the classroom, I was instrumental in leading the charge to hire a full-time IT Director for Sumner County. Our IT systems and infrastructure were very fragmented, and our IT Director has come in and immediately made much needed improvements.”

Jordan Banks:

1.    Increase Teacher Pay

2.    Reduce focus on standardized testing

3.    Funding disparity between schools with engaged PTOs and those with less active PTOs

“When my family moved to Sumner County the FIRST thing we looked for was the quality of schools in the area.  If we want to continue encouraging families to come here, we need strong schools, and for that we need to continue to attract and retain the best teachers.  We are a prosperous county, and our teachers should not be 54th out of 95 counties in compensation for the extraordinary work they do. While County Commission cannot directly address this need, we can advocate for increases in teacher salaries to the Sumner Board of Education.  I absolutely plan to do that as a commissioner.”

Chris Taylor:

1. School populations

2. Retaining our excellent employees

3. Facilities

"With the explosive growth the county is having we have to insure our schools aren’t individually past capacity. Growth is very specific right now, expanding apartment complexes in Gallatin; subdivisions in the unincorporated areas of the county etc."

District 8: 2018 County Commission Candidate Survey Responses

Strong Schools asked individuals running for Sumner County Commission for their responses to the following questions. The responses for those that replied are below. (The primary is May 1 2018, with early voting currently underway.)

1.    How long have you lived in Sumner County?

Mike McVey:

“60+ years.”

Shellie Young Tucker:

“I have lived in Hendersonville practically my entire life.”

2.    Do you (or did you) have children or grandchildren in Sumner County Schools?

Mike McVey:

I attended Millersville Elementary. I graduated from Bush’s Chapel Elementary, Gallatin Junior High, and Gallatin Senior High. My children attended Lakeside Elementary, Howard Elementary, Hawkins Middle School, Hendersonville High and Merrol Hyde Magnet school.”

Shellie Young Tucker:

“I am a product of Sumner County Schools as well as my two boys plus my sister, nieces and nephew.”

3.    What is the best way to increase school security, and if additional funding was needed, how would you provide the funding?

Mike McVey:

“There is no one simple answer to this question. Security is a process that requires assessment and evaluation. Primary threat assessment in Sumner County is best determined by the Sheriff’s Office. Having been a County Commissioner previously, I actually have a record on this subject. I advocated and voted for the creation of the first SRO program within the Sumner County Sheriff’s Office. As to the matter of funding, the question is “how would you provide the funding?” The simple answer is, I can’t. No one person can provide funding for anything unless they are willing to fund something entirely out of their own pocket. Funding is provided by a majority consensus. Officials backed by Strong Schools have demonstrated that their primary funding mechanism is raising taxes without regard to actual necessity nor consideration for the general population of the citizens of this county. Strong Schools looks out for the interest of the Director of Schools. Sitting as a member of the County Commission is an honor and bestows an obligation to be a trustworthy steward who looks after the welfare of all citizens living in Sumner County. This includes weighing the relative needs of the school system, ambulance service, Highway Department, Sheriff’s Office, individual citizens, and other factors too numerous to quantify. As a County Commissioner I must also look out for the interest of the widow in the northern part of the county who is living on social security and just had her husband pass away. I also have to look out for the working poor who make just over the benefits limit and are struggling to make ends meet. Needless to say, there are working poor who are on benefits that must also contend with any property tax increase. A 23% property tax increase may not sound like much to someone making over $100,000 a year. A family making $50,000 or less is a different matter”

Shellie Young Tucker:

“We should work towards a SRO in every school.  While I applaud the actions of the Commission recently, we need to push forward to fund the remaining officers needed.”

4.    Why should someone vote for you? What unique strengths would you bring to the commission?

Mike McVey:

“I have served my country in the U.S. Army as both an enlisted man (Infantry) and as an Officer (Armor). I have previous experience as a Sumner County Commissioner. Advocated and voted for the creation of the first SRO program within the Sumner County Sheriff’s Office. Advocated and voted for the first usage of a geothermal heating system within the Sumner County School System. Initiated, advocated and voted for the first (and to the best of my recollection the ONLY) direct county to classroom teacher appropriation whereby classroom teachers were given funds to spend on their classroom as THEY saw fit. Fought against selling the county hospital. After my term the hospital was sold and ultimately went into bankruptcy. Retired from the State of Tennessee where I have worked in Human Services, Employment Security, Financial Institutions, Commission on Aging, Labor & Workforce Development, and Transportation. I have an Associates degree in Engineering (VSCC) and a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics with a minor in Industrial Technology and Military Science (MTSU). I have been a classroom teacher – a Graduate Teaching Assistant at MTSU and as an adjunct faculty teacher for both Volunteer State Community College and Nashville Tech. I tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.”

Shellie Young Tucker:

“Being self-employed, I understand personally about managing a business and a budget and will take that knowledge and apply to the County budget to remain fiscally healthy. As a lifelong resident, I have seen a lot of growth and changes in our beautiful county. I want to keep it strong for generations to come.  I will bring my Love of Community Service to this position.”

5.    What’s the best way to address long-term population growth in Sumner County?

Mike McVey:

“The best the county can do is attempt to react in a responsible manner. Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the County Commission doesn’t really have any appreciable direct control over population growth. Besides the county itself there are seven cities and towns within Sumner County. Anything inside a city limit is controlled by their respective governing body. The county does not control any utilities. It provides funding for schools but all decisions concerning schools are handled by the school system. The county does have a county Highway Department. Both the Highway Department and the school system react to the shifting of the county population. They are not prebuilt for the increasing/shifting population to fill in around.”

Shellie Young Tucker:

“Not all growth is bad and not all growth is good.  We must be responsible with development project approvals and must also consider impact on schools and infrastructure.   We must have a healthy mix of commercial, residential and green space.”

6.    Regarding funding education, are any options “on” or “off the table” to meet budgetary needs? Why?

Mike McVey:

“All options are ‘on the table.’ Whether those options are accepted or rejected is another matter. I shall now propose some options I would like to see discussed. What is the school system doing to reduce costs and reduce overhead? I mentioned geothermal heating earlier. That was something innovative at the time that was intended to reduce energy costs. Savings generated were immediately available for other projects. At the state, I was instrumental in increasing efficiency and reducing cost via automation. What projects have had a similar effect in the school system?”

Shellie Young Tucker:

“The County Commission and the Board of Education should be proactive in planning for pay increases as the Board of Education is the largest employer in our County.  All options should be considered before any options of raising taxes, which should be a last resort.  But, with the current strong economy, there shouldn’t be a need for a tax increase.”

7.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School teachers are compensated appropriately? Why?

Mike McVey:

“Since the compensation Sumner County School teachers receive is controlled by the Sumner County Board of Education and the Strong Schools supported office holders on that board, I would have to presume that they think our teachers and staff are adequately compensated. Personally, if it were my decision, I would have used as much of the 23% tax increase that Strong Schools proponents on the County Commission passed to give teachers and in-school support staff a larger compensation increase and also allocate more of those funds to the classroom teachers for use in their classrooms. When I went to https://sumnerschools.org/index.php/12-our-district I foound an interesting statement by “Del.” Referring to an article by Fox 17 news, he stated, ‘Nowhere in the report does it mention the countless teachers in our district who spend their own money on their classrooms, which is certainly more representative of the norm in our underfunded school district.’ Perhaps this would be a good time to refer back to one of the bullet points I made previously initiated, advocated and voted for the first (and to the best of my recollection the ONLY) direct county to classroom teacher appropriation whereby classroom teachers were given funds to spend on their classroom as THEY saw fit. For the record, the reason I insisted the funding come directly from the County Commission is because I knew that the School Board would not be obligated to continue that funding even though passing it through the school board would obligate the county to continue giving that additional amount in perpetuity.

Shellie Young Tucker:

“There is room for improvement for teacher pay.  We should look for the best teachers and pay them competitively so they will stay within the system.  Sumner County ranks 8th compared to other neighboring school systems in regards to compensation and insurance benefits.  My research shows the last pay adjustment was in 2014.  It’s past time for a pay increase or at least Cost of Living increase.”

8.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School staff are compensated appropriately? Why?

Mike McVey:

“As stated in the previous answer to the question above. Since the compensation Sumner County School teachers receive is controlled by the Sumner County Board of Education and the Strong Schools supported office holders on that board, I would have to presume that they think our teachers and staff are adequately compensated.”

Shellie Young Tucker:

“The Support staff is very important part of the school system.  They provide additional support to teachers, administrators, classrooms & students!  Support staff helps schools and classrooms run more smoothly, additional one-on-one instruction plus many other tasks.  Pay increase for support staff will help current staff but will help with longevity in these positions.”

9.    Do Sumner County schools have adequate facilities to meet the educational needs of students? Why?

Mike McVey:

“This is a question for the School Board to answer. According to State Law and School Board officials, I am not qualified to answer this question.”

Shellie Young Tucker:

“The County Commission along with the Board of Education has worked diligently to reduce the number of portables being used across the county from 70+ to under 10!  Many building projects and renovations across the county are giving schools the space they need for growing communities.”

10. What are the three greatest needs, if any, do you see in our schools? How can the Sumner County Commission help address those needs?

Mike McVey:

1.    The School Board needs to do everything within their ability to support and empower the classroom teacher.

2.    Federal government, state government, and the local school board need to reduce bureaucratic restrictions hindering the classroom teacher from doing their job.

3.    Quit utilizing a “one size fits all” mentality. Having four tiers does not negate that each child is individually treated as being of one size within that tier. Each child is unique and has unique needs. Stop allowing big book companies to waste teachers’ precious time by forcing them to stick to a curriculum designed more for propaganda and social engineering than essential academic skills.

“Once again, according to State Law and School Board officials, I am not qualified to answer this question. If I were, my answers would be along these lines.”

Shellie Young Tucker:

1.    Safety

2.    Teacher Pay/Retention

“We must do all we can to keep children/teachers/staff safe while at school.  The current County Commission is working to increase the number of SROs but we can’t let up on the gas.  We must push forward to obtain funding needed for the remaining SRO’s.”

District 7: 2018 County Commission Candidate Survey Responses

Strong Schools asked individuals running for Sumner County Commission for their responses to the following questions. The responses for those that replied are below. (The primary is May 1 2018, with early voting currently underway.)

1.    How long have you lived in Sumner County?

Loren Echols:

“I've lived in Sumner County for 25 years, and I am proud to call Hendersonville my hometown.”

Lee Hord:

“I moved Hendersonville in Feb. 2017.  I grew-up in the area and have had ties here since the 1970’s.”

Gene Rhodes:

“I have lived in Sumner County for 20 years.”

