Bluffton school board candidates discuss next superintendent, budget priorities

rheaton@islandpacket.comOctober 23, 2012 

Bluffton area candidates for the Beaufort County Board of Education discussed the next superintendent, budget priorities and teacher evaluations among other topics at a sparsely attended Tuesday night League of Women Voters forum.

Here are highlights from their answers to questions posed by the league at the Bluffton High School forum:


Criteria for selecting the next superintendent:

Incumbent Ron Speaks said he wants someone with a strong background in education and business sense. The superintendent should also be involved in the student learning process on a daily basis and work to close the achievement gap, he said.

Candidate Geri Kinton was not present.

Budget priorities:

Speaks said believes the school board should have fiscal autonomy, but said that is a decision the community should make. Currently, Beaufort County Council approves the school board's budget and sets its tax rate.

The role of student test scores in teacher evaluations:

Speaks said teachers should be evaluated on their ability to meet the objectives in the subject they teach. Only evaluating teachers based on test scores would be problematic, he said.


Criteria for selecting the next superintendent:

Paul Roth said he thought the $205,000 that former superintendent Valerie Truesdale was paid is not enough. He also said the superintendent should be an executive with vision who "knows more about education than I do and anyone else at the table does."

Bert Walker said he wanted a "leader, visionary and a problem solver." He ticked off a list of questions he would ask job candidates including their philosophies on leadership, management and discipline, as well as their expectations -- and how they plan to meet them -- for parents, teachers, principals, students and the school system as a whole.

Budget priorities:

Roth said his background in business and finance would make him an able steward of a budget. He did not specifically address the autonomy question.

Walker said the community should decide whether the school board has fiscal autonomy. He added that he would ask for a complete budget review, and eliminate ineffective programs as well as review teacher salaries and a bonus structure.

The role of student test scores in teacher evaluations:

Roth said the school board sets policy, and the superintendent is supposed to be the one running the schools. He did not specifically address the teacher evaluation question.

Walker said he has no real issue with including student test scores, but worries that there are too many ways for the process to be unfair. It could promote competition among teachers for the best students, for example.


Criteria for selecting the next superintendent:

Write-in candidate Evva Anderson said she wants the next superintendent to raise graduation rates. She also said whoever is hired should be a "champion for children" and put money to good uses.

Budget priorities:

Anderson said she leans toward the board having fiscal autonomy. Her top budget priority would be teacher salaries, she said.

The role of student test scores in teacher evaluations:

Anderson said because some students don't test consistently, this might be a poor way to evaluate teachers.


Criteria for selecting the next superintendent:

Al Bischoff said children should be number one in the mind of the new superintendent. Whoever is hired should also know how to run a business and understand how to work the system and politics to get the money needed to run the schools effectively and efficiently.

Mary Cordray said she wants a superintendent the entire community could support. She also wants someone who will communicate their vision for the district and get others on board. Integrity, demonstrated leadership and performance are also important criteria.

Elizabeth Riordan said the superintendent should be a "champion for public education, a champion for teachers, a champion for students and a champion for finding money."

Budget priorities:

Bischoff said the community should decide whether the board should be fiscally autonomous. He said his priorities were teachers and programs that support students. He favors a bonus or incentive system for teachers.

Cordray does not support fiscal autonomy and said her priority would be putting money in the classroom.

Riordan does not support fiscal autonomy and said teacher salaries are her top priority.

The role of student test scores in teacher evaluations:

Bischoff said test scores should only be included if the tests are "valid, predictable and reliable." He is concerned some of the tests aren't.

Riordan supports using the scores as part of the evaluation process, calling the scores "a pretty good way to evaluate people, but only if you make it fair."

Cordray said test scores should be part of teacher evaluations, but those evaluations should also include classroom management skills and contributions to the school and colleagues.


Criteria for selecting the next superintendent:

Incumbent Laura Bush said the next superintendent should be trustworthy and have experience working with diversity. He or she should be an educator and able to "bring all the facets of the community together."

Budget priorities:

Bush said she would not push fiscal autonomy, calling it a decision for the community. Her budget priority is the classroom. She also said the district should pay salaries comparable to other districts not just to teachers, but also to support staff members.

The role of student test scores in teacher evaluations:

Standardized testing is a fact of eudcational life, Bush said, and will likely be involved in evaluating teachers. Other criteria should include the teacher's control of his or her classroom, she said.

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at

Related content:

Hilton Head school board candidates talk new superintendent, budget issues; Oct. 17, 2012 " target="_blank">Beaufort County Board of Education hopefuls will campaign as write-in candidates in November; Aug. 15, 2012

Incumbents, retired educator to face off in Beaufort County school board race; July 16, 2012

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