TCSS District 5 incumbent Hunt to face Callaway in election
Incumbent Cathy Hunt will be challenged by Tommy Callaway in the Troup County School Board’s District 5 race.
Hunt, a retired Troup County teacher, has served one term on the school board, while Callaway, a retired industrial engineer and plant manager, will seek his first term.
Hunt said she wanted to run for re-election to continue the momentum the school system currently has.
“I feel good about the direction we’re heading now under (TCSS Superintendent) Dr. (Brian) Shumate,” Hunt said. “And I think it’s pretty essential at this time that he has the backing of the people who hired him to support him as he enacts his vision for the system.”
Callaway said he ran for the same office eight years ago, and he realized teacher morale was bad, and teacher turnover was high. He doesn’t believe much has been done to alleviate either of those problems, so he decided to run again.
“We continue to dump more and more on our teachers,” Callaway said. “Our teachers are at the bottom of the totem pole.”
STATE OF THE SCHOOL SYSTEM
Callaway said the school system’s score speaks to its current state.
“Well, one thing I said was that we are at the bottom 40 percent of the state rankings, and the state of Georgia is in the bottom 40 percent of the nation,” Callaway said. “So, that puts Troup in the bottom 15 or 16 percent, nationally. That’s not real good.”
Callaway said his No. 1 concern is a lack of discipline in the school system, which is causing issues in and out of the classroom.
“The No. 1 complaint that our teachers have is a lack of discipline in the classroom,” Callaway said. “It affects their morale. It affects their attitude. It affects the way they teach it. It affects the inability of our students to learn. It is a monumental stumbling block.”
Hunt said the school system is on an “upward trajectory.”
“I feel like I think most teachers would back this up. I feel like the overall culture and enthusiasm in the system are on the upswing,” Hunt said. “I think teachers are feeling heard and included, and I just think there’s a positivity that most people feel now that that was lacking a few years ago. I think there’s a real optimism, and I do see upward trends in test scores.”
Hunt said the board has taken several steps to ensure better communication between the board, the school system administration and the public.
“This board has been pretty adamant that we felt that central office was kind of insulated, and we wanted better communication between central office staff and board members. And we took a couple of measures to make sure that that could happen,” Hunt said. “One was enacting a new policy to allow people to comment at board meetings. It used to be very difficult to do that. And also, we felt it was important to get the community and the stakeholders involved in choosing the new superintendent … That’s very, very different from how things were done four years ago.”
Hunt said she wants the school system to offer a wide arrange of courses for students, whether that be art programs or more rigorous classes. She wants every school to have the same kind of programs offered so that all students can have the same opportunity.
“My hope is that in moving forward over the next few years, we can make good choices about the program that we offer to our students,” Hunt said.
Callaway gave the current school board credit for hiring the superintendent, opening up public comment at board meetings and putting phonics back in the lower grade levels.
SENIOR PROPERTY TAXES
Hunt said she was glad the TRACER group brought the senior property tax issue to the school board’s attention. However, she doesn’t believe the school portion of property taxes could be eliminated for anyone 62 and older without affecting jobs.
“It’s in the hands of the public to vote to pass that proposal,” Hunt said. “I think that no one is able to sit back and say, we can cut all property taxes for those 62 and over, and it’s not going to hurt anything. I don’t think that’s realistic. And I think it would have been irresponsible of us to take that big of a step all at once, especially in light of the fact that we’re now hearing that state programs are being asked to cut their budgets by 14 percent.”
Hunt said the board would have to see where the school system is down the road to reevaluate the property tax discussion, as no one has a crystal ball, especially given the current pandemic.
“Ultimately, I’d like to lower the millage rate for everybody. But you’ve got to take baby steps, and then hopefully, you can move forward and help more people once we know that we’re on sound footing as far as our finances go.”
Callaway said it could be accomplished without affecting the classroom.
He said cuts could come in transportation, central office and the number of assistant principals.
He said he’s not in favor of making the tax break mandatory, nor does he think it should be for everyone 62 and older.
“I’m not even for the 62-age limit,” Callaway said. “I think maybe 65 or something or maybe higher than that. But that is not my No. 1 issue. I can tell you that it is down on my totem pole. My No. 1 issue is getting discipline and order back in that classroom and fully supporting our teachers.”
Both candidates were asked about the athletic facilities that the board approved to be constructed at LaGrange High and Troup High.
“No. 1, I look at it as a want versus a need. When it comes to money, we need to look at it as is this a want or is this a need?” Callaway said. “And if we can’t say that it’s a need, we better look real careful at it. And in my opinion, both of those mega gyms were wants. They were not needs.”
Callaway said he thought the old LHS gym could’ve been repaired for around a $1 million, but definitely less than $15.5 million. He said he was surprised the school board let the contractor raise the price after a guaranteed maximum price had already been agreed upon.
“You know what they blamed it on?” Callaway said. “The tariffs, the price of steel going up. There ain’t that much steel in the buildings.”
Hunt was one of five school board members who voted in favor of the gyms, after months of discussion and after the board tabled the decision several times. She cited issues, such as girls’ basketball teams having to wait for the boys to finish practicing before being able to hold their own practice, as examples as to why the gymnasiums are important.
She also said they could be used to host large, region tournaments as well.
“When girls’ basketball teams have to wait around for hours after school so the boys finish on the court before they can get their court time, that’s not really meeting Title IX requirements,” Hunt said. “So, I do believe the gyms were important, and I think if you’re going to build them, you’ve got to do it right.”
She said the athletic facility at Troup has already been popular before COVID-19.
“I was one that voted in favor to proceed with the cost ultimately, although I was one that voted to table it originally. My thinking comes from being a teacher and do it right the first time, give the kids as much as you possibly can,” she said. “From what I hear from the new gym, at Troup, kids by the hundreds are using that facility after school, and the principal says she has to run people out of it at the end of the day.”
Callaway said Superintendent Brian Shumate is an improvement over his predecessor, but he said he doesn’t know him well enough to evaluate yet.
He said he had seen some positive things from Shumate.
“I hope Shumate will be the best thing since grits,” Callaway said. “But I also think the jury’s still out on him. He’s only been here a year, and we’ve had this virus.”
Hunt said Shumate has been cool under pressure from the start and has handled unprecedented problems already.
“He’s doing a great job,” Hunt said. “He has been so visible in the community. He loves to meet and talk to people. And he’s got so much energy.”
Both candidates believe they can come together in a “split” board, involving TRACER-endorsed candidates and incumbents.
“To have a functional board, you have to find that common ground and you have to learn to work together,” Hunt said. “I know for myself I would do whatever I can to make a functional and friendly board because you can get into a lot of trouble ethically if you’re not. There are certain things that people are going to find common ground on, and there’s stuff that nobody can disagree with.”
Callaway said he hopes everyone will work together.
“I can work with anybody. Now, are we going to roll over in and be a yes man to the superintendent?” Callaway said. “No, absolutely not. I’m going to voice my opinion, and if I can get people to side with me, then so be it. If I can’t, then that’s what you run into. That’s why you have a board.”