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Meet the candidates running for the Forsyth County Board of Education District 5 seat
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Repulican Mike Valdes and Democrat Elaine Padgett.

Republican candidate Mike Valdes and Democrat Elaine Padgett are facing off for the Forsyth County Board of Education District 5 seat in the 2022 General Election on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Current board member Kristin Morrissey announced earlier this year that she would be giving up what was the District 2 seat before district lines were redrawn, leaving it open for an election without an incumbent. 

District 5 covers much of south Forsyth County where both candidates live.

Valdes won the GOP primary in May over opponent Erin Knight while Padgett ran unopposed. Now that they are set to face each other on Election Day next week, the Forsyth County News asked both candidates about their positions on issues in education facing Forsyth today.

Elaine Padgett
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Elaine Padgett

Democrat

Occupation: Entrepreneur and Nurse

Political experience: Board of Education candidate

Family: Husband of 25 years, David. Three children Joshua (22), Audrey (19), and Lauren (15)

Mike Valdes
Mike Valdes.








Michael Valdes

Republican

Occupation: Construction Engineer

Political experience: None

Family: Florencia, wife of 17 years, and 3 children, Christina (16), Lucas (13) and Matthew (10).

Conversations on race in the classroom

Parents and the community in Forsyth County have focused heavily on issues surrounding critical race theory and conversations about race in the classroom this year, and Gov. Brian Kemp has since signed HB 1084, limiting what can be taught to students on this subject. Some have worried, however, that as the bill bans educators from teaching “divisive concepts” or “espousing personal political beliefs” about these concepts, it could limit student instruction on the history of racial tension and slavery in the U.S. and in Forsyth County where the school system’s student population is now majority minority.

Q: What are your thoughts on this bill and how do you hope to address community concerns around this issue?

Padgett: "Forsyth parents are overwhelmingly pleased with the quality of our schools and the integrity of our educators. I welcome parents respectfully asking questions about curriculum. As a mother, I understand wanting to get things right for kids. This universal parent worry has been weaponized. CRT is not in the Forsyth curriculum, and it is absurd to claim the all-Republican school board is complacent.

"We can have an age-appropriate and culturally inclusive curriculum. History is messy, but students don’t need to feel bad about it. Our educators train to manage the nuances. We need to talk with them and not about them.

"I do not want teachers to be afraid to teach sensitive topics. However, I understand their worries with a subjective law like HB 1084. I will uphold the law, but I will be on guard for unfair attacks aimed at educators. I expect our state legislature to watch for unintended consequences, too."

Valdes: "Boards of Education are obliged to abide by the laws of the State of Georgia regardless of the personal opinions of Board members. HB1084, which is current Georgia law, prohibits the teaching of divisive concepts. The bill explicitly states that: 

'Nothing in this code shall be construed to…Prohibit the use of curricula that addresses the topics of slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation, or racial discrimination…'

"This bill cannot limit student instruction on the history of racial tension and slavery in the U.S. and in Forsyth County, as the question states, since HB1084 prohibits this scenario explicitly. Georgia Standards for K12 appropriately require that the entire history of slavery and race relations be taught, and I agree with that. 

What HB1084 does is define 'divisive concepts' in order to prevent the teaching of history in a manner that assigns collective guilt or blame in the present, further divides our community, and/or encourages the propagation of false stereotypes or social animosity. That just seems like common sense to me. Our classrooms should be about unity and student outcomes, not divisive concepts."

Media Centers

A media center book debate was sparked in the community after Forsyth County Schools made the decision earlier this year to remove eight books from school library shelves. Seven of those eight books have since been approved to return at the high school level, and Gov. Brian Kemp has since signed SB 226, which will require school districts across the state to enact an expedited resolution policy for complaints made against school library books considered “harmful to minors.”

Q: What are your thoughts on this issue and the district’s initial decision to remove books from its school media centers?

Padgett: "As a school board member, I will ensure that our books are age appropriate and that books with educational merit are not banned.

"Previously, a District Media Committee composed of educational professionals and community volunteers reviewed challenged books. The district should have followed its own process for the challenged books earlier this year.

"Now, we have SB226 removing local control. It is a step backward because it eliminates the community from the process and compresses the timeline. Now, the principal and superintendent must decide quickly. The pressure from a loud minority to remove challenged books will be targeted and considerable. Our students will be disadvantaged if they don't have access to books in the standard AP or IB curriculum like students in other parts of the state.

"This issue split the Republican party during the primary, and it's one of the reasons I have so many Republicans supporting me."

Valdes: "I believe that Forsyth County Schools acted appropriately by removing the challenged books from distribution while the matter was evaluated by staff. As a parent, I expect that if any potential threat or impropriety is identified that immediate and decisive action would be taken to mitigate the potential for additional harm to my children, even if that action later turns out to be temporary. 

"I have personally reviewed the challenged books. There is no lesson taught in these books that cannot be taught without the use of profanity, sexually explicit content, and drug and alcohol abuse. That content is extraneous, unnecessary, and not suited for schools. Content should be selected primarily because of its educational value and imparted lessons, but it should also pass basic tests for common decency and instructional appropriateness. 

"I was pleased that contemporaneously with the return of these books to libraries, Forsyth County Schools implemented a parent notification tool for media center content. I have long advocated for such a mechanism and believe it takes steps towards parents having the oversight they require, thus enabling them to decide for themselves if their kids should read these books."

Growth

Forsyth County’s population has grown by 43% in the past decade, according to 2020 Census data, and Forsyth County Schools continues to grow alongside the population. The district is currently home to 42 schools — 23 elementary, 11 middle and 8 high — serving more than 53,000 students.

Q: What are your thoughts on this continuing growth and how best to manage it within the school system?

Padgett: "My children were all in school through this huge growth. We experienced overcrowded buses, classes, and trailers as classrooms. I would work with the commissioners and state representatives to ensure we have managed growth and succinct plans for school and staff needs. We will continue to grow, especially in the northern part of the county. 

"Having lived through it with my own children I am sensitive to the implications and impact on students and families. The metrics the school system has in place to address enrollment shifts are extensive. The FCS staff work with county planning to get and pass back zoning impact information to assist the commissioners in making their decisions."

Valdes: "I have consistently stated that the largest risk to Forsyth County Schools is population growth. While our schools must respond to population growth, they have no legal control over it. Forsyth County Schools does review zoning applications, and provide impact assessments, but it cannot approve or disapprove a development. That said, I believe that there are at least 3 strategies to mitigate the effects of growth:

  • Convene a cross-jurisdiction task force to specifically address the risks of growth and develop a comprehensive and adequately resourced plan which ensures that our schools have the legal framework to adequately respond to the growth of Forsyth County. 
  • Modify the FCS zoning impact analysis process to include a cumulative tally of students being added by open zoning applications. Currently, applications are effectively analyzed case by case, with no running total of impacts.  
  • We must diversify the tax digest. Currently only about 18% of tax revenues in the county are commercial. That figure needs to increase dramatically. FCS does have tax leverage to encourage high quality commercial developments which add tax dollars to the school tax digest without adding additional students or increasing residential taxes."