2.    Do you (or did you) have children or grandchildren in Sumner County Schools?

Loren Echols:

“Yes, my two sons both attend Merrol Hyde Magnet School. My husband Aaron and I both attended Sumner County schools as well. He graduated from Beech High School, and I graduated from Hendersonville High School.”

Lee Hord:

“My two children attending Hendersonville school which includes Beech HS.”

Gene Rhodes:

“Yes.  2 sons currently enrolled in Sumner County Schools.  One son is a student at William Burrus Elementary and my other son attends Beech High School.”

3.    What is the best way to increase school security, and if additional funding was needed, how would you provide the funding?

Loren Echols:

“I support the stated goal of the County Commission of having an SRO in every school. The safety of our students is one of the most important responsibilities that we have, but I am not an expert in this area. I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I am willing to listen to our law enforcement and educators with expertise in this area in order to make the best decisions for our children.”

Lee Hord:

“I am not an expert in hardening the schools, but community/school safety is my #1 priority.  As mentioned, I will donate all income from serving on the Co. Commission to the Sheriff’s Office.  Of note, I recently graduated from the Sheriff’s Academy and learned much about the SRO program.  SRO’s in every school or at least every campus is a near-term desire.  The Co. Commission recently approved 5 additional SRO’s within the current budget.  SRO’s and other safety measures are needed, but also we need a public relations effort to inform any would-be perpetrator that our schools and those in the schools are hardened & protected; that is, any threats would be futile and met with extreme measures.  In this way, potential perpetrators would likely choose another target vs. the school facility.  I am in favor of consumption taxes vs. a property tax increase in the next 4 years if the budget priorities require more revenue to cover.”

Gene Rhodes:

“School safety is certainly a topic that must be addressed.  I am not a security expert but I trust those who are experts.  In general terms I think security in schools should be a multi-level approach.  We should make sure our school buildings continue using secure entrances, the use of technology such as camera systems, and trained School Resource Officers.   How to fund school security would be dependent on the needed improvement.  I will listen to all proposals, ask questions, and make informed decisions on how to best achieve our goals.  As a parent of children attending schools in today’s society, I understand the concerns of other parents and will not look to cut corners in this area.”

4.    Why should someone vote for you? What unique strengths would you bring to the commission?

Loren Echols:

“I am deeply rooted in this community and invested in its future. I have a Master’s Degree in Management and Leadership and a diverse professional background, in addition to being a mom of two kids in our schools. I am willing to do my homework and listen, and pledge to be solution-oriented. We need honest people capable of thinking strategically and planning wisely for our future, and that is what I offer.”

Lee Hord:

“Voters will vote for me because I represent their voice and interests.  I will institute “listening” sessions in my district along with the Ward 6 Alderman such that constituents will be heard.  Additionally, I am the most qualified candidate running.  My experience in academics, healthcare revenue management (budgeting), business, and in the political arena sets me apart from my opponents (my credentials can be found at www.LeeForTennessee.com).  I have the breadth and depth of experience and knowledge to work collaboratively with fellow commissioners, the county executive, the chamber, school board members, civic leaders, etc. to help lead Hendersonville and Sumner Co. in a positive direction.  I have no self-interests or conflicts of interest in my quest to serve the great citizens of Hendersonville and Sumner County.”

Gene Rhodes:

“I have lived in Sumner County for two decades.  My wife and I are fully vested in our community.  We are members of civic clubs, volunteer at our schools, and participate in various community projects.  I know the people of Sumner County well.”

5.    What’s the best way to address long-term population growth in Sumner County?

Loren Echols:

“This feels like too big a question to answer as a first-time candidate, but I'll give it a shot. I believe that the key is balance- we must not allow growth to overwhelm our infrastructure or detract from the beauty of the county we love. At the same time, growth brings revenue, and we want to be a thriving county that attracts good people.”

Lee Hord:

“Over-development, unbridled housing growth, and lack of infrastructure leads to an erosion in the quality of life for residents (e.g., traffic congestion).   If we are not careful, we’ll lose that which makes Hendersonville and Sumner Co. a special place to live.  Now, we can’t tell farmers they cannot sell their land to a developer.  However, we can better plan for future growth with key zoning and environmental regulations to preserve the “Tennessee Country” feel, assess developer impact fees, and limit high density developments.  A good example is Durham Farms.  The taxpayers’ are experiencing increase traffic, Drakes Creek Rd. was not improved before construction started and is dangerous.  The run-off from the development is likely to cause environmental issues (e.g., flooding) and there will be incremental costs for road maintenance, utilities, and school capacity that should be addressed by the developers (at least to a degree as is the case in Williamson Co.).”

Gene Rhodes:

“Middle Tennessee is one of the fastest growing areas in the nation.  Sumner County is growing at a phenomenal rate.  We must review all future proposed development closely to make sure that it adds to the quality of life we enjoy and does not detract from our community.”

6.    Regarding funding education, are any options “on” or “off the table” to meet budgetary needs? Why?

Loren Echols:

“I’m not sure what ‘options’ are being referenced in this question, so I would have to have more information to answer appropriately.”

Lee Hord:

“I will not vote for a property tax increase in the next 4 years.  However, if additional revenue is needed to meet budgetary priorities, then all other potential revenue streams should be examined (e.g., consumption tax, sin tax, occupancy tax).”

Gene Rhodes:

“Funding our school system is the best return on our investment we can make.  A strong educational system is the foundation upon which our economic growth is built upon.  We must keep an open mind to all forms of revenue available to our elected officials and be creative by thinking outside the box on how to best provide our services.”

7.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School teachers are compensated appropriately? Why?

Loren Echols:

“I’m thankful we live in a state with a Governor that continues to allocate more funds for teacher raises. He’s allocated almost $500 million for teacher pay increases in his eight years. However, a teacher with a master’s degree and five years of experience makes under $45,000 a year in Sumner County. That’s unheard of in almost any other industry. I believe that if we want to create a culture that values the teaching profession, we have to make the pay competitive.”

Lee Hord:

“In general, my stance (which is formed based on my experience and input from voters) is that education occurs between a teacher and a student.  Today some teachers still have to purchase their own supplies to adequately teach their respective classes.  I would like to see proposals where the teachers do not have to spend out-of-pocket dollars to teach their respective classes.  Further, I would like to examine the attrition rates among teachers in Sumner Co. and comparable pay rates to other counties in Mid-TN.  In general, I am in favor of a pay increase, the question is one of priorities within the budgeting process. For sure, I would like to see proposal for teachers to have access to the latest training on cutting edge methods to improve the educational process which helps to improve overall school rankings.  Improved school rankings should be one of the outcome metrics to judge progress.”

Gene Rhodes:

“I know that teacher pay needs improvement.  Once elected, I would work closely with the school board to review their request for any increase in teacher or support staff pay.”

8.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School staff are compensated appropriately? Why?

Loren Echols:

“All adults in the school building shape its culture, including the staff. But many of the staff members in our school make less than $10 per hour. This is unacceptable in my opinion. We should not be losing quality employees because they can make more money working in fast food.”

Lee Hord:

“I do not have comparable data on “staff” so I cannot, at the moment, make an informed comment.  Some folks have told me the administration is compensated fairly, I just haven’t seen the data.”

Gene Rhodes:

“As I answered question 7, I would work with the school board once elected to address compensation needs they bring before the commission.”

9.    Do Sumner County schools have adequate facilities to meet the educational needs of students? Why?

Loren Echols:

“I think we are making progress to improve our facilities. The number of portables our schools use has decreased drastically in the past decade. I recently attended the opening of Station Camp Middle School’s new addition. It replaced ten portables and keeps students together under the same roof. I look forward to supporting more facility improvements.”

Lee Hord:

“In general, the answer is “yes” however, the concern isn’t so much in Hendersonville, but in the outlying rural areas within the county.  The term, “adequate” need more definition.  When I was in school there was steam heat and window AC units that didn’t work much of the time.  Most students are comfortable.  However, I would like to see more emphasis on physical education and activity as TN has the highest obesity rate among children age 10-17.  So, we should examine whether the facilities not only are adequate for education needs but also the physical needs of the students (which is related to their ability to “learn” – reference the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation).”

Gene Rhodes:

“Sumner County has come a long way in the last few years.  Portables are being replaced with permanent classrooms, our schools are being renovated and updated. With the popularity of Sumner County as a destination for families to move into, we must continue the progress that has been made so that the children in our schools have appropriate facilities and learning environments.”

10. What are the three greatest needs, if any, do you see in our schools? How can the Sumner County Commission help address those needs?

Loren Echols:

1.    Workforce preparation

2.    Safety

3.    Equity—this applies to compensation for our staff and fixing the disparity in our county between the “haves” and the “have nots”.

“I am proud to work for a local business, and I know that our schools create our next workforce. I believe our schools must teach all students the academic, technical, and employability skills that they’ll need to earn a postsecondary credential and have a career in our community. When our schools focus on K to J, or kindergarten to job, we lay the foundation for our local businesses and economy to thrive. The Sumner County Commission must use its power to provide incentives for industry to become involved in our education.”

Lee Hord:

1.    Safety

2.    Health

3.    Technology

“Students/teachers cannot maximize the learning process in an environment of fear. Remove the threats to the schools and the students & teachers can be more focused on advancing the learning process of students. The County Commission approves the school budget forwarded by the Director of Schools.  So, any expressed “needs” by a County Commissioner is to be heard by the County Executive, the School Board, and the Director of Schools.  I am confident that I can encourage healthy and productive discussion along these lines. The greatest needs are to show demonstrable improvement in tangible student outcomes and school rankings.  The safety of students is paramount, which includes bullying.  The health of students is tied to scholastic achievement; so, we should invest in the health of our students with an emphasis on a culture of healthy eating, exercise, and stress management.  Additionally, education is on the verge of a paradigm shift.  Companies such as Apple and Google are now getting into the sphere of education.  Our teachers need on-going training re: the use of tech platforms to advance the educational process.”

Gene Rhodes:

1.    New school campus on Upper Station Camp Creek Road be built in the next few years.

2.    Continue with technology upgrades.

3.    Make sure we are able to attract and retain top notch staff.  

“The influx of young families moving into our county will require a new school to prevent schools becoming over crowded.”

District 6: 2018 County Commission Candidate Survey Responses

Strong Schools asked individuals running for Sumner County Commission for their responses to the following questions. The responses for those that replied are below. (The primary is May 1 2018, with early voting currently underway.)

1.    How long have you lived in Sumner County?

Deanne DeWitt:

“Our family moved to Sumner County in late 2011.”

Leonard Assante:

“I moved to Sumner County in 1995. 23 years! I’ve lived in both Gallatin and Hendersonville.”

Kevin Pomery:

"40 years."

2.    Do you (or did you) have children or grandchildren in Sumner County Schools?

Deanne DeWitt:

“We have two daughters currently enrolled at Station Camp middle school.”

