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School board hopefuls talk legislative issues, facilities and KCS tagline

Rick Wagner • May 2, 2019 at 8:43 AM

KINGSPORT — What do folks seeking spots on the city school board think about legislative issues, facilities maintenance and the “Inspire, Cultivate and Impact” tagline of the school system?  

In the second-to-last scheduled forum before the May 21 Kingsport election and on the first day of early voting, four of the five Board of Education hopefuls answered questions on those three topics before the Rotary Club of Kingsport during a luncheon forum at the Food City on Clinchfield Street. A video of the event is archived on the club’s Facebook page.

The last BOE forum, hosted by the Republican Women’s Club, is to be at 11:30 a.m. Monday at the Food City on Eastman Road. 

Four newcomers and an incumbent are running for three seats. Early voting ends May 16.

Candidate Shelton Clark was out of town and unable to attend Wednesday’s event.

LEGISLATIVE ISSUES

On drug testing, Jim Welch said he opposes testing only student-athletes but said he hasn’t been privy to legal advice the current board has received on that matter. “I have a problem testing subsets of the student population,” the retired Robinson Middle teacher and coach and international nonprofit head said, likening that to selective enforcement of laws in certain neighborhoods.

Julie Brinker Byers, a retired Eastman Chemical Company employee, said she opposes the idea of allowing teachers to go armed, saying only police should carry firearms in a school. She said she feared a student or other person could take a teacher’s firearm and use it against students or others. “I would like to leave the guns with SROs (school resource officers),” Byers said.

Liv Detwiler, a college Spanish professor, said she opposes the idea of elected superintendents, instead favoring the elected school board hiring a superintendent not necessarily living in the city. “There is an excellent balance of power,” Dutwiler said. “We should look for excellence.” 

And incumbent Todd Golden, a pharmaceutical sales representative, said he has issues with teacher merit pay being so dependent on testing results. “I would not want 25 percent of my pay to be based on a single (test) day,” Golden said. He said merit pay should be based on rankings over the year, peer review and a teacher’s body of work. “Kids don’t do well on tests sometimes. That shouldn’t be held against a teacher.” 

FACILITIES MAINTENANCE

Byers said the school system needs to be more involved in funding school playgrounds and have some responsibility for playground maintenance. She recommended a happy medium between the Johnson Elementary Castle Playground, a community-used facility funded from donations, and the Kennedy Elementary playground, a smaller community playground being funded mostly from school funds.

Welch said he is a big proponent of sustainability when considering growth and maintenance, saying not to do a facilities project if the system can’t afford to keep it maintained.

Golden said he doesn’t know how to deal with more potential funding cuts from Sullivan County, although in the current year budget he said the school board increased tuition rather than not give principals a raise to help make up a $1.8 million funding cut from the county. 

And Detwiler said priorities in facilities projects need to be set with long-term strategic planning and that the system needs to share more playgrounds responsibility, citing Kennedy and Johnson. “I believe there needs to be more of a level playing field” in playground funding, Detwiler said.

INSPIRE, CULTIVATE AND IMPACT

Detwiler said one thing Kingsport City Schools does to inspire students is that the community as a whole is positive about things such as Dobyns-Bennett High School’s band and other programs. She said the key is to harness students’ passion and make students active participants in their learning.

Byers said KCS does its best cultivating in education through experiences for students such as band, orchestra, robotics, art, Drama Hawks and other opportunities. 

Golden said outside of students, KCS impacts education by consistently having D-B in the top 10 percent of public high schools in various measures. “We punch so far beyond our weight,” Golden said of things such as band, robotics and athletics.

And Welch said to improve communications about the school system, he wants to see KCS laud the students in the middle academic rankings, not just those at the top. “They are the guys who make America work or not,” Welch said of those who rank 200th in classes of 400 to 500. “I want to brag about the people in the middle.”

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