The Williamson County Board of Education conducted a public forum on Thursday, giving constituents a chance to hear candidates’ perspectives on current topics before the Aug. 4 election.
Candidates were asked a variety of questions from moderator Mark Cook, Managing Editor for Home Page Media Group.
One such question was whether the candidates were in favor of the privatization of schools with the allowance of charter and voucher schools into the district. The majority of candidates were opposed to the idea of privatizing schools in Williamson County.
“I do not agree with privatization of public schools,” 3rd District candidate Christy Coleman said. “Public schools need to be accountable to the community. They need to be accountable to the taxpayers. When we start privatizing schools or even parts of the school system, all of a sudden, it becomes a for-profit venture.”
“I do not believe, for Williamson County, in charter schools, voucher schools, or contracted-out virtual schools,” Incumbent 5th District candidate and current board chairman Gary Anderson said. “We do contract out our lawn maintenance in the summer and custodial services. In support areas, I think [privatization is] fine.
"Charter and voucher schools would take money out of public education funds. While it may not impact Williamson County Schools today, it impacts the amount of money available from the state for us.”
Both candidates from the 1st District agreed that privatization could be possible for certain aspects of school.
“As far as charter schools, I do think it’s a good idea, I think it’s something that needs to be looked at harder,” 1st District candidate and lifelong Williamson County resident Richard Davis said.
“I think if there’s a special area like the arts or special programs a school might be able to offer [through privatization], I think that might be a great place to start,” 1st District candidate Angela Durham said.
Many candidates were also asked whether or not they believed someone other than a safety resource officer [SRO] should be allowed to carry a firearm on a school campus.
“I think we have to be very careful when we talk about any situation that introduces more guns around children,” Incumbent 4th District candidate Anne McGraw said. “I’m very thankful for our SROs. I think they do a great job. I know myself as a parent I feel very good knowing that they’re there everyday at my daughter’s school.
"I think they’re there for a reason and they’re very trained and very equipped for their job. There’s just not a lot of research on whether this would make the schools safer or not. I would look to the teachers to ask how they feel about it. ”
While many candidates said they would need more research before coming to an informed decision, incumbent 7th District candidate Bobby Hullett was opposed to the idea.
“I’m a lifetime gun owner, permit holder, and lifetime member of the NRA and the answer is no,” Hullett said. “You have to be really cognizant and know what you’re taking about when you approach introducing guns into an environment where lots of children are and what could go wrong.
"If you have a teacher who is armed in [the school], and they fire off a shot and they miss and it hits a kid … why put yourself in that situation?”
Another question frequently asked during the forum was in regards to the board discussing a policy preventing religious indoctrination in schools after a claim was made that Islam was being taught in schools. Candidates were asked to state their opinion on the teaching of religion in schools and prayer in schools. The majority of candidates asked this question responded in agreement that religion could be taught in schools as long as it is within historical context.
“As long as Islam is being taught from a history perspective, it can be done from a religious studies course, it can be done from a history course,” 9th District candidate Denise Boothby said.
Many candidates who were asked this question agreed that the historical teaching of religion should take place in high school courses.
“I think there needs to be strict guidelines around how it’s done, and I also think it should be taught at a higher level where the kids are able to form their own opinions and maybe not so young where they’re impressionable,” Durham said.
Candidates were given the opportunity to inform the public why they decided to run for WCBOE election.
“The theme of my campaign is ‘unity in education,’” 11th District candidate and father of four Stuart Cooper said.
“I want to be a calm, stable, reasonable voice on the board to help make decisions that are good for parents, good for students, good for teachers, and good for the community.”
Forum attendees ranged from supporters of specific candidates to active WCS parents to members of the community with no children in WCS.
“I have no children, but I’m very concerned about the future of education,” Franklin resident Diana Ragsdale said. “I grew up in a rural, traditional area. I’m very proud of WCS, that’s what I often hear about people who move here. I want to be more involved and be aware ... the presidential election has opened my eyes to the fact that we need to get back to grassroots and local and making changes at the local level.
"I think that starts with school boards, county commissioners … for the best and future of our state I think we need to really invest in our education.”
In partnership with Williamson, Inc., the Home Page Media Group hosted the school board candidate forum in the auditorium of the Williamson County Administrative Complex.