More than 100 people attended the forum at Woodstock High School, moderated by Tribune Managing Editor Rebecca Johnston, where the candidates had one minute to answer each question from the audience.
John Harmon and Brett Ladd, competing for the open District 3 School Board seat, explained their views on education issues ranging from teamwork and technical diplomas to transparency and funding.
Harmon and Ladd shared many similarities and some differences.
Both candidates said adding technical education options is important for Cherokee students.
Ladd said only the state can change the law to allow for a technical high school diploma and said “the time is right” to add the option.
“Under Georgia law, we only have three choices for a degree,” Ladd said. “Technically, we can’t provide a degree choice at this time.”
Ladd said he wants to work with legislators to make the technical diploma option available to students. Locally, Ladd said the district can work with with schools such as Chattahoochee Technical College to provide more options for students.
Harmon agreed and said he’d love to work with state legislators and continue to provide technical education options locally.
“I think it’s already on its way,” Harmon said. “I think that’s the direction we need to go.”
Harmon mentioned the career pathways program, which provides alternative direction for students and is already in use in Cherokee schools.
“I’d also like to see us work with local businesses as a cooperative with them,” Harmon suggested. “And have direct access for graduating seniors to move right into a career.”
When it came to the Common Core Standards, Harmon explained he didn’t like federal mandates but the standards are misunderstood by many.
“I’m not for the federal government getting their hands into our education. I’m here in Cherokee County; I want to work with Cherokee County and the state of Georgia,” Harmon said. “The state of Georgia has implemented Common Core. Cherokee County has implemented Common Core. We don’t need to go back every two years and change.”
Harmon said he’s involved with the schools and said Cherokee teachers are going “above and beyond” what is required by the minimum standards of Common Core.
“They’re teaching everything they know, still,” Harmon said. “I’m proud to see what our teachers are doing here in Cherokee County.”
Ladd said Common Core breaks down into two things: the standards and the curriculum.
“Right now, we have the state and the county accepting Common Core standards,” Ladd said. “But we also have a federal law that is changed willy-nilly.”
Ladd said the definition of Common Core can be changed and is not static.
“We have money attached to it. But I don’t want the federal government to impose what we teach in our curriculum in Cherokee County,” Ladd said. “If I have to make a choice between an all-or-nothing proposition, I have to say that for those reasons, I’m against Common Core.”
As far as cutting spending goes, Ladd said the county already has a tight budget.
“We should look at food service, we should look at transportation,” Ladd said. “But it’s not like this would be the first time this is looked at.”
Ladd said “perhaps we can’t” cut spending, “but we can increase the tax base and increase revenue.”
“Create a greater demand for people to want to come to Cherokee County. Increase our real estate values, increase our retail sales. Get a little bit more money in there so we can solidify the future for our kids. So it’s not just a one-way formula, it’s a two-way street,” Ladd said.
Harmon said the Cherokee County School District already runs a “lean” budget.
“Our per-pupil spending has declined every year since 2008. We’re now at 2006 levels with more than 3,400 more students since 2006. To me, that shows that we’re working hard on it and Cherokee County is doing a great job,” Harmon said.
However, Harmon said the spending can always be reviewed.
“I think we should continue to review,” Harmon said.
When asked about their PTA and public school involvement, both Harmon and Ladd said they had spent time serving their community.
Harmon said he is a current PTA member, and member of the Hickory Flat Elementary School Foundation.
“It’s a separate fundraising arm for Hickory Flat Elementary School,” he explained. “And I try to be in the classroom as much as possible.”
Harmon said he goes into his son’s kindergarten class to read regularly and gets to eat lunch with both his children, since their lunch periods overlap.
Ladd said he has been in the PTA for 11 years and his daughter is in her sophomore year of high school.
“The PTA itself is wonderful,” Ladd said. “Some PTAs are different than other PTAs, even in the same county. Some you don’t hear anything from. Some are overly active. Some are run by minorities. Some are very generous and sincere group organizations.”
The candidates were asked about transparency in the district auditing practice, and what transparency meant to them.
Harmon said as a business owner, he does his own budget and audits himself. Harmon said, if elected, his constituents can pick up the phone and call him and he’d “be glad” to go over what he found.
“I’ll be happy to go over what I reviewed and what I see; what issues there are or what issues there aren’t,” Harmon said. “Transparency is a good thing. I think it would help our county as a whole, it would help the school system.”
Ladd said transparency means openness, information and awareness.
“I’m not really sure that we need to concern ourselves about audits and transparency of audits,” Ladd said. “Perhaps, we can see by the mistakes of others, how not to handle openness, how not to handle transparency. If we get something that we can learn from, share it with the taxpayers, students and teachers.”
Both candidates agreed teamwork is important, and said they would listen, communicate and respect differing views among the school board.