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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.”