Leonard Assante:

“I am single so have no children.”

Kevin Pomery:

"I am a product of Sumner County Schools and I now have 3 children in sumner county schools."

3.    What is the best way to increase school security, and if additional funding was needed, how would you provide the funding?

Deanne DeWitt:

“I absolutely believe there’s no single best way to increase school security. The evil that has invaded our schools is unpredictable and illogical.  I do believe that School Resource Officer‘s (SROs) have an extremely valuable role in heightening everyone’s awareness and providing a source of authority that students trust.  I have witnessed our SROs develop strong relationships with our students and these relationships (like those that often develop with her teachers) can prove invaluable when emotional disturbances threaten their environment. I think Summer County Schools does an excellent job of taking every statement or threat seriously and this is one of the biggest keys to our security. Like any new funding requests, the Commission needs to look at future year budgets to determine what cuts, what additions are necessary while taking into consideration additional funds that will come into the budget from growth in population.”

Leonard Assante:

“There is not one single thing that will do it. We need a multi-faceted approach, including: a) Fully trained and equipped SROs in ALL schools in the county, b) School design features that optimized security while maintaining an excellent learning environment. Secure and monitored entrances, surveillance equipment, automatic lock-down features, improved in-building communication, c) Increased training of appropriate school personnel in mental health issue awareness & response. School funding is the single largest and most important item in the county budget, so I would support any needed additional funding coming from the county general fund.”

Kevin Pomery:

"Over the last 4 years we have greatly improved our security with the building program that did away with portables and made all of our schools have a secure entrance. We have also added 21 SRO officers over the last 4 years. The goal is to have an SRO at every school. Any time you increase there is a need for additional funding, it just comes down to making it the priority."

4.    Why should someone vote for you? What unique strengths would you bring to the commission?

Deanne DeWitt:

“I strongly feel that I'm the best person for the job in District 6.  I have a proven track record of service to Sumner County Schools through my work as PTO President at Jack Anderson.  I typically worked (volunteered) 40 hours a week during those two years because I wanted our schools to be the best they can be.  I have an engineering degree and am blessed to continue volunteering full time using those skills to the benefit of my community.  I am extremely analytical and resourceful in gathering all the facts before making any decision and I will bring that vigor to anything put before the County Commission.”

Leonard Assante:

“I have been a teacher for 27 years. I have both instructional and administrative experience and have had thousands of Sumner County graduates pass through my classrooms. I know education and I know the strengths and weaknesses of our students. In addition, I have been studying and teaching communication and leadership skills for over 30 years. I believe in the value of effective communication and would bring that mindset to the Commission. While I have lived in Sumner County for many years, I have also lived in several other states and communities, including high-growth areas. I have seen the negative impacts of uncontrolled growth and I think that Sumner County can learn from the mistakes and successes of other communities to make sure we stay true to our nature, true to what makes this such a great place to live.”

Kevin Pomery:

"I believe that my best quality is that I am an independent thinker who is not afraid to fight for what I think is best for the people of sumner county. I am very good steward of money and a very persuasive communicator."

5.    What’s the best way to address long-term population growth in Sumner County?

 Deanne DeWitt:

“While growth is inevitable in a thriving community, we must be vigilant in managing that growth.  New projects need to be consistent with existing developments to protect our home values while ensuring we have the services to meet increasing demand.”

Leonard Assante:

“Again, we must take a multi-faceted approach to dealing with growth. This includes: a) Regularly updated master plan for the county, developed with input from all the cities and the citizens. The plan should have both long-term and short-term aspects, b) Infrastructure first! Based on the plan, develop needed infrastructure (roads, sewer, utilities) in an area before the growth requires it, c) Citizen input and communication. Growth in an area should not come as a surprise to those who live there, d) One element of the plan should be preservation of what makes this community special. Growth should be planned and managed in a way that is suitable to the nature of the area under consideration. For example, much of Sumner County is rural in nature, this should not change, e) Infill! Growth should be planned to minimize sprawl and rather “fill in” already-developed areas.”

Kevin Pomery:

"The county has very little control over zoning issues, as they are made by the individual cities. We know this: the growth is coming and we need to have our schools, courts and roads prepared to handle it."

6.    Regarding funding education, are any options “on” or “off the table” to meet budgetary needs? Why?

Deanne DeWitt:

“We need to do whatever necessary to avoid another double digit tax increase!  We can't pretend that growth isn't impacting the needs of our county and delay necessary adjustments to keep pace.  That said, I believe we are currently in a very healthy financial position and can maintain this delicate balance without increasing taxes.”

Leonard Assante:

“Again, this is the most important thing we do. No options should be ‘off the table.’”

Kevin Pomery:

"No there are no options off the table. I will continue to work with the director of school to make ensure our schools are funded adequately."

7.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School teachers are compensated appropriately? Why?

Deanne Dewitt:

“I'm pleased that we offer the best benefit packages in the surrounding area and I know that has had a positive impact on our recruitment and retention.  I believe we can do better on direct compensation and hope our School Board and leadership continue to make teacher pay increases the top annual priority.”

Leonard Assante:

“They are clearly not. Sumner County has the 4th-highest median income in the state, yet our teacher pay comes in at 54th.”

Kevin Pomery:

"I believe that is hard to ever pay a good teacher what they are worth. The director of schools has increased teacher pay each of the last 4 years and I have and will continue to support it."

8.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School staff are compensated appropriately? Why?

Deanne DeWitt:

“One of my bigger concerns is the value we place on the staff cleaning our buildings and driving our school buses (and the like).  We have classified staff starting at under $7.50 an hour! Our state may not have a minimum wage but our county can do better.”

Leonard Assante:

“I do not believe they are. For example, we are 37th in principal pay.”

Kevin Pomery:

"gain, I believe that our school staff is very valuable and I will continue to support the director of schools in giving our staff raises."

9.    Do Sumner County schools have adequate facilities to meet the educational needs of students? Why?

Deanne DeWitt:

“In most cases we provide great facilities for our students and staff.  I'm grateful the tough decisions were made to invest in many of our buildings in recent years and appreciate the focus on eliminating portable units which pose a disruptive and not-equally-safe environment.  There's little doubt that we will need to continue building and renovating to meet increased enrollment and I believe our leaders are making the necessary plans to keep pace.”

Leonard Assante:

“Generally adequate, but I have observed some inequality in facilities across our district. All schools should provide a high-quality learning environment, including physical plant, furnishings, technology, learning resources and staffing. Building quality or number of computers with high-speed Internet access should not depend on where in the county you live or how much money your local PTO raises. Ideally, PTO’s should be out of the fundraising business and be more about developing relationships between parents and teachers.”

Kevin Pomery:

"I think that our schools are very adequate especially after the building campaign that I supported is finished. If re-elected I will work to make sure we don’t fall behind."

10. What are the three greatest needs, if any, do you see in our schools? How can the Sumner County Commission help address those needs?

Deanne DeWitt:

1.    Remain invested in highly competitive teacher pay and benefits.

2.    Double down on our efforts to invest in technology and level the playing field for technology access between schools in more and less affluent areas

3.    Safety - do everything in our power to help our students and our staff feel safe within the walls of our schools

“The County Commission and their Education Committee create a strong communication channel between the funding source and school leadership.  I expect these entities to work together prioritizing the greatest needs and creating solutions to fulfill those needs.”

Leonard Assante:

1.    Salary increases to keep and reward our best teachers in accordance with our cost of living and standard of living.

2. School safety and security

3. Excellent access to technology and other resources equally in all schools

“See answers to questions 7 and 8 above.”

Kevin Pomery:

1. Technology                    

2. Staffing ( computer teachers) 

3. Security
 
"I want to be clear that the county commission does not get a say in the line by line spending of the School System, those decisions are made by the school board and the Director of schools. The county commission role is to provide funding for the budget that is presented to us. I believe that the director of schools and school board have done a great job of addressing the needs mentioned in this survey and I will continue to support their efforts."

District 5: 2018 County Commission Candidate Survey Responses

Strong Schools asked individuals running for Sumner County Commission for their responses to the following questions. The responses for those that replied are below. (The primary is May 1 2018, with early voting currently underway.)

1.    How long have you lived in Sumner County?

Baker Ring:

“30 years; I am an 8th generation Sumner Countian.”

Danny Sullivan:

“I have lived is Sumner County my entire life.”

2.    Do you (or did you) have children or grandchildren in Sumner County Schools?

Baker Ring:

“No. 3 nieces and nephews attend now.”

Danny Sullivan:

“My daughter Katherine graduated from SCHS in 2014.  I retired from the SCS system in June 2017.  My last placement was Principal of Union STEM and Demonstration School from 2008-2017.  Regardless of a citizen of Sumner County having a student in the school system, we must have the mindset of growing our County and our future with stellar schools.”

3.    What is the best way to increase school security, and if additional funding was needed, how would you provide the funding?

Baker Ring:

“I have supported hiring SRO’s and adding security to schools.”

Danny Sullivan:

“We are moving in the right direction with more secure entryways.  We have an SRO in every HS and MS.  I believe we need to continue to add SRO’s into the elementary schools as quickly as possible.  We voted to hire 5 this week in the special called CC meeting.  As a former Principal, the safety of my students was always my top priority.  In my opinion, guns are not the issue.  The issue is what our kids are exposed to and the lack of communication skills/people skills with the increase of technology platforms.  Mental health issues and a collaboration of team work in our schools with guidance counselors and SRO’s is imperative at the elementary school level.  We teach our kids that if you see something or know something you say something.  I believe we must create an individualized plan for each SRO at each school on how and what they will do to solve the needs of their buildings.  Looking for vulnerable areas of security and identifying which students need to helped or may be students who need mentoring or guidance through the years.”

4.    Why should someone vote for you? What unique strengths would you bring to the commission?

Baker Ring:

“I have served for 8 years and work to bring commissioners together on issues where they differ.”

Danny Sullivan:

“I have 29 years experience in the school system as a coach, teacher and administrator.  I have lived and worked in Sumner County my whole life.  I care deeply about our County and want to see us continue to prosper and thrive.  We are a destination people search for when they consider moving here.”

5.    What’s the best way to address long-term population growth in Sumner County?

 Baker Ring:

“We have purchased land for new schools. When we are able to put controls on development, we should look at doing that, ie: PUDS and similar.”

Danny Sullivan:

“We must look at continued infrastructure improvements and funding.  School additions and new school building construction as needed.  We also need to be good stewards of the land we have.  I am not a fan of the thousands of apartments that have popped up in the last two years across our County.”

6.    Regarding funding education, are any options “on” or “off the table” to meet budgetary needs? Why?

Baker Ring:

“Education is one of most important priorities. I will support improvements in education if they make sense. We can’t have an open checkbook for any department, including education.”

