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Taylor County School Board candidates faced off in a forum last Thursday, organized by the Kentucky Educators' Political Action Committee.
Incumbents Tony Davis and Lillian Clark, who face opposition, attended. Davis is the board chair and Clark is vice chair. Their opponents said they were unable to attend because of scheduling conflicts.
KEPAC Executive Committee member Patty Evans asked Davis and Clark about their views on academics, the nickel tax, facilities and what they consider the district's strengths and weaknesses.
Clark, who represents the Fifth District, said she has been a part of the school system for 46 years and has enjoyed working with students as a teacher, guidance counselor and BETA club sponsor.
"I have been on this board for 18 years, and I have enjoyed every minute of it," Clark said. "I would like to remain on the board and I pray that people will vote for me."
Davis, who represents the Fourth District, said he is running for re-election because he wants to play a role in completing the projects that have been started in the school system during his time on the board.
According to Davis, the school district is moving in the right direction, but missed a golden opportunity by not implementing the nickel tax, which he says would have opened the gates to receiving millions of dollars from the state to fund construction of new schools. If given four more years to serve, Davis said, he will work to correct that.
"Our elementary school is in shambles. It is the oldest, biggest, ugliest building in the state of Kentucky, and we have to do something about it," Davis said. "We can't rely on someone else stepping in, we've got to step up. And I feel like I didn't get my job done, but with four more years, I think we can.
"I think we're on the right path, and I've actually enjoyed the last four years on this board. It's been fun, it's been a challenge, and we're seeing all kinds of new programs, and I will see to it that that continues."
Clark and Davis agree that the biggest weakness of the school district is its facilities.
Clark said the state has been dragging its feet on funding and said funding for the construction of new schools will not happen unless there is also a local effort.
According to Davis, because of overcrowding and the overall conditions of the buildings, construction of new schools is not an option.
"Now the state will shut us down eventually, and then we'll do it whether we like it or not, and they'll dictate what we have to pay to get it done," Davis said.
Clark said she thinks that the negative reaction from the community was mostly because people didn't understand what a nickel tax actually means.
"My husband has insisted that I not say a nickel tax, but a five-cents tax, so that's what it is," Clark said. "When we say a nickel tax, it sounds like a great big amount of money or it sounds like 5 percent. And we're not talking about percentage, we're talking about a nickel."
Evans said the nickel tax would be $50 for a property assessed at $100,000 value.
"[The nickel tax] speaks to an attitude of whether or not our community supports education," Evans said.
Davis said other school districts in the state have had much success with a nickel tax and have been able to build new schools because of it. He also said Taylor County residents already pay for the construction of new schools in other counties through taxes.
In the last proposal, Davis said, the state would have matched the revenue from the nickel tax one and a half times, meaning that for every five cents collected in Taylor County, the district would have received seven and a half cents.
"[The state] has said, if you want new schools, you're going to have to help yourself first," Davis said. "And anybody that's not willing to help their own children, the state is very hesitant about giving them any extra money."
Evans asked the candidates about their vision for academics.
Davis said he is proud of the strides made in the quality of academics in the last four years.
Clark said she wants to see test scores continue to rise and also praised performance-based education for the opportunity it gives students who are excelling to move to more challenging classes that will prepare them for college.
"Our students' scores have outshone all the surrounding schools," Clark said. "I'm so proud of that, I don't know what to do. I'm not talking about just our local schools, I'm talking about some of the other county schools that we could name. It's wonderful to hear that we are excelling. And that's one of the reasons why I would like to see new school buildings."
Members of the audience were also given an opportunity to voce their opinions and ask the candidates questions.
Superintendent Roger Cook asked if the board had lowered taxes for the last two years. Clark answered that they had.
Cook said that taxes of that type are never matched by the state. He said there is only one type of tax they will match, a facilities tax.
Taylor County High School government teacher Laura D. Flinchum said she asked her students what would be the biggest concern for them if they were on the board.
"What I heard most often was that those who have little brothers and sisters in the elementary school wanted to know what they could do to keep their little brother or sister from getting sick," Flinchum said. "I would have liked to have heard how the other candidates would address that if they didn't support the five-cent tax."
Candidates Doyle Berry and Benjamin Bright, who are running against Davis, and Joey Wasson and Ronnie Harden, running against Clark, submitted written responses, which were read aloud by Taylor County High School agriculture teacher William Wallace Evans.