KINGSPORT — Election day is less than a month away and early voting begins this week. In Kingsport, two incumbents and three challengers are vying for three seats on the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
The candidates include Linda Buckles, John Clark, Colette George, Eric Kerney and Tom Parham. Mayor Dennis Phillips is facing Gary Lane for a fifth term in office. Election day is May 21; early voting begins in Blountville on May 1 and in Kingsport on May 9. Early voting ends May 16.
The Times-News recently asked all of the candidates a series of questions on some of the major issues facing the city, including annexation, debt and education. Here are their answers.
Q. The city of Kingsport currently contributes nearly $10 million a year to the budget of the Kingsport City School system. Explain why you think this funding level is adequate, too little or too much.
• Phillips: Certainly we pride ourselves in providing quality education within the city. The amount of money provided to the school system is reviewed in great detail every year, more than any other expense. I feel we do a good job of funding our schools within our means. I also feel the school system does a very good job of providing a quality education with the funds provided. We are also committed to Higher Education in Downtown Kingsport with generous donations from people like Pal Barger for the new Regional Center for Automotive Programs.
• Lane: Kingsport has one of the best school systems in the state of Tennessee. Education should never be considered as a way to reduce the budget for any government. Funding for the school system in Kingsport seems to be adequate at best, however. I have received information on how teachers need to buy basic classroom materials to provide what is needed for educating our children. I do not support the funding that was approved for adding an upper deck for the Dobyns-Bennett football field. I don’t feel this money will be spent in the best interest of the citizens of Kingsport as a whole. I do support funding to make the stadium we have safe for our football fans.
• Buckles: As a former public school teacher of 17 years and then a PTSA volunteer, I understand the complex issues of school funding and facility needs from both sides, and I was chosen to serve on a planning committee for a new school when I taught in North Carolina. I believe education must always be Kingsport’s top priority. Having a well-trained and highly educated workforce is essential to attracting the kind of 21st century jobs that will draw new young professionals to the area and keep our best and brightest young people here at home.
Whether building a business or a school, the most important things are smart budgets and proper planning. Kingsport’s total contribution to the city schools has already declined in recent years, and Kingsport may have to spend (money) revamping its water system in the near future. We must plan for these costs in a way that keeps taxes low and funds the cutting edge K-12 and higher education initiatives we need to distinguish ourselves as an excellent place to do business.
• Clark: The BMA should continue funding our Kingsport city school system in a way that ensures continued quality education and academic excellence in all eight elementary schools, two middle schools, one high school, and one alternative school. To ensure an appropriate level of funding to achieve this goal, our school system should be benchmarked on a yearly basis opposite other comparable systems in Tennessee in order to make common-sense funding decisions.
• George: I believe we must do all that is necessary to maintain our quality of education in Kingsport. A good education is our most important element for true economic development When people work in Kingsport, we need them to choose to live in Kingsport — not in a neighboring city. Families often make their decision on where to live based on the quality of education available for their children. When you live in Kingsport, you go to the dentist, the vet, the eye doctor, the lawyer, and the accountant in Kingsport. You buy your flowers, your tires, and your day-to-day goods in Kingsport. That is what creates local jobs and improves our economy.
All the new unfunded mandates are making it exceedingly difficult to keep up with the expenses of having additional AP classes, more languages, and other special offerings in our school system. Kingsport now is a better place to live, to work, and to raise a family, yet there is room for improvement, always. Any increase in the amount of money we can give to the schools is dependent upon the amount available from the city and also based upon the needs of the School System.
Everyone across the country wants the same high-paying jobs and wants to attract people and businesses to their cities. The competition is fierce. We must continue to put ourselves in a position to do what is necessary and affordable to bring new jobs, new businesses, and new families to Kingsport.
• Kerney: With a $3 million shortfall in the school budget, something is obviously not working. There needs to be a comprehensive review of the budget. For instance, is the Innovation Academy a good use of funds? Do we have room for all the newly annexed students (approximately 1,000)? How much will that number increase if the annexation continues toward Indian Springs? And probably most important of all, we definitely need more than one city high school. Not only will it give children more opportunities to succeed, but it will also add value to the city and community. Most of all it allows a community to remain a community.
• Parham: Throughout the national recession, the city of Kingsport continued to increase its support where necessary for K-12 schools, when virtually every other school system around the state held spending flat. We were able to do so because of the success of the local economy despite the downturn, but we also challenged our school leadership to continue to map a path forward toward creating truly world class schools.
Kingsport City Schools are internationally competitive in many key areas, such as math and science, but much remains to attain world class status. We must continue to support this system where possible, with added focus on providing early college classes to all levels of students in our high school. Early college equals great value to parents and students alike, as their children get a leg up towards an ever more costly, yet ever more essential, college degree. We must also ensure ample scholarships are available, work closer with our partners in Sullivan County to consolidate K-12 school facilities in a fashion that protects students and taxpayers alike, while expanding efforts such as the Regional Center for Applied Manufacturing that enhance our workforce improvement efforts.