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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.