Feb. 12—Facility upgrades and safety are uppermost on the minds of Board of Education candidates for Districts 2 and 8.
Those are the only two contested school board races in the March 5 county primary, and those candidates are the only ones who spoke during Thursday's candidate forum hosted by the Cumberland County Republican Party.
Political newcomers Chris Goddard and Scott VanWinkle are seeking the District 2 seat now held by Robert Safdie, who did not seek re-election. In District 8, incumbent Teresa Boston is facing another political newcomer, Travis Cole.
All four are running as Republicans. The winner of both races will be the only one whose name is on the ballot for their district during the Aug. 1 general election.
"We have the best schools in the state, and I want them to be better," said Goddard. "I want Cumberland County to have so much more."
His daughter has attended Martin, Homestead and Stone Elementary schools and, as a parent, he said he knows the importance of being heard and working with those in the schools.
Education has always been a part of VanWinkle's life. His parents, Dan and Aarona VanWinkle, are retired educators, with his mother last serving as director of schools. His wife, Christy VanWinkle, is the principal at Martin Elementary.
"I live and breathe education every day, and I'll continue to do that for the rest of my life," he said.
Boston is finishing up her eighth year on the school board.
"I have always had a passion for children, for education and for the love of our students," she said.
Her opponent, Cole, is also the son of educators.
"I saw the hard work they put into the students and the impact they had," he said.
Each candidate was given three minutes to introduce themselves. They were each given three questions, with three minutes to respond to each question. Each then gave a three-minute closing statement.
What do you believe is the primary role
of the school board and what skillset would you bring to the board?
"I have a safety mindset," VanWinkle said. "I understand a lot about safety."
He said board members should be actively learning and be flexible. He's a proponent of supporting the director of schools and working with community partners to better the school system.
"You have to know how to listen," Goddard said. "Take criticism, and sometimes think quickly."
He said board members should be willing to hear from parents and listen to them.
Cole, in his job as the county's emergency management director, has done weather-related assessments of each school, something he believes will help with his priority.
"Safety's No. 1 for me," he said.
Boston noted her experience as a current school board member as a plus. She, like VanWinkle, discussed flexibility and changes, and she stressed the need to keep the students ever-present as board members serve, saying that school is often the only safe place some children have.
"We have to make sure that we send those children to their safe place in those schools," she said. "We love them."
In your opinion, what is the No. 1 c
hallenge for the school district, and
how would you go about addressing
Goddard cited aging buildings and security. He also said he wants to work toward staff retention and track progress through surveys sent to parents and school employees at Christmas and the end of the school year.
Employee recruitment and retention also top VanWinkle's list. He stressed the need to be fair and consistent with all employees across the county.
Boston said a focus on the mentality and emotional support of students is key. She noted that teachers are juggling several roles in some of their students' lives, and school counselors are essential to meet those needs.
Cole said the major challenge is funding, which limits the system on payroll and what can be done for the students and the facilities.
Taxpayers currently invest two-thirds of the county general funds and over 90% of the county sales tax proceeds in the school system. In the fiduciary responsibilities as a board member, what are your views and priorities with respect to funding upkeep of aging facilities as well as providing sufficient safety and security on campuses?
VanWinkle said establishing priorities and collecting data will help track issues while being responsible stewards of taxpayer money. He urged a safety mindset and making decisions on facts, not feelings.
Goddard favors a cost analysis to address safety concerns and study if it would be cheaper to build vs. updating buildings for safety.
Cole recommended assessments for safety and keeping the facilities intact.
Boston made note of the study that's now underway on the school buildings and recommendations on updating issues and making them safer.
School board incumbents Anita Hale, 4th District, and Chris King, 6th District, are also seeking re-election. Both are unopposed and did not take part in the forum
Early voting hours are 8 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m.-noon Saturdays Feb. 14-27 at the Cumberland County Election Commission Office at 83 Northside Lane, Suite 101, Crossville. The office will be closed Feb. 19 for Presidents Day.
Election Day for the Presidential Preference Primary and county primary will be Tuesday, March 5, with voting at all precincts.