Danny Sullivan:

“As a former SCS educator, I am 100% on board for having the best school system in the State.  Through my career as an educator, I have seen much done with little funding and times where money was spent and positions filled that were not needed.  We need to be mindful of how tax dollars are spent and make sure educational dollars are not being wasted.  We have come leaps and bounds with technology in the classrooms over the past 5 to 6 years.  I want to see us continue to spend more on and in our individual schools in the trenches, to have a top notch school district.”

7.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School teachers are compensated appropriately? Why?

Baker Ring:

“Sumner county teachers are not compensated appropriately in comparison to similar school districts in Middle Tennessee.”

Danny Sullivan:

“I believe our teachers, administrators and support staff are underpaid.  We are putting our trust in them to educate and protect our children 8 hours a day.  17 years as a principal, I was on the same pay formula all 17 years.  Imagine the changes and challenges over the years.  Many years my pay increased 1% which was less than the cost of living.”

8.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School staff are compensated appropriately? Why?

Baker Ring:

“Classified staff need to have their pay raised. Some of them have a take home pay of less than $600 a month. The people who help educate your children shouldn’t be paid less than the people who ask you if you fries with your order.”

Danny Sullivan:

“No, our support staff help serve the needs of our students and most make less than they could waiting tables at a restaurant.  A raise was give a couple of years ago and it did make it a bit better.”

9.    Do Sumner County schools have adequate facilities to meet the educational needs of students? Why?

Baker Ring:

“We need to have a program for building new schools. The work that we have done in the past few years has been good, however, the county is growing so fast, that we need to speed up our building program.”

Danny Sullivan:

“Currently – Yes…We are keeping up and improving with funding to build more additions and reduce the number of portable classrooms.”

10. What are the three greatest needs, if any, do you see in our schools? How can the Sumner County Commission help address those needs?

Baker Ring:

1.    Increase pay for classified personnel.

2.    Improve access to technology.

3.    Increase parental and community involvement.

“Classified staff need to have their pay raised. Some of them have a take home pay of less than $600 a month. The people who help educate your children shouldn’t be paid less than the people who ask you if you fries with your order.”

Danny Sullivan:

1.    Keeping up with growth in our County with our building program.

2.    Teacher, Administrator and support staff competitive salaries.

3.    School Security and funding for security measures to keep our students and staff safe.

“As our county continues to be one of the fastest growing Counties in the State of TN, we have to continue to make a our building program a top priority.”

District 4: 2018 County Commission Candidate Survey Responses

Strong Schools asked individuals running for Sumner County Commission for their responses to the following questions. The responses for those that replied are below. (The primary is May 1 2018, with early voting currently underway.)

1.    How long have you lived in Sumner County?

Jerry Foster:

“28 years.”

Joe Matthews:

“I have lived in Sumner County for 47 years.”

Leslie Schell:

“30 Years.”

Marquette Gilchrest:

“I have been a resident of Sumner County for two years. While I was serving in an oversea tour, my family lived here for approximately 4 years and this county was my home of record.”

2.    Do you (or did you) have children or grandchildren in Sumner County Schools?

Jerry Foster:

“My wife and I have a total of six children that graduated from Sumner County schools.”

Joe Matthews:

“No, but I have taught in our Sumner County Schools. Core classes 6th grade, Visitation classes K-5.”

Leslie Schell:

“4 children in SCS.”

Marquette Gilchrest:

“Yes, I have a son in Sumner County Schools.

3.    What is the best way to increase school security, and if additional funding was needed, how would you provide the funding?

Jerry Foster:

“The best way to increase school security is to have an SRO in every school. On April 3, 2018 the commission approved the immediate hiring of five new SROs which will still leave 15 elementary schools without an SRO.  Funding alternatives will be discussed for the next fiscal year by the Budget Committee, of which I am Vice-Chairman, on April 25, 2018.  I am a strong advocate for the SRO program and will push to make this a funding priority going forward.”

Joe Matthews:

“The goal is to have school resource officers in every school and two SRO’s in the high schools, strong policies and procedures in place for people coming into the school (as are in place), entry only to front office, no access until the person is properly identified and verified, student awareness and involvement in school security efforts. Funding can come from different areas, Federal and State grants, funds from within our budget, reallocation of tax dollars, and careful review of all revenue sources.”

Leslie Schell:

“We have made great progress in securing our schools through recent renovations. But now we must focus on getting a SRO in every building. With the growth our county is seeing we must make a commitment to an aggressive plan to hire the additional officers needed.”

Marquette Gilchrest:

“The best ways to increase school security is the use of School Resource Officers to act as certified first-responders and as the overseer of security operations for each particular school. Obviously, the use of School Resources Officers can not eliminate all possible school threats but it can alleviates mass shootings and other major school threats. The best prevention of school violence is mental health awareness training and good family dynamics. For the funding of the school security, I believed it should comes out of the general funding rather than school budget. School Security is public security issue. I would support another joint funding with the school budget to ensure that it would not deplete the budgeting for other necessary expenditures within the school.”

4.    Why should someone vote for you? What unique strengths would you bring to the commission?

Jerry Foster:

“My diverse background as a CPA, business owner, law enforcement officer, corporate executive, and teacher is a unique strength I bring to the commission.   As a current high school teacher, I have firsthand knowledge about the needs of our students, teachers, and schools. Since the majority of our county’s budget is allocated to the school system, I feel the county commission benefits from having a teacher’s perspective on the issues. Additionally, I am a Certified Public Accountant and have worked in an executive capacity for several Fortune 500 companies. In my corporate career, I was responsible for budgeting, short and long term strategic planning, and devising and implementing cost control programs. I feel my financial skills and experiences serve the commission particularly well, especially during the annual budget process. In addition, I started and maintained for several years two small businesses in Hendersonville and know firsthand the challenges in meeting a payroll and satisfying customer needs. I am a graduate of Leadership Sumner and served as a Board of Directors member for the Hendersonville Rotary Club. Also, for the last 23 years I have served the county as a law enforcement officer first with the Hendersonville Police Department and currently serve as a reserve Deputy for the Sumner County Sheriff’s Office. I have dedicated the remainder of my work career to the education profession. I have a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of Tennessee, and a Master of Science in Education Theory & Practice from Arkansas State University. I believe in low taxes, limited government, personal freedoms, planned and controlled residential growth, and encouraging and recruiting accelerated growth opportunities for our recreational and business sectors. I believe that maintaining a desirable and respected school system is a major factor in attracting business and families to our county. I have lived in Sumner County for 28 years, and initially moved to the county because of the reputation of the local schools. I feel that I deserve re-election because in the last 3 ½ years much progress has been made in the areas of teamwork, transparency, and planning for future growth. Gone are the days of paying bills out of rainy day funds and delaying much needed investments in our infrastructure. In 2014, the county had zero capacity in the Debt Service Fund for needed major capital outlays, the health insurance fund had a deficit, and the chief operating funds had increasing disparities of appropriations exceeding revenues. During my tenure on the commission those problems have been fixed! In addition, the commission has funded 21 new School Resource Officers and a $70 million school building and remodel project. The state of Tennessee has awarded Sumner County an exemplary school district, our ACT scores are at a record high along with our graduation rate. Excellent schools contribute to desirable neighborhoods which help account for the 36% increase in median home values since 2014! As past Chairman and current Vice-Chairman of the Budget Committee I am proud of these accomplishments as well as the recent Standard & Poor’s review that stated, “We view the county’s management as strong, with “good” financial policies and practices.” Much has been accomplished, but even more work remains. We have begun to review our building codes to plan for future growth. Important relationships have been strengthened with the State of Tennessee’s Department of Transportation, which must be continued during the next four years to help address the traffic issue in Sumner County. Sumner Countians deserve leaders that place a priority on planning for the future while maintaining our quality of life.”

Joe Matthews:

“Experience in Sumner County Government, budget and finance knowledge, leadership and management skills, ability to agree to disagree without making it personal, dedication to Sumner County and its citizens. 47 year resident with 32 years in law enforcement served in Sumner County. I will represent the people of my district. Their voices will be heard.”

Leslie Schell:

“I’m asking for your vote because I truly feel I’m the best candidate for the job! I am dedicated to serving the citizens of this county. There isn’t a single issue I take lightly. I do my research, I gladly put in the work it takes to serve you. This job is hard and many times very frustrating because you have to make difficult decisions that you know everyone won’t agree with, but I’m willing to make the right choice for you!”

Marquette Gilchrest:

“Not only as a County Commissioner Candidate, as an individual who believes that solidarity encompasses individuals of different races, religions, political interests, socio-economics status, and much more. Personally, I have a sense of advocacy for individuals who are poorly compensated such as teachers and other support staff, students who fear for their safety at school rather focusing on learning in a comfortable environment, communities that are suffering from lack of adequate resources, the value of diversity (not only racially) that is not supported in our current local government, and much more. My entire life has always involved serving others from serving 8 years in the Army, serving as a Child and Family Advocate in the Juvenile Justice System, becoming a Social Service Case Manager, and now as a Healthcare Director for non-profit organization. As a Candidate, I would bring to the commission the belief and advocacy that governmental officials cannot sit idly by when some individuals in our community are suffering and in need. Its shows that we are indifferent and disconnected which we are more concern about our self-image or political views rather than caring for others and their needs.”

5.    What’s the best way to address long-term population growth in Sumner County?

 Jerry Foster:

“The best way to address long-term population growth involves three main areas: action, planning, and management.  Action must be taken now to deal with the inevitable significant population growth of our county.  For example, it is anticipated that the widening of state route 109 will result in a noticeable increase in traffic and growth opportunities in various business sectors from Gallatin to Portland.  We need a plan in place that deals with this issue. Effective management of a high rate of growth must be a priority for our county.  To maintain and improve our quality of life in Sumner County, our county’s leaders must learn to think long-term in their planning.  There should be a formal plan for the vision of where Sumner County will be in terms of population in the next 5, 10, 15, and 20 years given several different expected growth rates.  Sumner County must plan to invest in the infrastructure to effectively manage the anticipated growth and the resulting issues that will affect the quality of life for our citizens. There should be plans to pro-actively manage the impact growth will have on our schools, neighborhoods, public safety, public transportation, commerce & industry, and our recreational and natural environment areas.  Pro-active and effective leaders will engage and encourage Sumner County citizens to collaborate on these important issues.”

Joe Matthews:

“You have to plan for the Growth. If elected, I would like to see Sumner County Government officials and the local city Government officials to meet and work together for what is best for Sumner County as a whole. We have to balance our growth with our infrastructure. Failure to do so will mean an overload and inability to tend to the needs of our citizens in Sumner County. Plan for growth also includes how to fund the infrastructure improvements. This is to be done by looking at all sources of revenue and making the necessary provisions.”

