CONYERS -- Two candidates for the Rockdale County Board of Education feel that finances are surrounding some of the biggest problems facing the school system.
Sharon Pharr and Darrell Stephens are vying for the school board's Post 4 seat, which is currently held by Darlene Hotchkiss, who isn't seeking reelection.
When asked by the Citizen, Pharr said that the biggest problem in Rockdale County Public Schools is the increasing loss of local control, including dealing with funds, policies and vision.
"(It is) caused by growing governance at the state level and costly, tightly restricted compliance issues tied to federal programs," said Pharr, whose three children attended Rockdale County schools since she moved to the county 34 years ago. "This is the time to take stock of our budget, policies and direction."
Pharr suggested restructuring top administrators, keeping class sizes "manageable" and examining the cost of substitute teachers who are used when teachers go to trainings.
"Hopefully with our new superintendent will come some relief in the expensive upper administration costs," said Pharr, who has worked at Mayer Electric Supply Co. Inc. since 1998. "We can't afford to blindly continue the same direction and count on the local taxpayers or state and federal funds to make up our financial shortfalls. ... It's time to reassess where we're headed."
Stephens said the biggest problem facing RCPS is the negative impact that the current financial crisis has on teacher morale.
"Teacher behavior is the largest contributing factor to student achievement, and if teachers are not happy about their jobs, we could possibly lose a great deal of progress that has been made over the years," said Stephens, who is an assistant principal at Indian Creek Middle School in Covington. "They have had to contend with additional furlough days, increases in class sizes and insurance premiums ... not to mention the new curriculum that is being implemented. These things create the perfect storm that could lead to a toxic and unproductive culture in schools."
He suggested that to help better balance the budget, that the system could build coalitions with representatives in the county and state to ensure they are advocating major income sources like the Quality Basic Education Act funds and equalization grants.
"As a school board representative, working with our (state) House and Senate representatives will be a crucial first step in ensuring that Rockdale County Schools is getting its fair share of the budgetary pie from the state," said Stephens, who lost to Jim McBrayer in the 2010 election for the school board's Post 1 At Large seat. "I would also propose an Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which would be limited to a usage of two years ... to build up our general fund, fund capital projects and pay down debt."
He also suggested switching from hard copy textbooks to electronic textbooks.