I took office as a Liberty County Board of Education member in December 2014. With the vote of confidence from my District 5 constituents, I made a promise to do what was right for the students and community members of Liberty County.
I did not promise to make friends. I did not promise my vote would be consistent with other board members. I did not promise to be afraid to make the right decisions. I promised to do just the opposite — to stand with the confirmation of me being elected by the citizens of Liberty County who were, undoubtedly, ready for change and not business as usual.
I believe we are moving in the direction of the change that is needed, despite there being some resistance. With any growth or development, resistance is to be expected because power concedes nothing without demand.
Within the past 12 months, the Liberty County BoE has been able to make some vast improvements. Some accomplishments have been the move to a biweekly pay period for staff, a halt to a seven-year run of furloughs, a nearly expected balanced budget for the 2015-16 school year, as well as currently having the highest graduation rate in district history.
With accomplishments also come setbacks. Some of the Liberty County BoE members may have their own explanations for why these setbacks have happened, but in my opinion, these setbacks have occurred because some BoE members wanted to maintain tradition in an effort to continue to do things the same way they have always done things, and not necessarily the right way.
These mishaps have come in the form of challenges with our sports programs, lack of accountability at the central office, negative budget audits from the state Department of Education — which have often been a moot point at board meetings — a BoE member resigning because of an internal conflict, budget concerns and the recent decision by the BoE to not allow the videotaping of meetings. The last issue is the most concerning for me, as I explain below.
If you recall, before I took office, the superintendent stated that the BoE was in bad shape financially and that several school-system positions needed to be eliminated. During my first board meeting, I voted against a hiring freeze and budget cuts. Yet, despite my vote, the majority voted to eliminate close to $4 million worth of jobs for the next school year because they were told the Liberty County School System would be $8 million in the hole as a result of budget constraints.
Ironically, just last month, board members were told there is $34 million in reserve, and LCSS did not end up with an $8 million deficit as previously described.
Mishaps such as these beg for a checks-and-balances system that allows for maximum transparency and scrupulous public examination.
I believe school board meetings should be recorded in order for the public to be well-informed about where tax dollars are being spent and who is making the decisions to spend them, in whichever area.
The decision to video record or not to video record is a superintendent decision, and because there is no financial impact, it does not require board approval. The superintendent has mentioned via email that there is no additional cost for board meetings to be recorded. She also stated on my radio show that she believed the board meetings should be televised. In addition, the BoE recently approved the allocation of $95,000 for a televised program via WLCS to do things such as televise board meetings and live-stream events online.
I will continue to do the job District 5 citizens elected me to do. As I told my fellow board members on several occasions, the only people I have to answer to are the citizens of Liberty County, students in Liberty County and the residents of District 5 who voted for me. Going into year 2, I will continue to not compromise what is right for what is popular. If you check my voting record, every vote I make is for what I believe is in the best interest of students and the community. I hope all members can say the same. If not, it is up to the citizens to let them know on or prior to Election Day.
I am excited about the possibilities of my second year of service and the great work ahead. As always, citizens of Liberty County, if I can ever be of assistance, please do not hesitate to call me at 912-655-4371.