Leslie Schell:

“We must continue to plan ahead as we are now. We must continue working with the cities and the SB to maintain a healthy lead on the growth that is projected for our county.”

Marquette Gilchrest:

“The best way to address long-term population growth in Sumner County is to develop ordinances that would regulate infrastructure needed for the best interests of the community not of the land developers. We have to honor the voice of the community over the voice of land developers of what decides what infrastructure is needed in the community.”

6.    Regarding funding education, are any options “on” or “off the table” to meet budgetary needs? Why?

Jerry Foster:

“Education funding is a priority for all the reasons I mention in this survey.  All options should be evaluated for appropriateness while maintaining fiscal conservativeness and responsibility.”

Joe Matthews:

“Funding is the responsibility of the county commission. So as a commissioner I would work closely with the Board of Education and the Director of Schools to understand the funding needs. The same goes for each county office. Then in working together we as the commission shall look at all funding possibilities to

meet the needs.”

Leslie Schell:

“I’m always open to options. Creativity in a budget can often lead us to the answers we need. We can not live with the mindset that, ‘It’s always been done like this.’”

Marquette Gilchrest:

“Regarding funding education, I do not believe there are any options "on or off the table" to meet budgetary needs other than funds budgeting for the public safety such as the funding for Emergency Management Services. Sadly, I believe that funding education has not been one of the top priorities in our nation as compared as other developed countries. Research have shown that education and healthcare to be the primary indicator of addressing social disparities in our society. Therefore, it should requires greater attention to ensure education is a priority in our community.”

7.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School teachers are compensated appropriately? Why?

Jerry Foster:

“The compensation for a Sumner County teacher is below the mean salary of all Tennessee teachers, yet in promotional materials and word-of-mouth communications, our county is consistently recognized and praised for the quality of our school system.  The state of Tennessee has awarded Sumner County an exemplary school district.  Our ACT scores are at a record high along with our graduation rate.  But teacher compensation has not kept pace with academic performance in our county. Of eleven counties in middle Tennessee, Sumner County ranks 9th in average salary for teachers.  A Sumner County teacher’s salary is $3,000 below this region’s average.  The two lower paying counties are much smaller in population and less wealthy than Sumner.  The last adjustment to teachers’ pay scale occurred in 2014. Excellent schools contribute to desirable neighborhoods, which help account for the 36% increase in median home values since 2014.  The reputation of Hendersonville’s schools was the critical factor in choosing where to relocate my family 28 years ago.   The quality of a school system remains one of the most important considerations when attracting new business and families. As I mention in question 10 regarding teacher retention, one key element is the issue of salary, benefits, and working conditions.  When our school system employs effective, caring teachers, it is tragic for our students when teachers of such quality to leave our county or the teaching profession because of inadequate compensation.”

Joe Matthews:

“As with many public servants the pay could always be better. What we have here in Sumner County is a good benefit package which helps in the overall compensation. The school board along with the superintendent sets the pay scale for the teachers. From my understanding, the state of Tennessee pays 85% of the salary and Sumner County pays 15%. I would like to see the starting pay increase.”

Leslie Schell:

“We have some of the BEST teachers in the country. I think there will always be a need to compensate them more until we reach the top.”

Marquette Gilchrest:

“Yes, I agree that Sumner County School teachers are poorly compensated in comparison to other public school systems with the same number of students.”

8.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School staff are compensated appropriately? Why?

Jerry Foster:

“Recruiting and maintaining adequate staff in our schools is an on-going problem due to the combination of relatively low hourly rate and number of work days.  I would like to see school staff compensation have another positive adjustment such as what happened two years ago when the custodial and maintenance areas received a special increase. The support staff at my school are very conscientious and hard-working individuals who often go beyond what is required of them because of their dedication to their schools and students.”

Joe Matthews:

“School staff encompasses all of the workers. From what knowledge I have, there is some staff that needs to be paid more and there are some that compensated very well. Once again, the school board sets the pay. The county commissioners only approve funding for the school’s budget.”

Leslie Schell:

“Our teachers couldn’t be the best without the support staff behind them. Again, we have some of the best in the country and there is always room for improvement until we reach top.”

Marquette Gilchrest:

“Yes, I agree that Sumner County School staff are poorly compensated in comparison to other public school systems with the same number of students.”

9.    Do Sumner County schools have adequate facilities to meet the educational needs of students? Why?

Jerry Foster:

“With the recent $70 million school building and remodel project much needed improvements have been made to our facilities, including security upgrades.  Portable classrooms are nearly gone.  However, due to high population growth, many of our schools are at near or full capacity.  I believe the need to begin the construction of the new Cottontown school complex may be needed much sooner than earlier thought.”

Joe Matthews:

“The Sumner County school system has made some improvements but because of the Growth, our schools are at capacity or very close to it. My understanding is that we are now in need of a high school and two additional other schools to meet the needs of the County.”

Leslie Schell:

“We have made huge strides in this area over the past 4 years! The important thing to remember is that we can’t stop. We must continue to make improvements and add to our schools and classrooms.”

Marquette Gilchrest:

“Our school system has improved greatly in the past few years especially in doing away with the portable classrooms. I believe there is considerable room for improvements to be made.  As technology in our society becomes more and more demanding, I believe we need to ensure that our kids have the most effective educational and learning materials to set them up for the greatest level of success as they leave the school system and venture into adult life, regardless of if that is college or straight into the work force.”

10. What are the three greatest needs, if any, do you see in our schools? How can the Sumner County Commission help address those needs?

Jerry Foster:

1.  Recruiting and retaining dedicated and effective teachers.

2.  Increasing the use of technology in our schools to meet the needs of 21st Century Learners.

3.  Adequately funding the schools to address the educational needs of our students.

“Research has consistently shown that the number one impact on the quality of a student’s education is having a dedicated, effective, caring teacher.  Effective teachers challenge students to strive to attain their highest level of academic achievement.  In turn, a student’s personal, educational, and future career attributes are directly associated with high levels of student achievement.  In Tennessee, the turnover rate for teachers in their first five years has been as high as 42%.  If Tennesseans want to make great progress in improving our education system, the first step must be to address the issue of teacher retention.  New facilities, textbooks, and athletic equipment are also important for a school to have, but not to the extent of what an effective teacher means for a child’s academic future.  True life changing events happen in a classroom when a teacher effectively employs the art of teaching to positively impact student learning and growth. Since the County Commission just functions as the funding entity for the school system, but day-to-day operations are the responsibility of the Director of Schools and the School Board, the commission can help meet these needs by continuing the recent excellent working relationship between the school board and this body.”

Joe Matthews:

1.    Additional improvement in school security by adding additional SRO’s, review of policies and procedures, student awareness and the addition of more security cameras

2.    Technology advancements needed for the students educational growth and staff needs

3.    Having enough schools to handle the Growth and keep the student to teacher ratio as low as we can. The County Commissioners should look at all revenue sources and should be active in working to help bring businesses to Sumner County to improve our tax base.

“I believe the most important thing at this time is to keep our students and staff safe within our schools. Providing a safe and secure environment for learning and trying to alleviate fears of something happening at their schools. We need to have the proper resources to respond quickly and effectively to keep the students safe and to provide parents with the reassurance that we are prepared to the best of our abilities.”

Leslie Schell:

1.    Security

2.    Nurses

3.    Growth

“Security is of the upmost importance in our school system. Our children need to feel safe in order to learn. Our children have to face situations that they simply shouldn’t have to. We need SROs in every building. SROs are more than a “armed officer” in our schools. They are a presence, an influence, a safe and friendly face. These men and women build trust and relationships with our students. For some this may be the only positive encounter they have had with a member of law enforcement. We must continue to make the safety of our students a top priority.”

Marquette Gilchrest:

1.    Adequate funding for salaries for under-compensated school staff and teachers, and resources that all of Sumner County School to ensure all students are attaining the best level of education.

2.    Identifying students without adequate resources, and help address those needs.

3.    Hiring of more bus drivers with a descent wage.

Again, I believe that funding education has not been one of the top priorities in our nation as compared as other developed countries. Research have shown that education and healthcare to be the primary indicator of addressing social disparities in our society. Therefore, it should requires greater attention to ensure education is a priority in our community. Education is correlated to wealth and income. As members of the community attain wealth and income then it eventually leads to economic growth. The foundation is starting at providing adequate funding for education including teachers and school staff.

District 3: 2018 County Commission Candidate Survey Responses

Strong Schools asked individuals running for Sumner County Commission for their responses to the following questions. The responses for those that replied are below. (The primary is May 1 2018, with early voting currently underway.)

1.    How long have you lived in Sumner County?

Alan Driver:

“53 years.”

Elizabeth Rickman-Vaden:

“I have lived in Sumner County since 2006.”

Don Scruggs:

“I was born in Sumner County 50 years ago.”

Steve Graves:

“62 years, all my life.”

2.    Do you (or did you) have children or grandchildren in Sumner County Schools?

Alan Driver:

“I have a son in the 4th grade in Sumner County Schools.”

Elizabeth Rickman-Vaden:

“Yes. My daughter is in the 2nd grade and attends Benny Bills Elementary and my son will be enrolling in 2 years.”

Don Scruggs:

“No.”

Steve Graves:

“Yes. We have 5 daughters who are all Sumner County graduates. We also have two granddaughters that are in Sumner County elementary schools.”

3.    What is the best way to increase school security, and if additional funding was needed, how would you provide the funding?

Alan Driver:

“I believe we need to add School Resource Officers each year until every school has an officer.  Funding would have to come from growth in the county.”

Elizabeth Rickman-Vaden:

“The best way to increase school security is the common sense approach which is to place a school resource officer in each school and also provide the appropriate training for all school staff and volunteers that frequent the school. The schools also need to have secure entry and exit points and proper camera systems as well. I would propose that an emergency planning grant be applied for to use as seed money for training. The funding for SRO’s would be added to the budget. The safety of our children and teachers should not come with a price tag. It is a priority and must be provided for. I also feel that other stakeholders in the community could help provide funding such as any businesses or organizations that are vested in the community. I know that their funding is not a guarantee but from what I have seen from the past this support can be expected and businesses look forward to investing in the future of Sumner County.”

Don Scruggs:

“Make Prayer & Bible Study and Pledge to Flag the first thing to do each day. Teach Brotherly Love and Christian values at all grades. Support ‘Good Guy with a Gun’ programs and arm teachers and other school staff that wants to go armed. I would try out using metal detectors and see how that deters the carrying of certain weapons. Maybe work on school buildings and make them more capable of being watched by guards (catwalks, etc.).”

