School Board Candidates Respond to UnifiEd Questions Regarding New Funds for the School System
With just over one week to go before election day, UnifiEd - a community-led movement of parents, teachers, and citizens who want every student in Hamilton County to have the chance to attend great public schools – today released initial results from its first ever school board candidate survey.
Following the announcements of the settlement of the lawsuit between the Hamilton County Department of Education and the City of Chattanooga and the planned expansion of VW, UnifiEd surveyed candidates on four questions:
- How do you believe that new funds—from VW tax payments and the City settlement—should be used to improve student performance in our public schools?
- Why do you believe that these investments will improve student performance—in other words, what evidence or data or research supports your proposed investment and what outcomes are you trying to achieve?
- Would you support public reporting on how the funds are spent? We know that the funds will be part of the annual budget, but would you support a separate reporting on these funds so it was clear to the public what the school system was doing with new revenue?
- Would you also support public reporting on the outcomes—in other words, how the use of funds did or did not achieve what you hoped?
Of 18 candidates running active campaigns for school board, 12 responded to the UnifiEd survey, including incumbent School Board member Dr. Greg Martin. Six candidates failed to respond, including School Board members Joe Galloway and David Testerman.
UnifiEd will release the results of the survey responses today through Thursday. Today, UnifiEd is releasing responses from candidates in Districts 5 and 9. In addition, UnifiEd will make more than 5,000 calls to registered voters over the next week to encourage early voting and voting during the August 7 election.
The following candidates responded to the UnifiEd survey:
Dr. Greg Martin (District 3)
Jim Watson (District 3)
Richard Bennett (District 5)
Karitsa Mosley (District 5)
Yashika Ward (District 5)
Oscar Brock (District 6)
Ballard Scearce (District 6)
Samevelyn Rock (District 8)
Steve Highlander (District 9)
Larry Lewis (District 9)
Dean Moorhouse (District 9)
Tim White (District 9)
The following candidates have not responded to the UnifiEd survey:
Patrick D. Hampton (District 5)
Jackie Anderson-Thomas (District 5)
Samuel Blakemore (District 5)
Joe Galloway (District 6)
David Testerman (District 8)
Karen Farrow (District 9)
(Candidates in bold are incumbent members of the School Board)
UnifiEd is led by a bi-partisan Board of Directors that include community, business and civic leaders – including former teachers and public school parents – from across Hamilton County. UnifiEd is a nonprofit organization and does not endorse or support any candidate running for office.
Below are the full answers for candidates for Districts 5 and 9. We will be releasing the answers for the other
candidates later this week.
Richard K. Bennett
1. I feel the VW tax payments and the City settlement should be used to form a committee of individuals to target the low performing children in each school. Teachers should be hired who have the capacity to teach these students and bring them up to standard. All teachers should have regular trainings on different learning styles. Many of the low performing schools do not have books or computer labs, like many of their counterparts.
Funds should be used to improve the schools, which will give our children a better learning environment. Also, strengthening the PTA, giving parents with children receiving free and reduced lunches
incentives to come and collaborate with teachers to get their children to proficient levels. All children in Hamilton County should have the same opportunities to excel.
2. The 2012—‐2013 Ochs Center report shows that most inner city schools were performing below state and national levels in reading and math. The focus must be on getting these children on or above grade level. There must be training for parents as well; parents must be engaged, in order to work well with teachers and school staff. Many of the parents from low—‐income households may need educating as well; parents need tools to help their children outside of the classroom.
3. I definitely support the reporting of how the funds are spent. Many times, inner—‐city schools or school in low economic areas do not receive the necessary funding or support needed, there must be more accountability.
4. I think it is very necessary that the outcomes be reported as well. The public should be aware of what efforts were made, and what actually worked or what did not work.
1. I believe that the new funds should be used to support and improve student performance in our public schools. I also believe that they should be dedicated entirely to the schools, classrooms and student programs in Hamilton County and to no other purpose. I would support the use of the funds in this manner so that all students system wide would then be able to have access to more resources across the board in the classroom, with use of best practice models implementation, increased teacher support and retention, technological innovations, extracurricular educational activities (ROTC, Athletics, Fine Arts, and Band), pathways programs, literacy programs, building improvements and renovations.
