Noted for its excellent schools, Fayette has to figure out how to sustain them in this tough economy. We asked both candidates in the Post 5 race to discuss the challenges, but only Republican Sam Tolbert responded. (We tried to reach Laura Dillon Burgess six times to no avail; she responded to neither e-mails nor calls.)
1. Can Fayette still continue to have good schools in view of the deep budget cuts?
It would, indeed, be challenging to maintain the status quo given extreme budget cuts. The board and school superintendent would need to monitor expenditures year to year forecasting budget models three to five years out based on forecasted school tax revenues. Decisions on expenditures would need to be very conservative and monies saved would need to be used as a set-aside for future year budgets. Creativity on how to get by with less would need to be adopted by everyone in the school system including students, parents, and booster organizations. Can Fayette County schools continue to be above average? Yes, I believe we can. We are fortunate to have parents, teachers, board members, administrative staff, and students who would continue to do their best given any challenge.
2. Is the county doing the right things to continue the historic high academic performance of its students?
Yes, I believe we are currently doing the right things to continue superior academic performance. I also believe that, going forward, the board and new superintendent will be looking for ways to raise the bar that would allow our graduates to be more competitive in a global economic environment. It has been reported the U.S. schools average a rate of 17th in science and 24th in math when compared to school systems worldwide. It has also been reported that there are a small number of school systems across the U.S. that are considered centers of excellence. We need to study and learn from the best of the best and adopt their methods as they relate to the goals of our county school system.
3. Has Fayette overbuilt schools and does it have a good grip on growth issues and challenges?
Based on current student counts, the school system has overbuilt. I believe that this was due to issues dealing with the current U. S. economic condition which caught all of us off guard the past several years. In order to build new schools to meet construction time lines allowing for forecasted student count and meet future forecasted school budgets, decisions were made to go forward with these expenditures well ahead of the current recession. The buildings now exist so the challenge going forward is how we make the best use of these facilities until such time as the student count is forecast to exceeding available space. I have discussed a number of ideas that could be adopted by the school board and the new superintendent with several board members and groups of Fayette citizens. As much as I would like to go into some amount of detail, it would be premature for me to speak out of turn without first formally presenting these ideas to the school board and new superintendent who is scheduled to start in January of 2011.