Longtime chairman Ted Stone retired earlier this year, and Democrat Josh Lurie and Republican Ginger Bailey are running to replace him.
Lurie is publisher and owner of The Jones County News. Bailey is a retired teacher.
To help those who have not already taken part in the early voting to make up their minds, the candidates were asked to submit answers to the following questions:
Briefly tell why you decided to run for the office of Board of Education chairman.
Bailey: I am not a politician. I decided to run for Board of Education because I have a great love and passion for the children, educators and citizens of Jones County. I began attending Board of Education meetings almost three years ago. I came to realize that there was a large gap between what was being decided in the boardroom and what was actually happening in the schools. I believe that all children should receive an education that will prepare them to be successful.
Lurie: I graduated from Jones County High School and feel that a quality public education has helped me get to where I am now in life. Despite the many financial challenges ahead, I want to ensure that we continue to offer the best opportunities for our students – and keep improving. Because of what public education and this community have given me both professionally and personally, I want to give back and make a greater positive impact on our community.
How has your work experience prepared you to serve as chairman?
Lurie: There is nothing like owning your own business to prepare you for the challenges of managing finances. Being in an industry with many challenges during a bad economy has prepared me to deal with the challenges of shrinking revenues and rising expenses – the same situation the Board of Education is facing. I have also had the opportunity to build working relationships with other local elected officials in the city and county as well as our state legislators. When I go to Atlanta to visit them, I know I can build on those relationships to fight for the future of our school system, which will ultimately determine the future strength of our community.
Bailey: The key word here is “experience.” It is not enough to know people in the state legislature. You must be able to ask the right questions. My teaching career has helped to shape the way I look at education and how children learn. I have experienced the effects of decisions being made by people who have not had the educational experience to make good policy. I can relate to the changes that are taking place on a daily basis in the educational field. Every school system is challenged to make AYP. With my education experiences, I can be a voice that can speak to the issues that greatly affect our system and students. An example of this is our special needs students who are reading on second-grade level and are forced to take a fifth-grade CRCT. These children are victims, as are most children, of this state-mandated test. To rectify this problem, we must address this issue to our state representatives. My retail experiences in management as well as in managing a tree farm with my husband have given me the opportunities to work with employee issues and in establishing budgets. As chairman, I would be an advocate for all stakeholders in the Jones County schools.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the Jones County Board of Education?
Bailey: The most urgent situation is to secure a superintendent for the next three years. Then, the budget with the recession and not knowing what tomorrow will bring. Next, looking at the high school dropout situation, AYP, and helping our educators to put teaching first and paperwork second.
Lurie: Everyone I talk to in the school system is worried right now. Teachers have too many students and too much work while dealing with fewer instructional days due to state funding cuts. Principals and other administrators have to walk a tightrope because of having too few teachers, making their faculty to do more with less. On top of that, over the last few years of turmoil with superintendents, a lot of trust has been lost between the board, administrators, faculty, staff and the community. We need to rebuild that trust because, with everyone working together, we can overcome financial challenges. The teachers I have talked to aren’t just worried about getting paid; they’re more worried about taking care of their children. At the board level, we need to do a better job of ensuring they have the tools – and a comfortable, constructive environment – to do just that.
If elected, what will be your first priority upon taking office?
Lurie: Our current superintendent’s contract expires by June. We will have to start in January working to decide if Mr. (William) Mathews wants to continue in his position and if we feel he is right for the system. While he is exactly what our school system needed, we have to look to the future. Because of the upheaval over the past several years, we need someone who is committed to the job for 5-10 years. If Mr. Mathews is not that person, I feel that we as a board need to conduct a search rather than contract to have someone else find the right person. Then, when we narrow down the three finalists that have to be presented to the public, we need to get input from every part of the system and from our community on the right person to lead our school system. The board has two primary functions – approving a budget and hiring a superintendent. Since a new budget won’t take effect until next July, the superintendent has to be our first priority.
Bailey: My first priority would be to build a positive relationship between all board members and the superintendent. We must establish a team that is pulling in the same direction and seeks to educate every child that has a legal residence in this county.
Jones County is in its second year with an interim superintendent, and the current board members say they decided to wait to hire a new superintendent until after the election to give any new members a say in the hiring. Would you like to look internally for candidates or open the search to outside candidates?
Lurie: I would prefer to hire internally, but whether or not that person is currently in our system is an unknown. I would like to see us advertise the position locally and statewide and see who applies. Once we see who is interested, we can move from there. I wouldn’t write off someone because they’re from another county, but if we could hire someone who knows our community and our school system, that would be ideal.
Bailey: We have a highly qualified pool of leaders that are currently in our system. In the past we have not utilized our local resources. I believe we should seek local leaders that are stakeholders in our county. We have tried using people from outside our system and it has not worked.
Would you suggest seeking outside professional help in recruiting and screening candidates?
Bailey: If it is necessary to seek outside assistance in locating a qualified candidate, then I feel it is the responsibility of the local board to make that decision and to determine the most cost effective avenue as a resource.
Lurie: The only time I would propose contracting with the GSBA to find a superintendent candidate would be if an internal search was unsuccessful and no qualified candidates from nearby counties apply. The danger of recruiting someone from outside of our area is that they will just see our system as a stepping stone to something greater. Our school system is bigger than any of our neighboring counties except Bibb because we have no private schools, so we should be able to find someone qualified with executive educational experience.
