The forum was at the historic white marble courthouse in downtown Canton.
Although all eight school board candidates confirmed their participation in the forum, only six candidates took part. Diane Rugg, Cherokee County Republican Women membership chair, said candidates Susie Tlacil and Erica Williams confirmed their participation in the forum by email on March 9 and 10.
But both Tlacil and Williams notified Rugg after 3 p.m. Thursday that they would not be participating in the event that began a few hours later at 6:15 p.m
John Marinko moderated the forum as school board candidates up for election in the May 20 Republican Primary explained their stances on topics from Common Core and charter schools to selecting a new superintendent.
John Harmon and Brett Ladd, who are competing for the District 3 Board of Education seat, had similar views on many education topics.
Incumbent Rick Steiner and opponent Robert Strozier, running for the District 4 seat on the school board, both said they were running for the children.
District 5 candidate Clark Menard said his “true constituents” are the 40,000 children in Cherokee County public schools.
District 6 candidate Mike Chapman pointed out he had a lot of experience working in education, from being on the school board previously to starting a foundation to help residents Cherokee earn their GEDs.
Candidates from each district took turns discussing education topics and answered questions posed by Marinko.
All candidates at the forum were in favor of charter schools, but said each charter school petition brought to the county needed to be reviewed.
The candidates all agreed charter schools can be great for children but should be allowed to come to the county on a case-by-case basis.
All candidates stressed the importance of school choice, and all said parents should have the final say in where their children attend school and what is best for them.
When the candidates were asked about how they would have voted during the October ethics hearing regarding District 1 School Board member Kelly Marlow, they all had similar views.
Marlow was sanctioned and fined $3,600 during a hearing in October for violating the school’s ethics policies by sending a letter to the school accrediting agency AdvancEd in June.
All of the candidates at the forum said they would have voted to sanction Marlow, and many said Marlow did a “disservice” to the board by violating the policy.
Both Harmon and Ladd are fathers of children in the Cherokee School District, and both said they wanted to continue to improve an already good school system.
Harmon said he has two children at Hickory Flat Elementary School and lives in the Hickory Flat community with his wife and family.
The candidate said he has experience as a business owner, on the Hickory Flat Foundation board of directors and on the school’s PTA.
“I understand budgets and audit reports,” Harmon said. “I’ve worked closely with parents, administrators and teachers; I understand the needs of our schools and our students.”
Ladd said he has had two children graduate from Etowah High School and has a stepchild in school at Sequoyah High School.
Ladd said he and Harmon have similar ideas and objectives and said his experience as a lawyer is similar to Harmon’s experience as a business owner.
“What we both have is a vision for our children and for the future,” he said. “I have experience and I have patience, and the ability to listen and communicate.”
The candidates were asked if they supported the Common Core State Standards, “yes or no?”
Harmon said, “As it stands today, yes.” Ladd said “yes and no,” because he supports common standards but doesn’t want state legislators to make decisions on whether or not local districts adopt specific standards.
Next, the topic of a new superintendent came up. The candidates were asked if they thought the superintendent should be an elected position or not.
Both Ladd and Harmon agreed the superintendent should not be elected.
Ladd said whenever Superintendent of Schools Dr. Frank Petruzielo retires, the school board should select a replacement who has experience in the school system, communication skills, financial awareness and new ideas.
Harmon said superintendents should not be elected because it “limits the pool of candidates” and “politicizes” the role.
“It needs to be someone that is passionate about the schools, passionate about teachers and passionate about the kids,” he said.
Steiner and Strozier expressed their passion for helping students in Cherokee County.
Steiner said he’s lived in the county for 25 years and has been on the school board for nine years. Steiner has had two children graduate from Etowah High School and one of his children still attends the school.
“I’m running for the kids,” Steiner said. “I’ve always been about the kids.”
Steiner said he wanted to continue the vision of the school board and continue to improve education in the county.
Strozier said his child had a diverse school experience at many Cherokee County high schools. His son is a special needs individual, Strozier said, and graduated from Etowah High School with honors.
Strozier said the school district is already great, “but there’s always room for improvement.” Strozier said he’s spent years volunteering and helping special needs individuals.
“I really have a passion for helping our children; that is my main concern,” Strozier said.
When it came to Common Core, Steiner said it “levels the playing field.”
“As far as it stands right now, with math and science standards, I support it,” Steiner said.
Strozier said, while he thinks high standards are important, he is not in favor of Common Core because of the “federal mandate” and “potential costs” associated with it.
“I really don’t want the federal government getting its hands into our county politics,” he said.
Both Strozier and Steiner agreed that the role of superintendent of schools should not be an elected position.
Steiner said when the time comes for the school board to select a new superintendent, he will make sure that candidates for the role have “the same vision” that is held by parents and teachers, and in the best interest of the 40,000 students in Cherokee schools.
Strozier said he would like to see Dr. Brian Hightower, who is now deputy superintendent of Cherokee County schools, as a candidate to replace Petruzielo when he retires from the position of superintendent.
“He gets things done,” Strozier said. “To me, there is no question. Dr. Hightower should be our next superintendent.”
Menard said he has children in Carmel Elementary School and Woodstock Middle School, and has a financial background.
“I understand the budgeting process, and I understand public accounting,” Menard said.
Menard said he has a unique understanding of what’s happening in schools today and believes he can bring his experience to the school board and make a positive impact.
Menard said he is “in favor of Common Core,” and believes board members should work as a team on the Cherokee Board of Education.
When asked about his views on the superintendent position, Menard said the superintendent should not be an elected position.
He said one of the primary responsibilities of a school board is to select a superintendent with experience and a background in public education.
“We need a superintendent that has a vision,” he said. “Secondly, they need to be able to communicate that vision.”
Menard said a candidate for the role of superintendent needs to have experience in improving an already great school system, and be able to “make it even better.”
“I’d like to see somebody who has that type of experience,” he said.
Chapman said he had served on the school board for more than a decade, including four years as the board chair. During his time on the board, Chapman said he helped establish the STEM and Fine Arts Academies in the district.
Chapman explained that he founded a non-profit charity called the Cherokee Learning Center, which has helped thousands of residents earn their GEDs.
From helping community members finish their high school educations to attending career days throughout the district, Chapman said he has a lot of experience working with administrators, students and teachers.
He said everyone who works in a public school plays a vital role in the success of that school.
“Teachers, administrators, bus drivers,” Chapman said, “People are the key to success.”
Chapman’s wife is a teacher, he said, and their two children spent their entire kindergarten through high school education in Cherokee County schools.
When asked if he agreed with Common Core, Chapman said, “today, yes.”
“Math and language arts minimum standards is all that is,” Chapman said of Common Core.
Chapman said that all of the superintendent qualifications that other candidates had brought up were good things to look for in a replacement, and had one additional qualification to add to the list.
When it came to the possibility of hiring a new superintendent, Chapman said the new superintendent needed to be an “excellent manager,” and agreed that Hightower would be “an excellent candidate.”