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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.”