The Effingham County Board of Education District 5 incumbent and the challenger to the seat agreed that public tax money should be directed toward local public schools.
Vickie Decker, seeking a third term on the school board, and Delmons White each did not support a question on the Republican primary ballot that asks if the state should allow parents to allocate tax dollars to private, virtual and home schools, in addition to public schools. Decker and White took part in an Effingham Chamber of Commerce candidates forum Thursday at the Mars Theatre.
“The public school is very dependent on tax dollars,’ Decker said, adding she is not in favor of such a voucher program.
White said it was important to keep control of the schools in local districts. He said parents have the options of sending their children to private schools, homeschooling them or using virtual schools. White said voters should “steer clear of that and allow our district to do the very fine job it’s doing.”
Decker also said the current school board has explored how much testing is done in the schools and whether if it is excessive.
“We’ve discussed testing for several months,” she said. “I don’t believe any children’s year-long education should be dependent upon one test grade. I believe we test excessively and we are working to roll back on our testing, even if it’s on a local level.”
White said the school system should take a close look at test results and keep in mind that there are those taking those examinations who may not have the same advantages as others.
“They are not coming out of the same environment,” he said. “Some children are actually homeless. When we look at these tests, we need to make sure everyone has the same right and their standing is not by the actual test itself. To solely depend on it would not be fair to all.”
White said board members should vote their conviction when asked about the 3-2 vote to extend Superintendent Randy Shearouse’s contract.
“Obviously there was something that occurred for them to not be unanimous in rehiring,’ he said.
Decker was one of three votes affirming Shearouse’s position.
“Our school system has made continuous improvement,” she said. “While I may not agree with every decision he makes, that would be the case with anyone. I feel we have a great system, and it’s moving in the right direction and I support Dr. Shearouse 100 percent.”
Decker and White also each supported the science, technology, engineering and math addition — the STEM academy — to the current Effingham College and Career Academy.
“The money being spent on the expansion is money well spent,” White said. “As a board, we should be out there making sure the kids and parents are aware we such a program.”
The STEM addition currently under construction will accommodate around 250 students, and White said there are more student who want to be there than there currently can be housed. Decker said the students at the two high schools who do not choose the STEM path still can will have their needs met.
“This is a specialized program,” she said. “I feel the other students will have their needs addressed. This is specifically for those interested in STEM. The students back at the other high schools have access to programs that are of interest to them.”
White previously served on the board for 90 days and worked in the school system for 12 years. He also is a graduate of Leadership Effingham and Leadership Southeast Georgia and called upon his more than 30 years as a pastor as his attributes for a school board candidate.
“I have been in the trenches, among the students, faculty and staff,” he said. “I feel that having that experience and being among them, I have a unique understanding, knowing the pulse and feeling the pulse of the people I will be representing. There is a lot the board needs to make known to the public. I believe I can provide that. I am willing to give more than my time to board meetings.”
White added he would try to help more students get into the Georgia Teacher Preparation Program.
Decker pointed to the accomplishments of the school system during her tenure on the board, such as the career academy, STEM academy and addition of welding and logistics programs, among others.
“We have not raised taxes or had layoffs, and that was during one of the most financially trying times we’ve had,” she said. “Graduation rates have consistently improved. Our student achievements rank in the top 11 percent of the state.”
The school system also is the most competitive in the area for salaries and that will allow it to recruit and retain good teachers, Decker said.
“I am very proud of the accomplishments of our students and our staff,” she said. “I believe I have a proven track record and I want to keep Effingham County on the road to success. My decisions have been and will continue to be made on what is best for our children.”