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Applicants interview with BOE for vacancy

On Saturday, five South Butler County residents shared the reasons why each believed he or she would be the best replacement for Johnny Lee’s upcoming vacancy on the Butler County Board of Education, District 5.

Mickey Jones, Thomas Lowery, Rebecca Oikle, Sherry Paige, Darrell Sanders, and Robert Wasden each provided a brief bio and answered a series of questions from the board members, all of whom were present.

The questions were as follows:

1. This board is a board of governance. Have you served on a board of governance for another institution?

2. What is your understanding of the basic role or responsibility of this board?

3. If selected, what three matters or problems would you address immediately?

4. How would you deal with a necessary, but unpopular, decision, such as the discharge of an employee or school consolidation, that could adversely impact your district?

5. What steps should this board take to protect itself against further proration?

*The first applicant to be interviewed, Mickey Jones, grew up in neighboring Conecuh County. Due to his mother teaching in the Butler County School System, he attended school in and graduated from McKenzie, where he played sports, held office and participated in Boys State.

After briefly attending Troy State University, Jones started a job with the Alabama Dept. of Transportation, where he currently serves as a senior project manager for Conecuh and Escambia counties.

He and his wife have two young children in school in McKenzie, where he is active in the school’s PTA.

“I believe the basic role of the school board is to follow and enforce the policies and procedures set forth and to keep our educational system on track according to these policies and procedures,” Jones said.

“The three matters I think most important for the board to address? First, parental involvement. This is lacking countywide,” Jones said. “Second, accountability. We need to know where every dollar is being spent, is that spending necessary and is it going for the children.Third, we need to look at each campus, school by school, at the maintenance needed to help prevent more long-term damage from weather and age in order to stabilize our infrastructure.”

In terms of dealing with difficult decisions, Jones said, “I am used to dealing everyday with enforcement of rules in our department. You have to be open-minded and use a common-sense approach to look at the situation. What is best for the district overall? If it can be proven X number of dollars will be saved by consolidation, then so be it. Don’t do something that is going to hurt everybody else.”

In terms of protection from proration, Jones said, “You don’t really know what that will be until it is announced. Keep looking at every school in the county and where we can save.”

Summarizing his reasons for seeking appointment, Jones said, “This is a decision I haven’t taken lightly. I was asked if I would consider it, and I decided this is where I wanted to be. I am making a commitment to the community to be honest, dedicated, and open-minded to policies and procedures. I support our superintendent and I am passionate about our kids.”

*The second applicant, former business owner, Thomas Lowery, is a graduate of Georgiana High School. He has three adult children who graduated from Georgiana, and six children in public school in the county, along with a daughter- and son-in-law employed in the system.

Lowery said he had not been involved in recent years with the school system, although he had been part of the Quarterback Club and PTA in the past and worked with the city’s youth programs.

“I’m on disability, I don’t work and I have the time to be available anytime, anywhere you need me. I interested in the schools again because of my grandchildren,” Lowery said.

In terms of board responsibilities, Lowery said, “To do whatever is needed for the betterment of our school system. I want to be a good go-between with teachers, parents and the superintendent.”

Lowery professed he did not feel comfortable tackling important issues to be addressed by the board, saying, “I would hate to say something I am not sure about.”

Regarding possible school consolidations, Lowery said, “I am against any school consolidation. I have heard a lot of talk about McKenzie consolidating. That school IS McKenzie. I am not in favor of that.”

In terms of proration, Lowery said he didn’t know enough to speak about it, adding any cuts made should not hurt the children’s education.

*Rebecca Oikle, the third applicant, is a graduate of Georgiana, with two children in the system and one, a graduate now attending the University of Alabama.

After years working in various sewing mills and then returning to school for secretarial training, Oikle completed her AA degree at LBW Community College and her BA in business administration at Faulkner. She is currently employed by Debbie’s Tax Service.

“I see the basic role of the board as seeing our children receive the best education and digging to find the most ethical, most legal avenues to make this happen,” Oikle said.

Oikle’s choice for the number one matter to be addressed by the board: “Community involvement.”

“We have to make parents realize they have a responsibility to their children. McKenzie has a strong parental support base; it’s very low in Georgiana,” Oikle said.

“And that is something that really needs to be addressed. We need to get teachers and counselors to help push our kids to do what they need to do.”

In terms of difficult decisions, “You have to do what is best for the system,” Oikle said.

“Dismissing someone, closing a school-those should be last resorts. But sometimes, those things have to be done, and you have to be the one to do it.”

Oikle said she was not sure what steps should be taken to combat proration, saying, “If there is anything wasteful, obviously, that should be the first to go. But I can’t answer that one hundred percent.”

*Sherry Paige, the fourth applicant to be interviewed, is currently an office clerk for the City of Georgiana. A 1990 graduate of Georgiana, she is the mother of three children in the system and active with the children’s activities at the school, including serving as treasurer of the Quarterback Club.

“The role of the board is to govern policies for the school system, to plan the budget, to evaluate the superintendent’s performance and to keep the best interest of the school system at heart,” Paige said.

Paige said the board should be looking into new programs to improve reading and work on behavioral issues to keep problems at a minimum. She also advocated seeking more funding avenues and/or better utilization of the funding available.

“As far as difficult decisions go, if it’s in the best interest of our school system, well, it has to be done,” Paige said.

To combat proration, Paige suggested cutting some jobs might be necessary, along with consolidating programs and creating new programs that better utilize monies.

*Darrell Sanders, a 1980 Georgiana graduate and self-employed brick mason, has worked with the school system and area youth through sports programs in Georgiana and Greenville.

“I see people from one end of the county to the other. People have gotten separated over what has happened in our schools. The south end hasn’t been involved and it’s time for us to get involved,” Sanders said.

In terms of the board’s role, Sanders said he believed it was to see through the financing of the school system and to see the children educated to the highest level.

“As far as the biggest issue, I am not as up to date as all of you, but I would say funding is the number one thing. I would have to be more informed,” Sanders said.

When dealing with a negative or unpopular decision as a board member, Sanders said he would want to “sit down and be absolutely sure in my heart and mind. And make sure you inform the school and the public why you are making this decision-for example, the changing of the name of the school in Georgiana.”

In terms of proration, “if the money isn’t there, it’s not there,” Sanders said. “Proration comes down from the state level, and you have to do what you have to do. Even if it means closing schools.”

*Robert “Bobby” Wasden, a retired educator, is a 1956 graduate of Georgiana with degrees from Auburn and Montevallo. He worked as a teacher and coach in Georgiana for 15 years.

“The school board’s basic aim should be to build this system into one of the best in Alabama,” Wasden said.

Concerning matters needing attention, Wasden said dealing with the economy and keeping the students equipped with their educational needs should be the main concerns.

In terms of difficult matters such as school consolidations, Wasden said, “If you are going to take a school away from a community, you have to give them a really good reason. I’ve been making tough decisions all my life and I can do this.”

Wasden said, in terms of proration, the federal government needed to balance the budget and schools needed to recognize “you cannot spend what you do not have.”

The five board members rated each of the applicants on a scale of 1 to 4, 1 being “fair” and 4 being “excellent.” Their choice for the District 5 vacancy will be announced at the November 18 board meeting, set for 6 p.m. at the Central Office Boardroom.