Steve Graves:

“Being prepared by placing an SRO at each school, drills to prepare students and teachers and giving parents the information they need to prepare their children to be aware of their surroundings at all times. All can be funded by the Commission.”

4.    Why should someone vote for you? What unique strengths would you bring to the commission?

Alan Driver:

“I have always supported education as a commissioner. I ran for commissioner the first time because I witnessed the gradual decline of funding for the school system over 31 years of teaching. I believe in building sustainable budgets that support the school system in a manner that doesn’t allow for things to get in such bad shape that they require a major correction. I believe we have to be diligent in planning so we never get in that kind of shape again.”

Elizabeth Rickman-Vaden:

“If you ask anyone in the community that knows me personally or from a business encounter they will tell you that I am very transparent, honest and have a true passion for people. I am not easily persuaded and I do not “go along to get along”. The reason I chose to run for county commissioner is because I wanted to provide an unbiased voice for the people of Sumner County and truly serve the needs of this community. I feel that people are tired of business as usual and they just want the facts and action to be taken. I grew up in public housing and was raised by a single mother. Education was my only resource to becoming successful. It was a priority in my household to be educated in order to escape struggles. The school I attended was very focused on providing the necessary tools for students regardless of where the school was located. I am very passionate about education because I know firsthand the benefits it has for the next generation because I am the product of it. The unique strengths I bring to the commission is my experience of working in public service/law enforcement for the past 11 years. It has given me the training I need to not only communicate with people on any level but to also be knowledgeable about areas such as security in schools and the needs of our emergency services, roads, and general operations. I have been a business owner for the past 12 years. I own a personal development company that coaches women and youth to live their life to the fullest and I also am a community organizer and founder for events, such as the 2018 IGNITE Women’s Retreat & Expo. I am a graduated of Middle TN State University and hold a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice Administration and a master’s degree in Adult Education & Corporate Training. My “go-getter” personality will be used to bring out the best in Sumner County. I cannot wait to work for this great community and be a voice that takes action towards what is in the best interest of the people.”

Don Scruggs:

“I have strong Christian Southern views. I have always supported education. I understand how to run a business. I know how to make schools safe for the kids. I am the only pro-school candidate.”

Steve Graves:

“Almost 12 years of knowledge with the commission. I have taken part on committees to support growth in Sumner County. I have very strong roots throughout the County especially District 3, which promotes good communication with constituents. I am always available by phone, email, text and Facebook.”

5.    What’s the best way to address long-term population growth in Sumner County?

 Alan Driver:

“That may be the biggest question facing the commission in the years ahead.  I believe we have to insist on high quality developments and plan ahead for the educational needs of additional students.”

Elizabeth Rickman-Vaden:

“The best way to address long term population growth is to be prepared. This means making sure that our schools, roads and all areas attached to providing for the people of Sumner County is funded. Sumner County is growing at a fast pace and we must ensure that we stay ahead of the trend. This means more quality emergency services will have to be provided, more schools will need to be built and secured, more businesses and homes will need to be available among many other needs of the community. On the other hand we must protect the rich history that our community has and preserve those areas as well. When we build we must be prepared to fund those providing services such as teachers and emergency service personnel. What I have encountered from my experience is growth in the community, which is great, but the county officials must realize that the more you build the workload increases for those in positions. So there has to be a clear solution delivered to keep experienced employees in their positions from seeking other careers or going to a more competitive county.”

Don Scruggs:

“There is not one “Best Way.” There are a lot of Best Ways and they all need to be looked at as our county grows. But to pick only one way would be planning to fail.”

Steve Graves:

“By making sure that the developments follow rules and policies of county, state, and federal regulations.”

6.    Regarding funding education, are any options “on” or “off the table” to meet budgetary needs? Why?

Alan Driver:

“I believe the current commission has done a good job of increasing funding for the school system in general. In addition, the current commission has been very diligent about budgeting in a way that will allow room for capital projects to address our growth. I believe we are on the right path and I do not anticipate the need for any changes to meet our budgetary needs.”

Elizabeth Rickman-Vaden:

“The needs of our children are definitely a priority and I would love to say that no options are “off the table” but once elected I will have the opportunity to help allocate the proper funding in all areas based on the need of the community. The reason that an option would be “off the table” would be because it may be an area that may need to be revisited in the future and not in the budget for the current year. But if it is truly a need I will work hard to see that it is provided if it is doable.”

Don Scruggs:

“YES – off the table is a property tax increase. I will not support a property tax increase of any kind.”

Steve Graves:

“From a commissioners’ point of view, this question is irrelevant. We fund the school budget that is given to us. The money we allot schools makes them work within their means. This includes, wheel tax, property tax and other taxes schools receive.”

7.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School teachers are compensated appropriately? Why?

Alan Driver:

“Sumner County teachers, like all teachers, are underpaid, but we need to understand that the majority of that money comes from the state, not the county.”

Elizabeth Rickman-Vaden:

“A teacher can never be compensated appropriately for the countless hours that they spend in and out of the classroom to teach our children. They are even training during the summers and taking funds from their own households to create a creative learning environment in their classrooms for our children. But realistically there has to be a cap set for budgeting in order to provide for all needs of the county. I know that in order to have quality schools there must be quality teachers and staff and in order to attract them they must be presented with competitive salaries in comparison to surrounding counties. After speaking with local teachers who put their heart into teaching but feel they could use their skills in corporate settings and be compensated more for less work; it shows that it is necessary to find ways to encourage our teachers to stay long-term and gradually adjusting their salaries and truly hearing their needs would be huge start.”

Don Scruggs:

“NO! I don’t like “cookie cutter” compensation. I like to look at each employee on individual basis and go from there.”

Steve Graves:

“There is such a wide range of salaries that this is hard for me to answer. Teachers are paid according to their tenure. Although I will agree that teachers do not make enough. The hours are long, emotional and heavy.”

8.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School staff are compensated appropriately? Why?

Alan Driver:

“I do not believe that our school staff is compensated appropriately. The school board is making an effort to raise the compensation on a rotating basis in order address this problem and although it is a long process, I believe that is the best way to build the increases in the budget.”

Elizabeth Rickman-Vaden:

“If this question is steered towards the classified staff then I would have to say that they are not compensated appropriately. Some are paid less than $8.00/hr. They could literally leave and be employed by a fast food restaurant and make more. Well, some would argue that they could just replace the staff but you do not just want anyone working in the schools. It is important to do our best to fill the positions with quality employees who have the needs of the children in their best interest.”

Don Scruggs:

“NO! For the same reason as above. I think each individual needs to be looked at separately.”

Steve Graves:

“Disagree.” The staff are paid according to their classification. I feel they should be paid on their job title to make competitive salaries.”

9.    Do Sumner County schools have adequate facilities to meet the educational needs of students? Why?

Alan Driver:

“The facilities are in much better shape than they were just four years ago.  Much needed repairs and additions have been made as well as upgrades in security.  The biggest issue now is continuing to address the county’s growth by adding a new school complex in the Cottontown area which will relieve overcrowding at several school as well as provide classroom space to accommodate the influx of new students.”

Elizabeth Rickman-Vaden:

“There are some schools who do not meet the educational needs of students in certain districts. Some lack enough technology for teachers to equip the students for different assignments and some actual structures need to be renovated so that students have safe learning environments. Overall I feel the county is moving towards great improvements to our schools in comparison to where we were in the past.”

Don Scruggs:

“NO! I think there is much room for improvement in this area. It needs to be studied one school at a time.”

Steve Graves:

“Yes. As a commission, we have worked hard to reduce the amount of portables from 135 in 2012 to now 10. Renovations and technology improvements have made great strides as well as safe and secure schools by adding SRO’s and other security features at each school.”

10. What are the three greatest needs, if any, do you see in our schools? How can the Sumner County Commission help address those needs?

Alan Driver:

1.  Additional schools for growth

2.  SRO’s in every school

3.  Continued support of technology initiatives

“Growth is coming to Sumner County. It is a great place to live and people are moving in every day. We cannot wait until schools are severely overcrowded before beginning the building process since it takes years to get to the finished project.”

Elizabeth Rickman-Vaden:

1.    Funding for classrooms

2.    More support staff

3.    Higher salaries for teachers

“The teachers are already not receiving high enough salaries in order for them to reduce turnover but they only receive approximately $100.00/school year to use for classroom material and the rest comes out of their own pockets. This is not fair to the students or the teachers. The Sumner County Commission can address these needs by adding these needs to the budget. I know that there are many other areas that need funding as well but in order to keep our teachers from going into other fields this has to be taken care of as a priority. We want all of our schools to have teachers who are passionate about their students but are secure in their career so that they will stay. Many of them are dealing with students with behavior issues and they could easily go into the corporate world and make double their salary for less headache. Because they are only asking for their voices to be heard and their needs to be included it should be a priority for the commission to take action to preserve education in Sumner County. I know that Sumner County does receive different grants for the schools but I also feel that educating parents more on the needs of the school is imperative. Many parents are not aware that when fundraiser information is sent home how participating impacts their child. Encouraging more support from the parents is crucial as well.”

Don Scruggs:

1.    Putting God back in all schools.

2.    Keeping kids safe.

3.    Making Southern History and/or Southern Lifestyle a major part of the education process.

“The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom! Without God, everything else is wasted. When I went to school in Sumner County, God was a priority and we had safe schools and we NEVER had school shootings or other unsafe things happen!! Schools are strong ONLY if God is the center of them!!!”

Steve Graves:

1.    More parent participation—commissioners are given opportunity to visit schools

2.    Put God back in school by allowing prayer and Bible classes.

3.    Commissioners participate in more school functions—let the commission know when they can visit and where.

“I feel that parental involvement is absolutely necessary to engage children and learning.”

District 2: 2018 County Commission Candidate Survey Responses

Strong Schools asked individuals running for Sumner County Commission for their responses to the following questions. The responses for those that replied are below. (The primary is May 1 2018, with early voting currently underway.)

1.    How long have you lived in Sumner County?

Michele Harbin:

“My family moved to Sumner County in the summer of 1984, nearly 34 years ago. I was 5 years old.”

2.    Do you (or did you) have children or grandchildren in Sumner County Schools?

Michele Harbin:

“My daughter will start kindergarten at Clyde Riggs in Portland this year. I also have nieces, nephews, and cousins in schools throughout Sumner County including Portland, White House, and Hendersonville.”

3.    What is the best way to increase school security, and if additional funding was needed, how would you provide the funding?

Michele Harbin:

“I believe the current route being taken of making sure each school has a SRO officer is a good start. After the five that were just approved are added, we will require 15 more. The cost to add the additional 15 is just over $1 million dollars annually. As of 2014, adding $.01 to property taxes generates $400,000 in revenue. A simple increase of $.03 would provide the county with $1.2 million and cover the cost of the additional officers. Our current tax rate of $2.50 matches that of 2002 and is the lowest of surrounding counties with the next being $2.57. I would also be curious to see what the cost to arm teachers, in Sumner County specifically, would be. I am not for arming teachers, but should the debate come up, I would like to have financial data, so I can ask how we would fund such efforts.”

