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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.”