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School Board Candidates Debate Common Core, Kelly Marlow

Six out of eight candidates running in the May 20 Republican primary for the school board participated in a forum on Thursday.

Incumbent District 4 Cherokee School Board member Rick Steiner, left, listens while challenger Robert Strozier answers a question. Credit: Kristal Dixon
Incumbent District 4 Cherokee School Board member Rick Steiner, left, listens while challenger Robert Strozier answers a question. Credit: Kristal Dixon
The six candidates who are in the running to claim a seat on the Cherokee County School Board faced a group of residents Thursday night at a forum sponsored by the Cherokee County Republican Women's group.

The candidate forum, which is a monthly installment organized by the political group, featured candidates vying to win the May 20 Republican primary. 

District 4 incumbent Rick Steiner and challenger Robert Strozier, along with District 3 candidates Brett Ladd and John Harmon stood before the audience to answer questions, which were submitted before the forum got underway. 

Candidates Clark Menard of District 5 and Mike Chapman of District 6 also participated in the forum. However, their opponents, Erica Williams of District 5 and Susie Tlacil of District 6, decided at the last minute to rescind their plans to participate in the forum. 

Along with providing opening and closing remarks, the candidates took questions on issues such as Common Core, charter schools/school choice, District 1 board member Kelly Marlow's letter to AdvancED and whether they supported legislation that would require local governments to hold at least two public hearings on proposed budgets.

Common Core

Steiner indicated he was support of the recommended standards as it's imperative for states to be on the same page when it comes to educating their students. 

Strozier said he did not feel comfortable with the "federal mandate" and worried about the costs districts would bear to implement the standards. Menard, Harmon and Chapman also said they were in favor of the standards as they currently have been proposed, as did Harmon. Ladd was more reserved in his answer, noting he felt having common standards are a "good objective," but also worried about federal overreach. 

Charter schools

All six candidates indicated they were in support of school choice, but added they couldn't say how they'd vote if a charter school petition were to come before the board because it would depend on the application. 

Qualities in a new schools superintendent

A question was posed from moderator John Marinko about the qualities each of the candidates would like to see in a new schools superintendent once Dr. Frank Petruzielo retires from the position. Along with their belief that the superintendent should be appointed and not elected, all the candidates said they'd want someone who was effective at communicating with the public. Ladd added he'd like to see someone with an "achievement-oriented" background as well as someone who has a history in managing district finances.

Steiner said he'd hoped the next superintendent would have the same vision and goals as the school board.

A few candidates touted Deputy Superintendent Dr. Brian Hightower as the ideal candidate because of his ability to garner the support from a wide variety of people in the community. 

Kelly Marlow's letter to AdvancED

A question from the audience asked if the candidates agreed with the school board's decision to say Marlow violated board ethics policies when she sent a letter to AdvancED, asking the company to investigate her colleagues and district employees. They were also asked what they would have done if they were on the board at that time. Strozier said he would have voted in favor of the censure, but said he was not sure if he'd support the fine. 

Steiner was one of the board members who voted in favor of censuring and fining Marlow for her actions.

Chapman, Menard and Harmon also said they would have voted with the board as did Ladd, who indicated the subject was the "elephant in the room" during the forum. 

School choice

Both Strozier and Steiner said they were supportive of school choice, and praised the district for implementing its Cherokee Academics. They also said they did not think taxpayers and the district should bear the cost of parents who want to place their children into private schools.

Ladd said he is in favor of choice, but it should be available at a "revenue-neutral option," meaning taxpayers should not have to pick up the tab.

"Not all schools can be everything for everybody," he added.  

Budget hearings

Steiner, who said the school district already has transparency, added he did not oppose a new law that requires local entities to have at least two public hearings before they take action on their budget. Strozier said he felt the public should have the ability to look at the school district's budget and ask questions because "we all pay taxes." Both Menard and Chapman agreed.

Chapman, who served on the school board for 11 years before he retired in 2012, added he also wasn't opposed to the legislation as the district already provides two public hearings on its budget. Both Harmon and Ladd also agreed with the changes.
David R March 31, 2014 at 11:42 AM
This was a very informative forum. Kudos to the Cherokee Co Republican Women for facilitating it! It was fair, the questions were audience-submitted and focused on the topics important to parents of public school children. It really helped us decide who would and wouldn't be best on our school board.Thanks to all of the candidates who participated! And to Ms Tlacil and Ms Williams, the two candidates who chose not to show up after committing to do so, many thanks to you also......for not wasting our time hearing what, if anything, you would have had to say. Your absence said volumes about your true motives for running. Be sure to tell your friend Kelly Marlow hello from everyone!

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