CONYERS -- Contested candidates running for seats on the Rockdale County Board of Education faced off Saturday at a forum, discussing parent involvement and budget issues.
Each of the 11 candidates for Posts 1, 2, 4 and 5 attended a candidates' forum held at Bald Rock Baptist Church and sponsored by the Rockdale County chapter of the NAACP, the Citizens Progressive Club of Rockdale County and the NewRock Legal Society.
Moderators asked a series of questions from the audience, and one to three candidates in no particular order voluntarily answered each.
When asked the first solution to improve education, candidate Cornell Brown, who is running for the Post 5 seat, said he wants to look at the value placed on education. He said Rockdale County Public Schools already has some of the best teachers, but he wants to find out why education is cut first on the federal and state levels if it is supposed to be valued.
Post 2 candidate Brad Smith said parent involvement needs to be improved. He said that a lot of parents aren't able to get involved because they are single or work several jobs, so the system needs to find a way to help them, as well as other parents who just don't care about their children's education.
When asked if they will support an increase in educational funding locally to ensure high student achievement, Post 4 candidate Sharon Pharr said no.
"If money were the answer, we already would have the answer," she said.
Pharr said that the federal stimulus money taken in 2009 already is gone, so the next route should be to reassess what the system is doing with funding and to be more effective.
"We need to look at what we're doing," she said.
Her opponent Darrell Stephens said he would if he saw results.
"This is not DeKalb or Atlanta or Clayton, where I don't see my money working," he said. "Rockdale has schools ranked nationally. ... But if I see achievement drop and see a waste, then no."
Smith added that last year he did support a millage rate increase so the teachers didn't have to carry the financial burden; however, the system still took in $1 million less and most residents paid less in taxes. He said he paid residents paid about $200 less than the previous year.
When asked what direction the school board should take to enhance diversity, Post 1 candidate Charcella Green said she would plan to involve the community more to make sure children have a broader experience and more exposure to different people.
"Diversity comes in a lot of different ways, not just race," she added.
Post 2 candidate Tim Williams said he would want to make sure children understand that Rockdale is truly a universal system and they need to be able to compete in the world. He also would talk to teachers to make sure they know the different nationalities of people coming to their schools, he said.
When asked about their opinion of the role of the school board, Post 1 candidate Mandy North said she learned by talking to the current board members and school system administrators that the role of the board is to set policy, approve a budget and hire and fire the superintendent, and they are not by law allowed to micromanage schools or recommend certain employees or contractors.
Post 5 candidate Rodney Fanner added that he would be responsible for ensuring the overall success of students, which would include implementing policies. He also would hope to increase the number of public and private partnerships like some schools have with NASA and STEM now.
Both Stephens and Post 5 candidate Tony Dowdy said they support charter schools that were run locally.
"I have six kids and every single one of them is different," Dowdy said, adding that the Rockdale Career Academy is an example of a "great" charter school for certain students.
To help deter gang memberships, Post 2 candidate Kim Baker said the schools would need to partner with local law enforcement agencies and have a strategic plan in place to "attack the problem." She said she would bring in the community to schools to discuss surrounding issues and encourage community support.
"If you see it, then you must say something," she said. "It's important that we all take a stand."
When asked how to get parents more involved to improve student achievement, Post 5 candidate Willie Washington said the board should develop a plan to get parents in schools and may have to phone, email or visit them to get them in.
"We need to get parents in by any means necessary," he said. "It helps (students) learn better."
All candidates agreed that they would be in favor of uniforms for all schools as a foundation for school discipline.