The school facilities plan, particularly the consolidation of the two Clark County middle schools, and the need for new textbooks highlighted the discussion between the six candidates for the Clark County Board of Education Thursday night.
The six candidates will vie for three seats, with incumbents Debbie Fatkin seeking re-election and Deanna Wolfe seeking her first full four-year term after being appointed to the board last November. Steve Graves and Beth Griffith are both seeking the District 2 seat vacated by B.J. Swope. Fatkin is facing opposition from Michael McGowan and Wolfe is opposed by Ashley Ritchie.
Graves said he was inspired to run for the board because of discipline problems, and his decision to remove one of his children from the district.
He also spoke against the school facilities plan, which will consolidate three elementary schools as well as the two middle schools. The plan is the result of a 2006 mandate from the Kentucky Department of Education because of the costs involved in operating so many small schools.
Griffith said she hoped to help the board raise academic standards in the district, and pledged to keep funding in successful programs. She referred specifically to the benefits of music education, and increasing parent involvement.
“I care deeply about the future of all our children,” Griffith said.
As a local pediatrician, Griffith said she is familiar with the needs and concerns of school-age children.
Fatkin, an eight-year school board veteran, defended the board’s facilities plan.
“Sometimes it’s difficult when you’re sitting on the board to make the tough decisions,” Fatkin said.
She also praised the new high school, which will open to students for the 2013-2014 school year. The new building will promote growth and industry in the community, Fatkin said, and provide students with opportunities not available to them at the current facility.
Fatkin also pointed to the board’s ability to maintain a “healthy budget” with contingency funds as an example of competent leadership.
In contrast, challenger McGowan said the school facilities plan was “not well thought out” and called the merger of the two middle schools a “runaway train.” He expressed concerns over maintaining discipline with so many students in one building, and the cost of renovating the school.
His sentiments were echoed by Ritchie, who also criticized the board for consolidating Clark and Conkwright Middle Schools into the old George Rogers Clark High School building before renovations are complete.
Candidates were asked how they plan to make all students college and career ready, which sparked a discussion about the need for new textbooks. Fatkin said she hoped to increase technology in classrooms, including eventually providing students with iPads. Graves, Ritchie and McGowan said their first priority would be to provide students with new textbooks, calling them more beneficial than technological resources.
McGowan also expressed concerns over allocation of funding, including the cost of renovations to the old George Rogers Clark High School and the district’s central office.
Fatkin pointed out that most school board money is allocated for certain projects, and building fund money must be spent on facilities improvements.
Griffith pointed out that the district lost SEEK funding this year, and also questioned board spending.
“Ï would not cut funding to programs that work,” Griffith said.
Several challengers said the board is disconnected from the community, and pledged to help parents feel more involved in the decision-making process.
“I want to be involved with a board the community is involved in,” Ritchie said.