4.    Why should someone vote for you? What unique strengths would you bring to the commission?

Michele Harbin:

“My biggest strength is building and maintaining a wide variety of relationships. I am passionate about building bridges and finding common ground. As a life-long resident of Sumner County, I have a vested interest in our children’s education, our infrastructure, and our financial well-being. I will listen and ensure ALL voices are heard.”

5.    What’s the best way to address long-term population growth in Sumner County?

Michele Harbin:

“Growth issues should to be examined by district and be in conjunction with the wants and needs of the cities. For example, Portland’s needs vary from those of Hendersonville or Gallatin. This is complicated because you have residents wanting to slow development to preserve their community’s quality of life, you have businesses that need housing for employees, and you have real estate investors looking to provide new amenities, some to simply profit. All of these factors influence local politics, and we have to make sure the interests of our citizens’ stay at the forefront. Communication will be key. To slow the current growth, I suggest lower density zoning, more restrictive building codes, and impact fees. We also need to look at public transportation and mixed-use developments to promote walk-able communities, which will reduce traffic.”

6.    Regarding funding education, are any options “on” or “off the table” to meet budgetary needs? Why?

Michele Harbin:

“I believe in remaining open-minded and reviewing all options. So, no, nothing is “off the table”. I am always willing to hear all sides and suggestions.”

7.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School teachers are compensated appropriately? Why?

Michele Harbin:

“SCS teachers are not compensated appropriately. Their pay ranks 54th out of 95 counties and is ranked 8th (including benefits) amongst the 11 surrounding counties. Principals are ranked 37th. Research shows investing in teachers and administrators reduces dropout rates and improves students' achievements. This is not new news. Check out a study conducted by Stanford in 1995: http://web.stanford.edu/~sloeb/papers/loebpage.pdf.”

8.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School staff are compensated appropriately? Why?

Michele Harbin:

“The recent raise in pay for substitute teachers is a step in the right direction. However, minimum pay for staff should be at least $10 an hour, if not more. In order to attract qualified candidates, we have to value them and their skills. Let’s don’t forget we trust them with our most priced possessions, our children. Their jobs are not easy, and we expect a lot for very little in return.”

9.    Do Sumner County schools have adequate facilities to meet the educational needs of students? Why?

Michele Harbin:

“We are getting there. The reduction of portables from 70 to 10 in recent years is remarkable. The upgrades to various schools in the county are significant. However, schools are still experiencing overcrowding and some cannot withstand the growth in their district. We have come a long way, but there is work still to be done. We also need to look at the imbalance of supplies between schools. Those with a strong PTO have access to more technology and other amenities than others that do not.”

10. What are the three greatest needs, if any, do you see in our schools? How can the Sumner County Commission help address those needs?

Michele Harbin:

1. Teacher and administrative pay

2. Overcrowding and teacher/staff to student ratio

3. Standardized testing reduction

“Out of 141 school systems in the state of Tennessee, Sumner County teacher pay ranks 54th and principals pay ranks 37th. We are the 4th wealthiest county out of 95 Tennessee counties. We can do better, and it is imperative we invest in our teachers and administrators. An investment in them is an investment in our children, which is an investment in our county’s future.”

District 1: 2018 County Commission Candidate Survey Responses

Strong Schools asked individuals running for Sumner County Commission for their responses to the following questions. The responses for those that replied are below. (The primary is May 1 2018, with early voting currently underway.)

1.    How long have you lived in Sumner County?

Christopher Shoemaker:

“I have lived in Sumner County since April 2016 but have worked in Sumner County since March 2015.”

James Smalling:

“I am a native of Sumner County.”

2.    Do you (or did you) have children or grandchildren in Sumner County Schools?

Christopher Shoemaker:

“At this time, my child does not attend school.”

James Smalling:

“No, however my nieces and nephews have attended Sumner County Schools.”

3.    What is the best way to increase school security, and if additional funding was needed, how would you provide the funding?

Christopher Shoemaker:

“The best way to increase school security comes in many forms.  I personally think that every Sumner County school needs to have a designated SRO.  Another option is the control of access and egress to the building during school hours.  If additional funding is needed, that funding could come from multiple sources.  How I would provide that funding is a loaded question.  If needed, that funding could come from a sales tax increase or a property tax increase but both of these would be considered last resorts.  I believe that every level of government has spending that could be cut to provide for the safety of our children.”

James Smalling:

“The County commissions previously approved plan from past years regarding resource officers needs to be carried out. However, budgeting funding for additional school resource officers each year until each school staffed with its own officer into the budget is not enough. It is my understanding that the sheriffs department conducts a review annually of safety measures in place at each school. Those measures that have not been completed or deemed inadequate need to be identified, prioritized for funding during the county budget process. The funding for these items could be obtained from the projected additional revenue forecasted each year as Sumner County grows. A list of priorities would essential in providing funding each year. Undoubtedly not having funds available to completely finance these projects during a few budget cycle would certainly financially burden on our citizens.”

4.    Why should someone vote for you? What unique strengths would you bring to the commission?

Christopher Shoemaker:

“First and foremost, I am not a politician.  I am a blue collar worker who wants change.  I believe the people of Sumner County need a voice of someone who knows the day to day struggle of a working family.  One of the greatest strengths I will bring to the commission is I am not afraid of a fight and I will not waiver in my morals or my values.  I will stand up to whoever needs to be stood up to in order to make the people's voice be heard.  I am a numbers guy.  I love to look at and analyse numbers and will ensure that I can account for the people's money in a way that every taxpayer can look at and understand.”

James Smalling:

“I have been a member of the Westmoreland City Council nearly twelve years. I have served as the Cities Vice Mayor in the past for over four years. I am currently a certified member of the Westmoreland planning and commission. I have experience making decisions regarding a wide range of issues pertaining to all aspects of local government, emergency services and public utilities just being a few. This will allow me to sit down on day one and adequately be able to make sound decisions regarding county policy. I am easy to approach and available to discuss anyone’s concerns. I will listen. The dedication I have exhibited to the citizens of Westmoreland has proven I’m a devoted leader and that I have taken the time to understand the process on their behalf. The citizens’ voice is important to me. My goal has always been to listen to the citizens, understand the facts, and vote in their best interests.”

5.    What’s the best way to address long-term population growth in Sumner County?

 Christopher Shoemaker:

“The best way to address the population growth is to plan for it.  It is no secret that Sumner County is growing rapidly and our governments need to plan for it.  This includes setting money aside now to plan for additional schools, infrastructure improvements and maintenance.”

James Smalling:

“Sumner County’s rapid growth is not equal in all areas of the county. While areas in northern Sumner county are growing, they still lack basic infrastructure necessary for substantial growth. The southern areas of the county are experiencing unprecedented, rapid growth—growing pains from crowded neighborhoods and expanding services to a larger population. The northern portion of the county, which I would represent, still has the available time and ample opportunity to successfully plan for the same growth experienced rapidly in the southern portion. However time is running out. Grants to offset the high cost of infrastructure would be a priority. More discussions and long-range planning is also important. Growth and development as the citizens wish to see it in their communities would be a strong factor in any plans for growth I would support.”

6.    Regarding funding education, are any options “on” or “off the table” to meet budgetary needs? Why?

Christopher Shoemaker:

“There are no options that are off the table which in turn means almost any option is on the table.  I believe that our tax payer dollars are providing for the schools but I feel our kids deserve the best education and learning environment possible.”

James Smalling:

“Yes, I’m not in favor of a tax increase at this time. The rapid growth we are experiencing is producing large surpluses of revenue that should be allocated to all areas of the county. Yes schools are important, but our emergency services and our roads are just as important. I do understand as we grow a priority should be placed on education.”

7.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School teachers are compensated appropriately? Why?

Christopher Shoemaker:

“I don't believe that any teacher is compensated appropriately.  Our teachers across the country spend money from their own pockets to provide supplies for the classroom.  Teachers need to be compensated based on what it is that they provide.  I have complete faith that our teachers do everything within their power to give our kids the best education possible.  Even after school hours our teachers are preparing lesson plans and prepping for the next day. I have looked at both the Sumner County general budget as well as the budget for the school system and without a breakdown of pay for our teachers, this is a difficult question to answer.  I stand by my above statement and will make the assumption, that they are underpaid.”

James Smalling:

“No, our teachers are asked to take on more and more responsibilities each year, they often are spending their own income to provide resources for the classroom. Overcrowded classes require more time outside school hours to prepare for activities in the classroom.”

8.    Do you agree or disagree that Sumner County School staff are compensated appropriately? Why?

Christopher Shoemaker:

“Without a breakdown of what each staff position pays, this is also a difficult question to answer.  I know what the budgeted amount is for principals and various director positions and would say they appear to be compensated appropriately.”

James Smalling:

“No, the staff is asked to take on more and more responsibilities each year. They often are dealing with problems inside the school system that should be resolved at home and not in a classroom.”

9.    Do Sumner County schools have adequate facilities to meet the educational needs of students? Why?

Christopher Shoemaker:

“Our school system has improved greatly in the past few years especially in doing away with the portable classrooms.  I believe there is considerable room for improvements to be made.  As technology in our society becomes more and more demanding, I believe we need to ensure that our kids have the most effective educational and learning materials to set them up for the greatest level of success as they leave the school system and venture into adult life, regardless of if that is college or straight into the work force.”

James Smalling:

“Yes, great improvements have been made on this in previous years and should continue. Most modern problems in out schools are caused by over crowded classrooms. Bullying, violence and other outside distractions would not be as big a factor if student-to-teacher ratios were smaller and would allow for more one-on-one instruction. The overpopulated schools in our county deserved to be addressed now with a capital projects plan. The others in a long term future growth plan providing funding when the plans project the need.”

10. What are the three greatest needs, if any, do you see in our schools? How can the Sumner County Commission help address those needs?

Christopher Shoemaker:

“Without having a child in the school system, it is hard for me to say what the needs of the system are.  I do however, believe that our county employees need to be talked to especially during budget considerations as a disconnect can easily happen between management and employees.”

James Smalling:

“1) Some of our schools are over crowded. This factor alone attributes to several issues in our school system. Smaller class size would allow teachers the ability to spend more time with the students instead of dealing with factors brought in from outside the classroom. 2) Safety and security of our students is a priority. I didn’t place it as number one because I believe it will be addressed. As a leader I’m looking forward addressing the other needs. 3) Computer technology ready and available to all students is sill a concern. Some mandatory testing done on computers requires each student have one. This is not currently the case all over Sumner County. Teachers are still teaching out of outdated textbooks and the information required to be taught is being provided from copy machines. Monies being spent on copies should be reallocated to the purchase of modern textbooks.”

