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GOP forum focuses on education

Topics included local bond measure, state school chief

POSTED: April 26, 2014 12:33 a.m.
 

FORSYTH COUNTY — The focus was on education during the second of two Forsyth County Republican Party forums last week.

Four of the 15 candidates running for the state school superintendent seat participated in the gathering Thursday. But first, Forsyth County Board of Education Chairwoman Darla Light addressed the school system’s bond referendum on the May 20 primary ballot, describing it as “very important.”

The measure will ask voters whether the school system should issue $195 million in general obligation bonds to fund construction of a new middle school, high school and more than $80 million improvements to existing campuses.

About $9 million would also go toward transportation and more than $17 million toward technology — upgrading networks, expanding data storage, enlarging the Wi-Fi network and replacing aging projectors and video systems.

Light explained how Forsyth has become the seventh largest school district in the state and the third fastest growing in the nation. She said officials are balancing growth with needs and “trying to be smart” with the budget, adding the cost per pupil is less than $7,200.

“This is a number we are proud of,” she said.

According to Light, that cost is low while still maintaining the lowest millage rate in the metro Atlanta area, as well as the highest graduation rate.

After Light, and before the superintendent hopefuls spoke, party chairman Brad Wilkins addressed the gathering at the Forsyth County Administration Building.

Wilkins said that while it was decided there would not be a debate between District 3 County Commissioner Todd Levent and challenger David Hole, he wanted to give the incumbent a chance to speak.

Wilkins noted that Levent had made every effort to participate in a debate, though that wasn’t an endorsement.

After expressing his disappointment that Hole did not choose to participate, Levent touched on the commission’s accomplishments during his tenure representing the district, which covers most of west Forsyth.

He said the decisions have not made every county resident happy, but he’s done his best to “serve the vast majority of people as best I can.”

“I humbly ask for your vote,” he said. “Please allow me to [serve] another four years.”

Just four of the nine Republicans running for state superintendent candidates were able to attend the forum.

Fitz Johnson planned to participate before an illness in the family arose. That left Ashley Bell, Mary Kay Bacallao, Nancy Jester and Richard Woods to highlight what they could bring to the office, which is being vacated by John Barge, who is running for governor.

All four candidates spoke against the federal Common Core standards, the importance of local control in education and why they are each personally vested in the future of Georgia’s schools.

Bacallao, who served on the Fayette County school board, said she felt helpless because even on the panel “there was nothing I could do to stop the standards,” adding she’s going to fight for local academic freedom.

She said the state needs to decide how students read, while the local school systems should decide what they read.

Bell, former vice chairman of the Hall County commission, said it’s crucial to “keep the federal government out of your budget.

Bell talked about his service as chairman of a charter school in nearby Gainesville, adding that Common Core’s confusing curriculum is nearly a crime.

“[It’s] tearing parents away from the ability to help their children,” he said.

Jester, who served on DeKalb County’s school board, said the state is “in the dark ages when it comes to funding education.” The amount of bureaucracy in education is the cause of one of the system’s largest problem — how money is spent. She said education funding would be her main focus if elected.

Education in Georgia could benefit from business expertise, which Woods said he would bring to the table. He said the state should “look at putting a capitalistic business practice into play.”

Woods, who also ran for the office in 2010, said he is “back with a passion,” adding he’s “concerned about our children.”

The forum was the third of four the local Republican Party has planned this month spotlighting different races in the primary.

The fourth and final forum is set for 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Forsyth County Administration Building. It will feature the candidates for the District 24 state House and District 27 state Senate seats.

Advance voting for the primary also opens Monday.

 

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