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By DAMON LAWRENCE
The sports complex at Kingston’s Fort Southwest Point was bustling with activity Thursday evening.
Parents and kids lugging ball equipment littered the grounds, with most bypassing the forum set up for the District 5/6 school board candidates.
The few who hung around the baseball field got to hear the six hopefuls discuss such issues as overcrowding at Kingston Elementary School and securing funding for a building program.
District 5/6, the Kingston district, has three seats on the 10-member Roane County Board of Education.
Tyler Overstreet, Danny Holloway, Earl Nall, Hugh Johnson, Kim Nelson and Rob Jago are vying for those three seats. Overstreet, Holloway and Nall are the incumbents.
The candidates all seemed to acknowledge that Roane County Schools are in good shape with the caveat that there’s a lot of room for improvement.
“The schools are doing great,” Jago said.
“We want to do really great,” he added.
The forum was directed by Kingston Optimist Club president Dave Corum. He asked the questions, and each candidate was given a chance to respond. Corum said the questions were e-mailed from Optimist Club members and parents.
During introductory statements, Nelson stressed her law experience and said she believes the all-male school board should have a woman representative. Nall touted the good things that are happening in the school system.
“Our school system is in a renaissance right now,” he said.
Holloway said he is honored to be finishing the term of the late David High. He added that listening is one of the keys to being a good school board member.
Overstreet said he wants to continue to move the school system forward and be a good steward of taxpayer dollars.
Jago said he believes school board member is one of the most important positions in local government because it decides the future of children.
Johnson mentioned a love for seeing children succeed, and how that was motivation for his campaign. He asked some young athletes in the stands to give themselves a hand for being ballplayers.
“That’s a little weak,” Johnson, a former coach, quipped. “I got onto my teams.”
The candidates answered several questions. The one that has the potential to effect the most people, including those who don’t have children in the school system, concerned funding for a building program. A building plan could mean higher taxes for the taxpayer.
The county commission, which is the funding body for the school system, unanimously voted down a $47 million school board proposal in April.
Holloway said it will take educating the public on the needs of the school system to increase public support for a building plan. Nelson suggested that starting a foundation and soliciting private donations, similar to a college endowment fund, could help.
Johnson mentioned asking the federal government to fork over some more money. He pointed out that the U.S. Department of Energy has many sites in Roane County.
“We need to get onto a few Congressmen,” Johnson said.
An idea that has been mentioned in the past from some commissioners is a wheel tax. Jago said he thinks the public would be OK with that if they see actual construction happening from wheel-tax funding.
“The concern is putting in a wheel tax and they can’t see anything,” Jago said.
Overstreet said the people must let the commission know that a building plan is something they are passionate about. Nall said the school board must be “evangelistic” in the way they go about selling a building plan.
The candidates were making their closing statements when lightning brought the event to an abrupt end. Moments later, a heavy downpour rolled through the area.
The District 5/6 race attracted a lot of people during early voting. According to Roane County Administrator of Elections Tony Brown, 2,852 voters had cast ballots as of 2:10 p.m. on Friday. Of that total, 1,353 people voted in the District 5/6 race.
Early voting ended Saturday. Election Day is Thursday.