Misleading Mail

As early voting for the May County Primary starts today, it's a good time to take a look at the messaging being sent out by candidates. 

A mail piece arrived recently for current County Commissioner and candidate for County Executive Jim Vaughn. 

 

Jim Vaughn Mail 2018.JPG

A couple problems with this mail. First, Vaughn states he supported the $300 million school building project." There's not currently a project of that magnitude. The County Commission did approve a $70 million bond to make improvements to 26 schools around the county. That was in February of 2015 and Jim Vaughn voted NO. So, he didn't support the current building project that has led to a near elimination of portables and improvements at many campuses around Sumner County. Also in February of 2015, the County Commission voted to move forward with the purchase of land for a campus for schools in Cottontown. These schools will download students from the fast-growing Station Camp area. Once again, Jim Vaughn opposed this measure. If the rest of the Commission had voted like Jim Vaughn, we'd still have more than 80 portables and there'd be no relief in sight for the overcrowding caused by rapid growth. 

Vaughn then says he "championed enhanced security for schools including School Resource Officers." Problem is, he didn't. In fact, the Gallatin News Examiner reported that Vaughn "foresees security plan without new SROs.

 

Jim Vaughn SROs.jpg

Once again, Jim Vaughn's mailer deviates from Jim Vaughn's record. 

The idea that he supports continued investment in our schools is not supported by evidence. In fact, in November of 2014, Vaughn wrote about why he opposed the funding necessary to make new investments in our schools. To be clear, Jim Vaughn SAYS he supports our schools, but his votes show he OPPOSES paying for them. In the column on why he opposed the funding, he claimed to want to see decreased fees to parents. Well, as a result of a majority on the County Commission (not Jim Vaughn) voting to invest in schools, school fees for grades K-8 have been eliminated. What's more, Jim Vaughn voted against the 2017-18 school budget.

The record is clear: Jim Vaughn is not a supporter of investing in or funding Sumner County Schools. He's opposed efforts to ease the overcrowding caused by growth. He's opposed funding initiatives that have virtually eliminated portables. His mailer references a "building program" when there's no evidence he's supported or advocated for such a program. 

Jim Vaugn's mailer says one thing, his votes tell the real story. 

A Note on Teacher Pay

We've noted that Sumner County's teachers rank 54th out of 141 systems in the state when it comes to teacher pay. Of course, Tennessee is a big, diverse state with a number of both rural and urban districts. A comparison of how Sumner County teachers fare compared to our neighbors is helpful in determining just how competitive our salary is. Likewise, adding in consideration of health insurance, a key benefit, makes the compensation comparison more meaningful. 

In eight nearby counties, there are 11 school districts (8 county systems plus city systems in Murfreesboro, Lebanon, and Franklin). 

Here's a breakdown of average salary (as reported by the Tennessee Department of Education) for those systems, ranked from top to bottom:

Franklin          $52,446

Lebanon         $52,013

Murfreesboro $51,429

Montgomery   $50,377

Davidson         $49,918

Williamson       $49,489

Rutherford       $49,065

Wilson              $47,900

Sumner             $45,013

Cheatham         $44,907

Robertson         $43,684

So, in average salary, Sumner County ranks ninth out of these 11 regional districts. We're just above two relatively small, significantly less wealthy districts. Our pay is about $3000 below the regional average. 

But, it's also important to look at total compensation, which includes health insurance. That's a significant benefit and how districts handle it can make a big difference to teachers and their families. To their credit, the Sumner County Board of Education offers one of the best insurance packages in the region. In fact, our insurance package ranks third, behind only Williamson and Rutherford counties. That's the good news. 

Now, here are the systems ranked by compensation including health insurance:

Williamson        $61,512

Franklin            $60,707

Rutherford        $60,439

Montgomery    $59,964

Davidson          $59,154

Lebanon           $58,918

Murfreesboro   $57,337

Sumner             $55,999

Wilson              $54,515

Cheatham        $52,888

Robertson        $52,670

 

So, when you factor in insurance, Sumner County moves up to eighth in total compensation, up one place from the raw salary rank. Again, good news: Our district is already doing the hard part and paying a solid insurance benefit. Still, Sumner ranks near the bottom in terms of financial reward for teaching in the region. We are $5500 behind the top district, Williamson. 

Sumner County should be working to become the most desirable place in the region to teach. We should be moving our teachers to near the top of this list in total compensation. We should aim to be a top 10 district in the state in teacher compensation. The last adjustment to the pay scale in Sumner County came in 2014. 

 

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Please Read the Letter

On March 6th, we sent a letter to each member of the Sumner County Board of Education outlining issues needing attention in the upcoming budget cycle. We chose those issues based on topics that had been raised on our Facebook page. 

The issues included improving pay for classified employees, raising teacher pay, and addressing communication.

Here's the full text of the letter:

 

Dear Board Members:

As the 2018 budget season approaches, our experience with our membership has highlighted following areas that deserve attention:

Set a $10 Minimum for Hourly Employees

Too many Sumner County classified employees earn less than $10 an hour. When Wal-Mart and Kroger can pay $9-$11 an hour, we have to do more to attract and keep the best support staff. We know our classified employees are adept at doing more with less, but that shouldn’t apply to their wallets. We look forward to your plan to bring the minimum wage for a Sumner County Schools hourly employee to $10 an hour.

 

Improve Educator Pay

While Sumner County ranks fourth in Tennessee in median household income and has the fourth lowest unemployment rate, our teachers rank 54th in average pay and our principals rank 37th. That’s a serious mismatch. We believe Sumner County is home to some of the state’s best educators but if we don’t provide commensurate compensation, we cannot retain current teachers or attract new ones to prevent the teacher shortages plaguing other districts in our state. We ask that you develop a plan to bring pay for Sumner County teachers and principals to the top 10 in the state over the next three years. This budget year would be a terrific time to start making a down payment on this plan.

 

Solve the Bus Driver Shortage

We have a massive shortage in bus drivers. Not only does this create logistical problems in the transportation department, but it also limits the transportation department’s flexibility to address transportation issues as they arise. The only way to solve the bus driver shortage is to entice more and higher-quality applicants with a sizable increase in bus driver pay.

 

Improve Communication

Finally, on a range of issues, Sumner County Schools does not communicate effectively. Recent discussions on school transportation and school safety on the Strong Schools Facebook page have highlighted the need for better communication from the district to its stakeholders. Issues around Response to Intervention and Standards Based Grading are not well understood, in part due to poor communication. From changes to insurance to new evaluation methods, teachers too often only receive part of the story instead of clear, direct, ongoing communication. Parents are not informed of how state-mandated portfolio evaluation impacts instructional time. We call on you to take corrective action in order to create a climate of clear, transparent communication across the district. This should start immediately.

 

By addressing teacher and staff compensation as well as communication, you will be taking further steps to make Sumner County Schools the excellent organization our community deserves.

As of today (March 21st, 2018) we've received one response from a School Board member. Below is the response we received from Board Member Jim Hawkins, who represents a portion of Gallatin on the School Board:

I appreciate the highlighting of these four key areas, and I would add two additional key areas that are on my radar, as well.

 

SCHOOL COUNSELORS RATIO

In public meetings for four years before I was elected to the school board in 2016, I had consistently risen and expressed the critical need for our Sumner County Schools to continue to add school counselors in our middle and high schools in order to move toward the recommended ratio of 1 counselor for each 250 students.  

 

See:  https://www.schoolcounselor.org/press

 

Since 2016, we have made some forward progress in reducing our school counselor ratios, but we are not yet where we need to be.  In too many cases, our school counselors are also being tasked to deal with students who are dealing with various psychological issues, and I am in support of initiatives which may add some additional resources in that area. 

 

TESTING

As I meet with school board members from across Tennessee in the annual professional training sessions that are required for all elected school board members, I have noted a common and acute frustration with the emphasis on "teaching to the test."  Your column from December touched on this matter:

 

See:  http://tnedreport.com/2017/12/driving-teachers-crazy/

I would add that school board members across Tennessee -- and, more importantly, teachers and principals across Tennessee -- are yearning for a State of Tennessee Department of Education testing program that is driven by proven educational values and priorities rather than by lobbyists for companies which stand to gain millions of dollars from selling their testing products and services.

 

We welcome a response from the remaining 10 Board members. If you'd like to contact them, you can find contact information here: https://sumnerschools.org/index.php/scs-board

 

Do We Test Too Much?

Despite recently announced reductions in state-mandated standardized testing, some still believe Tennessee tests our students too much.

State Assessment Task Force member and Maryville Director of Schools Mike Winstead suggested as much at a recent committee meeting:

“When we look at the states we’re chasing and trying to catch on NAEP and move up the ladder, I’d guess there’s none that test as much as (Tennessee does),” he said. “More tests are not going to help us catch them.”

Winstead said time spent testing has increased dramatically over the last five years, and this year’s reductions just bring the state back to a previous level of over-testing, rather than solving the problem.

What do you think? Is there still too much testing in Tennessee? What alternatives might help us assess learning while striking the right balance? Let us know!

 

What's Up With Testing?

The TNReady test in 2015-16 was a complete disaster.  Now, we're in a new year and the state has selected a new vendor to administer TNReady. But, what will testing look like this year?

We'll do our best to keep you posted on what's happening with state tests. But, for starters, here's the text of an email Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen sent to educators to explain important changes for this year. Here's the big one: The test will take less time. Yes, it's still a lot, especially for younger children, but the total time spent testing will be less -- and that's a move in the right direction.

Here's what McQueen had to say:

We’ve reduced testing time. In grades 3–8, students will have tests that are 200–210 minutes shorter than last year; in high school, most individual End of Course assessments have been shortened by 40-120 minutes.

  • We will phase in online tests over multiple years. For the upcoming school year, the state assessments for grades 3–8 will be administered via paper and pencil. However, the department will work closely with Questar, our new testing vendor, to provide an online option for high school math, ELA, and U.S. history & geography exams if both schools and the testing platform demonstrate early proof of successful online administration. Even if schools demonstrate readiness for online administration, districts will still have the option to choose paper and pencil assessments for high school students this year. Biology and chemistry End of Course exams will be administered via paper and pencil.
  • In the coming school year, the state will administer a social studies field test, rather than an operational assessment, for students in grades 3–8. This will take place during the operational testing window near the end of the year. Additionally, some students will participate in ELA and/or U.S. history field tests outside the operational testing window.

Again, this is the beginning of what we hope will be more information on what to expect in terms of TNReady and testing this school year.

We'll update you as more information comes available.