Originally created 10/24/06

Hopefuls attempt to answer concerns



AIKEN - Eight school board candidates tackled questions of overcrowding and funding at a public forum Monday.

Public Education Partners, a local public school service group, presented the forum at the Washington Center for the Performing Arts.

Candidates remained on their toes to field questions that centered on immediate school needs, but the 60-second time limit didn't allow candidates to stand out too far from the pack.

Aiken residents posed questions about issues that the school board will face within the next year, such as school overcrowding and possible budget shortfalls from new state taxing legislation.

"We are talking about a massive amount of dollars needed to build new high schools," said Christine Sanders, the District 6 incumbent. "We have to find some way to creatively fund it."

Candidates, especially District 3 incumbent Larry Murphy and District 5 incumbent Tom Gorforth, candidly addressed Rep. Bill Clyburn, D-Aiken, and the audience with a plea for future monetary help.

The district works with $13 million each year for building and maintenance. Without extra funding, the board might have to look at rezoning school populations to cut down on overcrowding.

"We need another high school in Aiken tomorrow," Mr. Murphy said. "We may need to build two high schools. But we need to get away from AAAA and closer to AA school so they can be controlled properly."

In the three challenged races for District seats 2, 3 and 5, no candidate strayed too much from traditional expectations on graduation rates and hiring questions.

All candidates agreed on more advertising for open positions within the district to attract a diversified staff and incentives to keep qualified teachers in Aiken County. Candidates also praised using programs such as career clusters and freshman academies to target students' interests, ultimately raising the graduation rate.

"They have career clusters at Midland Valley High School, and clusters need to be pushed out at other high schools as quickly as possible," said Ray Fleming, a District 5 candidate.

All candidates said that voters must learn more about the candidates before heading to the polls.

"The public needs to know through experience what your record is," Mr. Goforth said.

Reach Julia Sellers at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106, or julia.sellers@augustachronicle.com

THE CANDIDATES


District 2


- Levi Green


- Vicki Simons




District 3


- John Wesley Hightower


- Larry Murphy (i)




District 5


- Ray Fleming


- Tom Goforth (i)




District 6


- Christine Sanders (unopposed)




District 7

- Rosemary English (unopposed)