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District 3 school board candidates want to maintain Forsyths success

What’s next

The Forsyth County Republican Party debate series continues tonight with the candidates for county coroner at 5:30 p.m. and sheriff at 7 p.m. at the county administration building in downtown Cumming.

* Also: Advance voting will begin on May 2.

FORSYTH COUNTY — Two candidates vying for a Board of Education seat that represents the fastest-growing district in Forsyth County squared off in a debate Monday night.

Incumbent Tom Cleveland faces challenger Steve Mashburn in the May 24 Republican Primary race for the post in District 3, which covers southwest Forsyth. No Democrats are running, so the election will be decided next month.

Questions during the debate, organized by the Forsyth County Republican Party, focused largely on the role of a school board member in relation to various aspects of the classroom.

Those ranged from alleviating teacher stress and instilling sexual education to anti-bullying platforms, classroom size and spending money on new projects.

Mashburn, a retired teacher with 20 years of classroom experience in Forsyth, said “over-development and poor planning” are ruining what made the county great — its school system.

He took aim at cutting spending and working with the county commission to stop rezoning applications.

While acknowledging that the school board can’t force the commission to stop growth, Mashburn said he would help mobilize an informed public to assert political influence “and any legal methods necessary” to “stop unbridled growth.”

Asked what attitudes and behaviors are essential in a successful BOE member, Mashburn responded with ethics, fiscal responsibility and transparency.

Cleveland, who is finishing his third four-year term on the panel, said strategic thinking and being able to take public input and create a mirroring strategy are prime qualities of a school board member.

Students in Forsyth schools today have opportunities Cleveland said he was not offered until after college. He added that he is committed to enabling the future and making it better.

Cleveland noted what he described as proven fiscal responsibility by the board, shown by the cost per child having stayed level and low since 2005 compared to the metro Atlanta region.

Asked about the role the board and system have in teaching students about sexual education, cyberbullying and AIDS, Mashburn said each school should be able to choose how they approach the subjects based on community input.

Mashburn said he helped develop cyberbullying lessons during his tenure with the district.

Cleveland mentioned his experience serving on the sex ed committee, which he said determined the right path for each situation based on what the community wanted.

The talk then turned to classroom size and whether there should be a cap, for which both candidates said it depends on the situation and grade level.

Students are not learning solely at their desks anymore, Cleveland said. They’re going home to learn and coming to school to practice, and many lessons are more hands-on than.

“There’s not a standard square box anymore that we’re teaching to. You have to look at each class. Teachers know when their class is too big,” he said.

Mashburn said elementary school classrooms must be less crowded, but that principals should be allowed to determine a cap.

A source of disagreement came over the subject of future bond referendums and enlisting taxpayer support for additional construction projects.

Mashburn said he would not support future bonds because there needs to be a plan to control growth.

Cleveland said bonds are the only way to build new schools and that the district has to show a school is overcrowded to get state help.

Most of the funding for the school system, Cleveland said, comes from local sources.

He also noted that there is a fine line between smart planning for growth and overstepping property owners’ rights and that refusing rezonings simply to stop growth may not be feasible.

Mashburn ended the debate by reiterating his belief that constituents are fed up with crowded schools and that he can be the voice to help.

Cleveland harked on the success he has seen in the district during his time on the board, including the projected 2018 opening of a new alternative, career-pathway high school to accompany three traditional public schools — one at each level — that are being built in District 3.

Brad Wilkins, former Forsyth GOP chair, moderated the debate.

Advanced voting begins May 2. Anyone living in District 3 can vote in the race.