COVINGTON - The two candidates for the Newton County Board of Education District 2 seat were on hand at Monday night's forum hosted by the Newton County Voter's League at the Historic Courthouse.
Republican incumbent Rickie Corley and Democratic newcomer Eddie Johnson stated their platforms and fielded questions from the audience.
Corley said his goal during the 11 years he has served on the BOE has been to provide the best education possible for all students in Newton County, and it is his desire to continue to work with the community, teachers and parents to resolve any problems or concerns. He said unprecedented growth in the county during those years, especially recently, has presented financial challenges, but pointed out that the millage rate for the school system had not been increased in the last three years.
Johnson said his 34 years as an executive with AT&T have prepared him to perform well on the BOE. He said he believes there was a need to challenge the sons and daughters of Newton County in order to educate them to take their place in the global labor market and make positive contributions to society.
He said he was concerned about the high dropout rate among high school students and said that needed to change.
"We have work to do. I think and I know I can meet the challenge," he said.
Community activist on behalf of abused children Dennis Horion asked the BOE candidates if they would change school system policy concerning children who allege abuse.
"Would you stop the practice of screening abuse and let them call 911 immediately?" he asked, adding that counselors for abuse victims should be available through the school system.
Corley said school system personnel followed policy procedures in those cases, and pointed out that counseling could only be conducted with the parents' knowledge.
Johnson said he was not aware of the internal process that is followed in those cases, but he found the question interesting and promised he would examine the situation.
On the question of illegal immigration, Corley admitted that students who could not speak English did place a burden on the education process, but said, "These are students also, and as long as they're coming into the county, I think we should educate them."
Johnson said the problem of immigrant students was "overdue for adjustment in terms of improvement."
One young lady posed the question of whether either BOE candidate would consider lengthening school days and going to a four-day-a-week calendar to help alleviate the problem of rising fuel costs.
Corley said it was something the board had considered in the past and predicted it would be a question brought up again as the bleak economic forecast becomes a reality. He said he believes the main objection parents would have to the change would be the question of child care.
"It's on my list, and I think there are a lot of benefits. With our fuel costs rising ... it's something we'll have to move on expeditiously," Corley said.
Johnson expressed enthusiasm for the concept and said he was in favor of the proposal, adding that an after-school program for all students would help alleviate parents' concerns about caring for their children.
In closing, Corley said he had always maintained an open-door policy and it was his wish to serve the residents of Newton County and he would work as hard in the future as he has in the past.
"We want to do the right thing. Vote for experience and proven leadership," he said.
Johnson said he wanted to see the Newton County BOE be a leader in education, rather than following other metro counties. And, despite the challenges the county is facing such as high fuel and medical costs and foreclosures, "We cannot lose sight of our sons and daughters. We cannot stop educating our sons and daughters, regardless of what the cost may be."
He said if elected he hoped to see more benefits for teachers and ensure that "the classroom is given back to the teachers to practice teaching the subjects and let the assistants do the administrative work."
Managing Editor Colin Stewart contributed to this story.