Brooks, Simpson seek District 2 TCSS seat
Incumbent Brandon Brooks is being challenged by Nick Simpson for the District 3 seat on the Troup County Board of Education.
Brooks is a local mortgage loan officer who has served one term on the school board, and Simpson is retired after serving as a vice president of a carpet manufacturer.
“With all of the positive elements that have taken place over the last four years, especially over the last two years, I just felt like this superintendent needed some stability,” Brooks said when asked why he’s running for the position again. “And to be honest, I wanted to see that positive trek continued. After much prayer between me and my wife because it is very time consuming, we decided to do it another round.”
Simpson said he originally never intended to run for school board, but after getting involved with TRACER and the senior property tax issue, he began studying the school system’s finances and was not impressed with TCSS’s response to the questions about the tax.
Eventually, he said he realized if someone was going to run for office in district 3, it needed to be him.
“We talked to two different people about this, and I interviewed them about running for this office. And we just didn’t seem to get to the right person,” Simpson said. “And it got down to the wire, and somebody had to make a decision. I prayed about it long and hard, and my wife and I both sat down and prayed and prayed and prayed about it. And we just came to the conclusion that it was up to me to do it.”
STATE OF THE SCHOOL SYSTEM
Brooks said there has been a culture shift in TCSS and that he is excited about the future.
“The current board over the last several years has made some very tough decisions, and with those decisions, with superintendents being involved, a lot of positions have changed,” Brooks said. “So, with those positions, those new hires, even at the central office down to building level administrators, there is an excitement.”
Brooks said there is obviously work still to be done, which is part of the reason he’s running for re-election. He said he’s looking forward to seeing how the change in culture reflects on test scores, such as the Career and College Readiness Performance Index and Georgia Milestones. The school system won’t be getting as much scoring data this year, as testing was canceled due to the coronavirus.
“We were really looking forward to those milestones scores, especially in certain campuses,” Brooks said, crediting teachers, administrators and paraprofessionals for the improvements. “But I’m really excited about what we’ve seen out of a number of campuses, from last year’s CCRPI scores.”
Simpson said the school system’s scores are unacceptable.
“I grew up in the LaGrange and graduated from high school when LaGrange City Schools were ranked third in the state in academic performance. And we’re in the lower 40 percentile in the state at this point, and there’s just no excuse for that,” Simpson said.
Simpson’s answer also discussed the financial aspect of the school system, which included discussing the gymnasiums at LaGrange High School and Troup High School.
“There’s just no way to excuse cost overruns that take a gymnasium from $9 million to $14.6 million,” Simpson said. “And the board had a vote on that every step of the way. It was just incompetent contracting practices. You don’t give a price to build a building on something when you have incomplete plans.”
In October 2017, Brooks was one of two school board members to vote against building the athletic facilities at Troup High and LaGrange High, though the measure passed 5-2.
“I voted against the buildings because I thought the price tag was too much. I thought it was fiscally irresponsible. It was not at all because I didn’t want Troup or like LaGrange to have them,” Brooks said. “I want our county to have everything it can have, but I want to be fiscally responsible. And so, I voted against those buildings because of the price tag. You say, would I do it again? If we sold the $9 million project to the community in e-SPLOST, and we came back, and now those projects were $13 million, if they were something else, I would be against that.
Because, in my opinion, that is fiscally irresponsible.”
Simpson also said teachers have to spend too much time on discipline in the classrooms.
Neither candidate believes seniors can get complete relief for the school portion of their property taxes, and it does not affect the classroom, but their answers as to why varied.
TRACER has asked for a complete elimination of the school portion of property taxes for seniors 62 and older. The school board has approved a resolution that will be on the ballot in November that eliminates some property tax relief for senior citizens if passed by voters.
Simpson believes there is too much bloat in administration in the school system and said the cuts could be made there. He used LaGrange High School as an example. He said when he graduated in 1967, there were 880 students and one principal. He said now there are over a thousand students, a principal, and numerous assistant principals.
