By Sally Absher

The League of Women Voters and KCEA hosted a candidate forum for Board of Education finalists last week. Incumbent Gloria Deathridge and challenger Marshall Walker are vying for the board seat in District 1, and Terry Hill and Sandra Rowcliff square off for the open seat in District 6.

The August 7 election offers voters a clear choice between maintaining the current top down, central office driven management of our schools, or moving towards a more open, transparent leadership team that welcomes input from parents, teachers, and the community.

The candidates answered a series of questions on topics ranging from school funding to common core to the perennial favorite, “Would you have voted to extend Dr. McIntyre’s contract?”

On the issue of funding, Hill said she would keep the money “as close to the classroom as possible.” She said there is a problem of trust and transparency, and reminded the audience that a few years ago, the board asked Commission for $30M in additional funding. The request was turned down, but “miraculously, $22M of that $30M seemed to appear.”

Rowcliff said that the BEP (funding formula) needs to be revised. She said, “We pay over $40M into the state for education and only get $300,000 back.” She said “we need a community climate change with regards to this.”

Walker expressed concerns about transparency and Title 1 funding. He said “I would work hard to increase partnership participation in Knoxville, and work especially to get minority-owned businesses to participate more, specifically in District 1. Some increase in budget could take place in other ways and not just in County Commission.”

Deathridge said, “We wanted to give teachers a raise this year, we weren’t able to do that this year but the past couple of years we were able to do that.” She said, “We have a strategic plan and in that plan we identify the things we need to move the system forward.”

When asked if they would support a move by the Tennessee legislature to opt out of common core (standards), the candidates were very clear. Deathridge and Rowcliff said they would not support that. Rowcliff said “hundreds of teachers have told me the standards are not the problem.”

Deathridge said, “We have had common core in place since 2010. It helps our students become better critical thinkers and problem solvers and prepares them to be globally competitive.” She said “the problem is in the implementation.”

Walker said he has concerns, and pointed out that two of the major experts would not sign off on the standards. He said, “When you really do your homework, common core is not designed to prepare our students for a four year college. It’s designed to prepare our students for a two year college, if that.”

Hill likewise has “concerns” about common core. She said she has heard from teachers in K-12, who say the standards are not age appropriate at the younger levels, especially K-2, and are not high enough at the high school level. She said, “I support a high national standard, but I do not support standards that are not written with teacher input, not written with early childhood education input, and that were not field tested appropriately.”

Unsurprisingly, citing gains in achievement, both Deathridge and Rowcliff voted for or would have voted to extend Dr. McIntyre’s contract. Walker said he would not have voted to extend the contract, because he sees a lot of schools in District 1 that are not performing at the level he feels they should. Hill said she would have made a motion to postpone the vote for some period of time. She said, “There is more to measuring success than numbers.”

In closing statements, Rowcliff said, “I hope you will help me row, row, row the boat for our kids. Our kids’ achievement is the most important thing. High standards and expectations need to start in kindergarten”

Deathridge said, “I think we are moving forward and we need to continue.” She added, “There are a couple of things I need to clear up. We are not planning to close any schools in my district. Also, about my health, I am not to the point where I cannot fulfill my obligations to Knox County School system for the next four years.”

Walker said, “I am willing to do the footwork and get to parents and adults in District 1 who are difficult to get involved in educational activities… to change attitudes about education in District 1, and to help them understand that the opportunities are there, and can be taken advantage of.”

Hill said, “I bring 30 years of experience in the schools. I have worked with teachers, students, parents, and administrators, and understand first-hand the issues and challenges that we face. I pledge fiscal responsibility and educational responsibility.”