Do you favor hiring someone with experience as a superintendent or assistant superintendent, or would you consider others?
Lurie: Many superintendents are hired from principals within the district. While we probably have qualified principals in our county, it’s a tough job, and I’m not sure if any would be interested. If we hire from outside, I would consider executive experience and a clear understanding of the fact that the superintendent is an employee of the school board to be necessities unless no such candidates apply.
Bailey: I believe experience is an advantage to anyone seeking the position of superintendent or assistant superintendent. However, I would welcome any applicant that exhibits leadership skills and meets the qualifications set forth by the local board of education.
Would you like for interim superintendent William Mathews Jr. to be a candidate?
Bailey: I have the greatest confidence in Mr. Mathews as the CEO of this system. It is not one person’s decision, but the decision of every board member to select the superintendent.
Lurie: Mr. Mathews gave up his retirement to become interim superintendent, and I would suspect his feelings on serving for a decade as superintendent may depend on what has happened on any given day. It’s a tough job, and it’s obvious he cannot only handle it but excel at it. I would definitely like to see him as a candidate, but if we decided to look at other candidates, I wouldn’t consider him a shoe-in. His qualifications would need to stand up to everyone else’s, although I doubt many would have his credentials.
What should be the relationship between the board and the superintendent?
Lurie: The superintendent is very clearly an employee of the school board. That being said, however, he is the equivalent of the CEO of a corporation and does have some autonomous power to make decisions on behalf of the system. It’s extremely important that the superintendent and board are able to get along. No one wants to have five bosses. The board needs to be cohesive when it deals with the superintendent, and he or she should also be clear about what is expected of the board. The superintendent should be prepared for annual – at a minimum – performance evaluations to ensure all goals and objectives are being met. The intricacy of this relationship is why the hiring process needs all the attention of board members.
Bailey: It is the role of the board and the superintendent to function as a team. The essential ingredients of teamwork are trust, respect, shared values and knowledge. The board establishes policy and the superintendent implements policy and is responsible for the daily operation of the school district.
What is the board’s role in the operation of Jones County’s schools, and what is the chairman’s role on the board?
Bailey: The Board of Education exists to govern the organization on behalf of parents and taxpayers to whom they are answerable. It is the responsibility of the board to keep the district focused on student learning and achievement, to adopt policy, to approve the local budget drafted by the superintendent, and to support the superintendent in any areas that are needed. It is the job of the chairman to assist the superintendent and other board members when necessary.
Lurie: The board has very clear responsibilities – to approve a budget, hire a superintendent, and beyond that, set the policy and vision of the system, along with holding administrators accountable for success. The superintendent deals with day-to-day operations, while the board looks 5, 10, 25 years ahead at what the needs of the system will be and ensures the system is on that path. It would be inappropriate for a board member to be in the schools telling administrators or teachers how to do their jobs. However, I do feel that we as a board should be in the schools, listening and observing, but only to form an opinion on what needs to be done at a systemwide level to create an environment where learning not just can but will happen.
The chairman specifically sets the tone for the board by chairing the meetings and needs to have the fortitude to deal with controversy. Other than being 6’4” tall with a deep voice, I can control a meeting because, being in the newspaper business, controversy is nothing new to me. I expect people to come to meetings to air their concerns, but it should be in a professional and respectful manner. I would ensure that all board members, staff and those attending the meetings would get the respect that they deserve. As chairman, I would also feel it as my responsibility to create committees to deal with the many problems facing our system to get input from teachers, administrators and the community at large. In the end, the board is a local government that is responsible to taxpayers, and much of that responsibility lies with the chairman. As chairman, I would also be ready to lobby in Atlanta and even Washington, D.C., if needed, and I would always be sure I had the consensus of my fellow board members before representing our system.
In the light of cutbacks in state and federal funding, how important will it be to you to avoid tax increases for Jones County’s property owners to make up for the shortfalls?
Lurie: Property taxes are already way too high. We have a very delicate balance right now between providing a quality education and being fiscally responsible for our local taxpayers. The problem is that the funding has to be there, whether it comes from state or local taxes. Either way, if you’re a Georgia taxpayer, you’re going to pay for it through state, local and even federal taxes. What we have to do is spend a lot of time and energy in Atlanta with our legislators to ensure that they prioritize cuts to protect education as much as possible. So far, that has been done to a large degree.
But, with several months of revenue increases, we have to be sure education gets its fair share of returning the state austerity cuts that have burdened local taxpayers. If we do that, local property owners would be less liable for shortfalls, and tying that in with efforts on economic development to get industry and commerce into this county, that liability will lessen. It’s not a magic-bullet problem with an easy solution, but if we deal with each of the many challenges to funding a quality education system, we can overcome them one by one.
Bailey: I have three children who own their own businesses, two of them in Jones County. My husband and I own property and manage a tree farm in Haddock. We have all felt the sting of the tax whip and we understand the burden it places on the citizens of this county. I will aggressively seek alternative ways for funding to lessen the ever-increasing burden on property owners. In 1996 the people of Georgia voted on a sales tax that could be used for education. Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) is the only fair tax; however, the legislature has placed some restrictions as to the distribution of these funds. We need to lobby our legislators to remove some of the restrictions in an effort to allow local school systems to use these funds as they deem necessary.