Stephens Co. School Board Candidates Debate Wilbros, Budget at Forum

The candidates for the Stephens County Board of Education cover a number of topics during a forum Thursday.

Candidates in the three contested races for the Stephens County Board of Education appeared at the forum at the Schaefer Center in downtown Toccoa.

Among the topics the candidates talked about was the school board’s participation in the Wilbros situation.

District Two, Post Two incumbent Jeff Webb said the school board and school system has taken a more active role than people realize.

“For the last several years, there has been a lot of documentation,” said Webb. “Over 80 of the complaints that were documented came from the school system. The school system pledged so much money (towards legal action) to start with and up to this point, we have almost three times what we pledged to start with.”

However, his challenger, Brenda Kelley, said she does not feel the school system has done enough.

“We cannot sit back, pour a little money into it, and say that we have done something,” said Kelley. “We need to bring attention to this in every way we can, even if it meant we had to treat it like a snow day because it is truly an emergency.”

Candidates also talked about the budget and dealing with tight revenues and rising expenditures.

District One, Post Two incumbent Dr. Steve Tilley said the school board watches the budget closely, but cannot plan ahead for everything.

“It is hard to know when an air conditioning unit is going to fail,” said Tilley. “It is hard to know when a water pump is going to fail or the pump for the sewage station fails. We cannot determine that. There needs to be some contingency to cover those things.”

Tilley’s challenger, Jim Bellamy said that the county cannot handle a tax increase, so the school system will have to make up any revenue shortfalls in other areas while still putting a priority on the classroom.

“One of the first areas many systems look at, and this system has done it in the past, is cutting teachers,” said Bellamy. “We need to start the furthest away from the classroom to make any cuts and if the cuts come to the classroom, then it has to be.”

District Three, Post One incumbent David Fricks said that the board must continue to keep its focus on taking care of teachers and students, but not raising the millage rate.

He also said bringing in business and more tax base will help that budget situation, something the school system can help with by helping to build a job-ready workforce.

“With the charter system, this is going to give us flexibility to give young people the training they need because when people want to locate a business in Stephens County, they want to know what kind of workforce they are going to have,” said Fricks. “Is that workforce ready?”

His opponent, Laura Biggers, said it is a matter of prioritizing in the budget to make the most difference for students.

“With each decision that is to be made, we should consider and implement programs and curriculum that would continue to advance our students and prepare them for the long term, as well as looking at programs that are not working and see how we can eliminate or re-structure them to make them cost-effective,” said Biggers.

All of the school board candidates are running as Republicans in the May primary without any Democratic opposition.