I just returned from the Saltillo Community Center where Parents for Public Schools hosted a "forum" between Lee County Superintendent candidates Mike Scott and Jimmy Weeks. I was impressed with the turnout: there were about 100 people in attendance, although those numbers were naturally inflated by supporters of both candidates.
People always ask who won a debate, and I'm currious about what you think. I don't have much time because I have to file a story on deadline, but here are a few of their quotes on various issues raised. What issues stood out to you?
I can jump back in and join this conversation after I write my story.
* Question on long-term and short-term plans for addressing overcrowding in Lee Schools:
Said the population of Saltillo High School will rise in two years from 890 students to 1,100. Said the high school was built so that new wings could be added and several have been through the years. Said money would need to come from local funds and that the district has a bond issue rolling off in 2013 that will allow it float a bond for $23 million that could be used for construction. He said the district has been able to add 35 new teacehrs despite funding cuts.
Said he believes in the short term that the district needs to make sure it maximizes every bit of available space in buildings and on campus. Said if the district plans on the front end and is fiscally responsibile, it will have the ability to expand. Also said public input must be sought before the district consider any reconfigurations of grade levels.
* On improving safety of intersection of Highway 45 and Saltillo Primary School:
The number one concern is traffic trying to enter highway 45 from campus. Need to talk with the North District Transportation Commissioner to see about adding a light or an access road or a lane that would give incomming traffic time to build speed. Saltillo Police Department has an officer there but not every day. Will work with them to see if they can come every day, that would improve safety for students.
It is a problem and we do have an access road from the primary school to Hwy 145. It was built five years ago. We need a loop that goes around the old football field. We have been in negotiations with two landowners for a corridor to Eucatuba Road. They are now asking above the appraised price and we can't pay that as a government entity.
* Both of you have issues that have raised questions about your ethical leadership. How can you reassure the voters of Lee County that you are fit in all ways to lead the school district?
Mike Scott: (had an affair with school district employee)
I have appologized for my personal problems. I have owned them. I assure you that has not affected my job performance. I, like any one else, would not like to have my career judged on one poor judgment.
As superintendent, we have had three schools named Distinguished Title 1 schools, have significantly increased our number of proficient and advanced students, Saltillo High School was a national blue ribbon school and Shannon High School's QDI went up by 26 points.
Jimmy Weeks (a company he owned did subcontract work on a school district construction project):
There never were any ethical questions concerning me until I ran for superintendent. I was asked to do a job, I did the job and it was done successfully.
This raises a larger questions. Character is a big part of leadership in schools. Everything I did put kids first. Make sure our schools are safe and fiscally sound. We put people in position where they are best qualified and not because of who they are.
(Note: Both candidates received applause after this question).
For more from the debate, read Friday's Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.