“LaGrange High School apparently has a principal and five assistants,” Simpson said. “Every one of those guys cost taxpayers of this county well over $100,000 when you consider benefits — every one of them. So, you’ve got $400,000 or thereabout at LaGrange High School right now that is totally needless. Most people say, well, they’re there because of discipline problems. The discipline problems exist because of the approach the administration is taking to handle them.”
Brooks said it’s impossible to answer that question because no one knows what the final impact on TCSS would be, but he does not believe it can take place without affecting the classroom.
“The school system has a number, and the TRACER group has a number. We are going off data that it’s impossible to come to a real number, so when I’ve met with the TRACER group for hours with a number of their folks, and I’ve always said the same thing,” Brooks said. “How can we possibly give a blank check when we are focused on fiscal responsibility? How can we possibly write a check for something we don’t know what that check amount is for, and say let’s do it? That is to me, that is unfair to any candidate to have to answer that question because nobody knows the real number.”
Brooks said he is totally in favor of helping people that need help, and he said that’s what the resolution the school board approved will do.
“If it passes, then we will see at the end of 2021 what that number really is for what we’ve done, for the proposal that we gave and sent to the state legislature. At the end of 2021, then we will be able to see what that number really is,” Brooks said. “We’ve got some ideas of what it’s going to be. But I think just saying you know, 62 and older, and we can do it without affecting the classroom, I just think that is not only fiscally irresponsible, but it’s just not good business.”
EVALUATING THE SUPERINTENDENT
One of the school board’s primary objectives is to evaluate and hire superintendents, so each candidate was asked to evaluate the job performance of Brian Shumate, who is approaching one year at TCSS.
“I am thrilled with his performance. Dr. Shumate has come in under a lot of pressure from the community. And he knew that coming in, he was fully aware of what he was coming into,” Brooks said. “And he has come in, and he has made some big decisions, whether it be at the central office, whether it be culture. But the great thing about Dr. Shumate is some of the things that we would consider — and I’m talking about people that have been in Troup County for a long time — big decisions. They were just everyday practice for him.”
Brooks also spoke highly of Shumate’s communication and his personable attitude.
“I think he’s probably getting some bad advice from those that have been in place for years, and also some community leaders are giving him bad advice,” Simpson said. “I think he views our organization as being the enemy, and we’re not the enemy. If he’s a performer, we will be his best friend.”
Simpson said he could support Shumate as the superintendent if elected.
“Can I support Brian Shumate as superintendent of schools? I absolutely can, as long as he is open with us and clear with us … But it seems for a long, long time, the superintendent has been the man in charge, the man who called all the shots, the man who told the board how to vote. I think that era is over. The board has a responsibility for the success or failure of the school system, not the superintendent.”
Given the divide in the community over the school board race, both candidates were asked if they thought all of the newly elected board members would be able to sort out their differences, especially if the candidates elected are a mixture of incumbents and TRACER candidates.
“At the end of the day, whoever is on the board of education, they will have to compromise to move forward for the betterment of our system,” Brooks said. “You are one board member of the seven-member board. You are all not going to agree on every topic. And it is vitally important to represent your district but also be a team player. So, can that happen? Yes, it can. Will it happen? I sure hope so, for the betterment of the school system.”
Simpson said he absolutely believes everyone can come together, no matter who is elected.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that everybody on the school board right now, all of the incumbents right now, want our children to get the best education,” Simpson said. “There’s no doubt in my mind about that. And that’s the No. 1 priority of everybody. If you’ve got a common goal, you can find a way to get to where you want to go.”
Simpson was also asked if TRACER plans to vote in a majority block, should all four of the candidates its backing get elected. He said they would not be intentionally all voting the same way on everything.
“If it is the case [that we vote the same], it won’t be because we’ve signed some pact or because we have agreed to that,” Simpson said. “The four candidates we have that TRACER has endorsed were endorsed because they’re all like-minded. Do we agree on everything? No, we don’t. And frankly, I don’t know what we don’t agree on. But the No. 1 thing is education for the kids.”
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