I would also advocate for fund allotment to be used for efforts toward working to ensure that students are graduating prepared for real world experiences (post secondary education, vocational trades, military and employment opportunities). This can be done through efforts to implement Student Preparedness/ Pathways Programs. It is true that all students are not college material; however, this does not mean that they cannot be equipped with the necessary skills needed to be productive members of society. Our Students deserve to access to more than just a one track curriculum. They need access to optional tracks, technological innovations, adequate funding and resources, best practices and teachers that are supported and valued for the assets that they really are. Funds would also be beneficial in use towards working with community members for the implementation of the Community Schools Model in our low income and low performing school neighborhoods to address both the social and academic problems present.
In efforts to enhance the current programs in place to improve low performing schools, some of the funding could be used to work towards the implementation of the Best practices model “high poverty, high performing schools”. Utilizing this model in low performing school communities will aid in increased academic achievement levels and enhance students access to innovative models of learning that include increased exposure to technology in the learning environments. This will help to ensure that students are graduating prepared for real world experiences. There are also several school buildings that are currently on a list and some not listed that could benefit from new facilities, renovations and /or improvements. Additional funding will allow these issues to be reviewed and addressed where applicable.
2. Increased Teacher Support- research states that students gained as much as 10% increase in their scores compared to students with similar backgrounds when teachers receive incentives. Research states that when schools have larger budgets they are empowered to spend more opportunistically and productively. Money for students would give schools the opportunities to implement literacy and numeracy programs to aid students in their areas of weakness.
By designating funds towards measurable professional development for educators they are able to effectively use researched based best practice models and implement them when education students. Lack of school funding is why many of our extracurricular actives have diminished. These activities assist in the development of students in becoming well rounded individuals.
Students should be educated in a safe environment. In many of the schools in district 5 this is the only place they feel safe which is why building improvements and renovations are essential.
As we know technology is ever changing and in order for our students to perform and compete globally we need to equip our schools with the latest software and technology. In order for this to take place we must find adequate funding for our students.
Pathways programs provide more trade options for students who don’t have the ability to be successful in college but are interested in learning a trade and working. In order to decrease our dropout rates and truthfully graduate students who are going to be productive in society, we must have more options such as the pathways. Pathways programs are going to give hope to all students who are less experienced in reading and math but have great work ethic, can listen to instructions and use their hands and work productively. The problem is we don’t address literacy issues early enough and children get passed on through middle school. They get to high school and can’t read and the system doesn’t allow us to teach reading in high school, so students get discouraged and either dropout mentally and/or physically. If high school students had a pathway where they could take general courses (like in college) their first two years, then the third year learn a trade and take life skills courses, then their last year they spend in the work field. These types of programs will also allow the community to be involved in the education of our youth.
Schools with high poverty concentrations can perform well, reinforcing the view that indeed all students can learn and also do well. Analyses of the school report card data show that certain school variables such as district community type, school size, and attendance rate are related to performance.
The Education Trust has documented thousands of high-poverty schools making progress in improving educational outcomes of students. In its analysis of an American Institutes for Research database that combined school-level scores on state assessments and demographic information, Education Trust identified 4,577 public schools2 nationwide whose students achieved in the top third in reading and/or mathematics assessment for their state3 and had at least 50 percent low-income and at least 50 percent African American and Latino students (Ali & Jerald 2001, Jerald 2001). These schools educated more than 2 million students, including nearly 1.3 million poor, 564,000 African American, and 660,000 Latino students. There are public schools in poor communities that are making substantial progress, or have excelled, in their mission of teaching children to read, do mathematics, and develop higher order thinking skills. Researchers have looked at such schools to determine what characteristics they share. Lessons learned from high-performing, high-poverty schools could bolster efforts by school leaders and educators strengthen low-performing schools (Carter 2000). The best available research indicates that positive change and success can occur even under the most challenging conditions.
Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, and her colleagues have observed and studied enough low income schools to know that any school, regardless of its condition, has the capacity to reverse long-embedded trends of low achievement. For more than a decade, Haycock has traveled the United States on a mission to help others understand this new reality. As she puts it, “It is hugely important for both educators and the general public to know how powerful schools can be. And indeed, the stories of schools that serve very poor children, yet produce very high results, provide exactly the tonic of hope and inspiration that help restore the luster of a public education system that has lost considerable public confidence over the last two decades.” (Haycock, 2007, p. xix) High school teachers are limited in their ability to teach basic reading for students, who cannot read because in elementary, the schedule and structure of the school typically has enough time built in for intervention as well as we have more resources (material), interventionists and training than what middle and high school has in place. However, research shows that students who struggle in middle and high school with reading, need intervention in those foundational reading skills.
3. Yes, I would support public reporting on how the funds are spent. HCDE school board members and HCDE Executive administration are public servants. I believe that all elected officials and public servants should be transparent with their constituents. After all, it is the citizens that have placed them in their roles. When there is clear and open communication, trust can be established and accountability will be visible.
4. Yes, I would support public reporting on the outcomes. Transparency is key and it allows the community to see productivity or lack thereof. It also allows them to provide viable feedback as to how things could be improved or what they felt was actually proving to be successful despite the data that was presented.
1. The funds should be spent on identifying underlying problems that are keeping our children fromlearning. I believe that we need to spend those funds on technology and a strong reading program. Technology needs to come in the classrooms to keep up with the learning demands. We need more computers, and other forms of technology especially since the testing process will be changing with regards to the common core. Examples: The Lexia Computer Reading Program in all Hamilton County Public schools and community partners that are working with our children after school. We need more free after school tutoring at all of our schools. Reading, Math, Language arts. (Common Core Standards) Literacy skills are essential. The ability to read is the basis for education. One must be able to read, write, do math, solve problems and access and use technology, if not one will struggle to reach their full potential and be successful.
2.These investment are key with improving academic performance. Data tells us that our children are not reading at a proficient level. More than 70% of Tennessee’s eight-graders read at or below basic level of proficiency for that grade, according to a report by the Tennessee Comptroller‘s Office Research and Education Accountability. According to a 2009 report from the (NAEP)38% percent of 4th grade public schools students are at or below the “Basic” level. 53% are African American students. Literacy Skills are important.
3. Yes. I would support public reporting on how the funds are spent along with a separate report regarding new revenue expenditures. Accountability is everything. It’s part of the Hamilton County School Board goals.
4. Yes. The public is also part of the team and a partner. We need to know if it was a hit or miss and look at ways to do better.
1. I would solicit input from teachers, parents, students, other tax payers, businesses, apprentice programs and other stake holders. Among my many ideas, 3 come to the foreground. (1) Fund art, music, p.e., and adequate special education; (2) provide necessarily technology for ALL schools, many of which cannot presently handle Common Core testing; & (3) implement interest inventories at upper elementary, middle school & high school levels to complement a broad vocational education track. 5th graders could be introduced to types of jobs by guidance &teachers. Middle schoolers could have exploratory elective classes & high schoolers could have vocational choices with differentiation being positive for all.
2. With higher interest and choice opportunities our urban highest truancy rate of 48 per cent should drastically prove which is easy to assess. Overall test scores should improve with increased attendance- also easy to assess. The Carnegie grants for voc ed, should as East Ridge HS got several years ago, prove this has been true in the past.
3. I am for total transparency of budgets, programs, & outcomes. Input and understanding will bring total community support from parents, teachers, businesses, training programs, & all stake holders.
4. I realize one board member cannot bring about all the above alone, but I am willing to work with other board members and the community as a whole to meet the needs of our children and young people.
1. Without knowing the structure of the liquor tax settlement a conversation about how it should be spent is pure speculation, but for the sake of this conversation let’s assume the payments are equal over the five year payout. So let’s get a handle on how much money we’re talking about. After subtracting the storm water back fees and new storm water fees to be paid to the city by the school board and after adding the VW taxes our school system will receive about $3.1M/year for five years, after which it will drop to just the VW taxes minus the new storm water fees, or about $1M/year.
Up front the liquor tax settlement and new VW taxes look good, and every dollar coming into our school system is great, but considering our school budget is roughly $400M this new money is less than 1% of our current budget and is far from a windfall. I’m sure our current school board members will vote to use some of this money to develop the Poss Homes property and renovate the North River YMCA pool. After expenditures I believe the best use of this money in an effort to increase student performance is to increase the knowledge and skills of our teachers.
