MONROE – The eight candidates running for county commission answered questions related to disparities and mental health in education at an April 23 forum organized by the League of Women Voters at the Union County Chamber of Commerce.
The questions were as follows:
1. Many in the county would believe as though there are disparities in our school system. Do you believe you can address these disparities in your role as commissioner? Secondly, do you feel as though disparities do exist?
2. With concerns over our children’s safety and schools, would you support for both Dr. Houlihan’s school budget requesting more mental health professionals and school resource officers – especially elementary schools if the sheriff’s office requests them?
• Disparities: People feel disparities exist. He remembered hearing someone say at the polls that they were voting for a particular candidate because the candidate mentioned their school when no one ever does. “What we can do is we can always try to include that in our budgeting and make sure all the different areas in the county are included. It comes down to making sure the budget is fair.”
•Budget: Wilson believes in the value of mental health professionals and school resource officers, but he won’t sign off on a budget he hasn’t read. He would go into the budget with the mentality of wanting to see people get resources they want, but in an economically responsible way serving taxpayers.
• Disparities: “I’m sure there is a perception they exist.” He believes teachers are pretty equal throughout the county, but things like football fields may not. These are things people can address with the school board, who in turn, would work with county commissioners to address perceived disparities with communication and real disparities with action.
• Budget: Lucas simply replied, “If the sheriff’s office asks for them, I would say yes.”
• Disparities: “I do not believe that is the role of the county commissioners. I believe a lot of that starts at home with the parents.” The difference between schools comes down to parent involvement. Commissioners can get more involved in the community and encourage educational opportunities and growth.
• Budget: Blood believes mental health and school safety concerns should be considered, but without seeing the financial effects of the budget, it’s a hard question to answer. Being a parent of two children, she understands the need for addressing these issues.
• Disparities: “If we don’t have safe schools, the kids can’t learn.” He is proud to have worked with the school board to ensure school choice, so that students who don’t feel they can do well at a particular school can go to one where they feel more comfortable.
• Budget: “We need more mental health professionals in Union County period.” He recalled a substitute teacher from his youth who also worked as a law enforcement officer.Relying on retired law enforcement officers to provide support in schools could work.
• Disparities: Davis believes disparities exist, particularly when you compare older schools, like Sun Valley High School, to newer schools. He disagrees with the notion that there’s very little the county can do. “Just because the facility is older doesn’t mean that the equipment they have inside is old. We have to make sure what’s inside is just as valuable and equitable from one school to the next.”
• Budget: “Absolutely, there is no amount of money that can be placed on a child’s life.” Davis said there’s not enough social workers employed by the school district. He stressed the importance of having more school resource officers to reduce the time needed to react in the event of a safety threat.
• Disparities: Atkinson, who served on the board of directors for the Union County Education Foundation, acknowledged parts of the county have older facilities, but they’ve got to ensure they have the best teachers. He applauded the superintendent and school board for making sure perceptions of disparities are being addressed.
• Budget: Atkinson would have to see what ramifications this would have on the budget and stationing an officer at an elementary school may not be what a community wants. He has encouraged his 13-year-old daughter to “befriend the outcast.” “We can arm teachers, we can put a guard in every classroom – we can go to all of these extremes – but if we don’t deal with what’s happening in home and our schools, we will lose this battle.”
• Disparities: Simpson acknowledged disparities exist and pointed to home life and economic status as factors. He agreed with Rushing that safety is important. “There’s nine people in this county whose responsibility is to work with those kind of issues, but it’s the role of the board of county commissioners to help prioritize needs that will best impact that and help provide resources for those issues.”
• Budget: Simpson evoked 1990s film character “Forrest Gump:” “I’m not a smart man, but I do know where the smart people are, so that’s why I lean to people like Sheriff (Eddie) Cathey when we start talking about this issue in regard to SROs.” The county has provided additional funding for resource officers. Simpson is not sure the school district is the best place to address mental health, mentioning health and human services as an alternative.
• Disparities: Rape found out there are huge disparities through his work on the school board, noting how children without access to the internet are not able to do their homework if it involves going online. While the school board addresses these issues, the county’s role is the fund them. “Where the problem comes is when we feel the funding is being wasted and not spent in the proper way.” He’s proud the school board offered school choice.
• Budget: “(Sheriff) Eddie Cathey is a fixer. If you give him a problem he will fix it in the cheapest and most economical way possible.” Rape believes health and human services is a better fit to handle mental health, noting the school district would have to hire a couple of central office staff to supervise its mental health efforts.