2. I’m quoting Professor Richard Elmore of the Harvard Graduate School of Education when I say there are only three ways to increase learning and performance:
- increase the knowledge and skill of teachers
- change the content
- alter the relationship of the student to the teacher and the content
We should understand that increasing student performance requires that we change all three, knowledge, content, and relationship.
Of the options above, I believe we should start with number one, increase the knowledge and skill of teachers, and I would achieve this by offering education opportunities to teachers in our most under-performing schools first.
3. I would like to see public reporting, in detail, on how all funds in the Hamilton County school budget are spent. Public trust in our school board is essential in building a relationship that will nurture participation in our public schools by businesses and parents. If the budget isn’t 100% transparent there will always be speculation on how our tax dollars are being spent.
4. Reporting on the outcome is an essential part of the feedback loop that we need in place to show us if we’re on the right track to achieving our goals, so yes, I would very much support reporting the outcome.
1. From the very beginning of my campaign I have promoted Technical/Vocational education as a priority for our high schools. As much as we would like to see every child graduate from college, some students, due to lack of opportunity, discipline or determination, will not attend college. These students could significantly benefit from Technical/Vocational education. I would spend the $12 million from the city, to make an existing school a top quality Technical/Vocational institution. This school should not be used as a dumping ground for problem kids, or a place to hide under-performing kids. I feel we should offer parents a choice in planning the future with their children and that the single path curriculum we now offer is affecting our graduation rates. The additional $1 million per year tax revenue should be used to improve our salary and benefits package for both classified and certified employees. Salary and benefits packages designed to attract and retain good employees will improve morale and insure that quality employees are retained.
2. On July 7th, 2014 the Times Frees Press published and article titled, “Technical jobs pay more but hard to fill.” In this article some interesting facts were revealed such as, “half the jobs advertised do not require college degrees” and “16.2% of job vacancies last year were for technical jobs not requiring a college degree but still paying on the average, more than $50,000 a year.” These facts are confirmed by the new Brookings study of jobs advertised by 52,000 companies on their websites. I believe that offering parents a choice in high school curriculum for their kids will improve both performance and graduation rates by eliminating student boredom. If kids see that completion of high school with a skill will provide immediate employment opportunities, then high school graduation becomes an attainable goal. In terms of Vocational training, Chattanooga is in a unique position to partner with CSTC for various Associate Degree programs which would qualify for “Tennessee Promise” dollars, which basically is total funding for A.S. Degree programs for 2015 graduates. Partnering with CSTC for Vocational careers would keep the Tennessee Promise dollars in Hamilton County as well as setting a good example, and perhaps bring additional dollars to Hamilton County from neighboring counties such as Marion, Rhea, Meigs and Polk that do not have such institutions. Our STEM program is definitely a step in the right direction.
3. After completing numerous questionnaires from various organizations and preparing for a series of debates during my campaign, I have realized that spending information on our school system is non-existient. As a professional businessman and tax paying citizen I find it frustrating that necessary information to make informed decisions at the polls or to voice opposition to policy, is hidden from public view. Although, this is pretty much the case with any government agency, it doesn’t make it acceptable. I feel that all government agencies should, in the interest of full disclosure and in the spirit of transparency and accountability, make spending of tax payer dollars public information. Specificity, I would like to see spending reported on a school by school basis.
4. Although $12 million dollars is a lot of money, it is only a little over 3% of the $400 million total school budget. Long term study of outcomes and following the success rates of graduates would not only incur additional expense, which wouldfurther reduce the dollars to the classroom, but violate the freedom and rights of those monitored. This is one of the many problems with Common Core. An easy and simple parameter to report would be the graduation rates of the Technical/Vocational facility compared to all other high schools. I believe we would find improved graduation rates and less truancy.
New funds- the schools need repaired or new ones built to replace some of them, they need teachers that care about the students education and learning, best pay for the best teachers, students should be glad to go to a great school with teachers that care, I believe the students need the best they can get, parents should be proud to send them because of the schools and teachers not just because they live in that area.
Funds need to be reported to the public and how it is used and the outcome of it, we need to put the education first for them.