The two candidates seeking the Republican Party nomination for Post 3 on the Oconee County Board of Education in the June 21 runoff election agree that School Board openings should be filled by voters, not internally by the Board, as is the case at present.
They also think older citizens should get a break on their school taxes and that School Board elections should remain partisan and at-large, rather than by district.
And both said that the School Board should hold Town Hall meetings, which it has refused to do, and that they are in favor of live-streaming Board meetings, which it does not do at present.
In responses to 16 questions on these and a variety of other topics, Ryan Hammock and Julie Mauck agreed more than they disagreed.
They differed most in terms of what they said they would bring to the Board if elected.
Mauck said she would bring more than 10 years of experience “studying what’s going on in American public education” and “watching the changes in education policy, curriculum, and standards, which I believe have contributed to the demise in education today.”
Hammock said he would bring his skills in “strategic leadership,” his “work ethic,” and his expertise in finance. He said the growing number of capital projects before the Board will require his type of “fiscal conservatism” so spending is “solely focused on educating our children.”
Each made a case for being selected by Republican voters in the June 21 runoff election, for which early voting starts on Monday.
Responses To Questions
I sent Hammock and Mauck an email message early in the afternoon of June 1 asking them if they would respond to 16 questions I had attached to the email.
I told them I would write a blog post summarizing their answers, and that I would provide the questions and answers in their entirety with the post.
I asked them if they could meet a deadline of June 6.
Both responded affirmatively within a half hour of my June 1 request, and each returned the answers by the end of the day on June 5.
Both Mauck and Hammock answered each of the questions, many in detail.
What follows is a summary of and excerpts from the responses of the two candidates.
Links to the full texts of the answers by both of the candidates are at the bottom of this post.
First Three Questions
I asked three general questions before turning to questions on specific issues, and the three initial questions produced the biggest differences in responses.
“My wife and I believe supporting and advocating for our children are the best actions we (or any parent) can take,” Hammock said in response to my first question, asking why he wanted to be elected to the Board of Education.
“I want to continue building on the foundation of educational excellence that teams of Oconee County Citizens have been laying for years,” he continued.
“Working on behalf of Oconee County will allow me to continue our community’s strong sense of commitment to educational excellence, entrepreneurship, and passion for strong families and exceptional education,” he said.
“I would like to be elected to the Oconee County Board of Education because I’ve spent the last 10+ years studying what’s going on in American public education,” Mauck wrote,
Mauck said “I love Oconee County and would like to put that knowledge to work for our families and children.”
“It’s past time for parents to check back into our schools and have a voice on the School Board in those decisions that affect the education and well-being of our children.”
In response to a question about skills sets, experiences, and expertise that she would bring to the Board, Mauck said again said she had “spent the last 10+ years studying what’s going on in American public education” and “the last 25+ years parenting my own four children.”
She also said she is a trained and experienced paralegal, has spent over a decade in financial services, and almost 20 years in real estate.
Each of these work experiences give her skills that she will use on the Board, she said. Included are understanding policy and legislation, budgeting, and “the real estate market and growth that will affect our enrollment,” she said.
Hammock said he has been a banker since 2004, is a fourth generation farmer, and has expertise in finance.
From these experiences, he said, he has gained expertise in strategic leadership, has developed a strong work ethic, and has gained a sense of fiscal conservatism.
He said his leadership skills will be “important when listening to Oconee County citizens” and “holding our Superintendent accountable” to a strategic plan and the “overall culture demanded by Oconee County citizens.”
Criticism Of Board
I asked if “there any criticisms that you can offer of the current Board? If so what are they, and how would you address them?”
“I have concerns about the scope of the new school administration building,” Hammock said, referring to the plans for a $12.8 million New Instructional Support Center planned for construction in 2023.
“We have numerous aging schools with a list of needed improvements,” he continued.
Hammock also said teachers need additional compensation and resources to aid them in their teaching.
“Parents can feel lost when it comes to understanding their child's curriculum and understanding what their child is being taught,” Hammock said, and he called for more communication with parents to address that problem.
“I have attended many Board of Education meetings, and I have a great deal of respect for our current Board,” Mauck said in response to the question. “I know it’s not an easy job.”
“However, I haven’t seen many difficult questions asked by them, and they all seem to be of the same mindset that whatever Superintendent Branch says goes,” she said, referring to Superintendent Jason Branch.
Mauck said she would like to have seen more research put into “the elimination of textbooks and adoption of 1:1 Google Chromebooks” and to “implementation of Social Emotional Learning in our classrooms.”
She also said she has been disappointed in the “lack of responsiveness to parents’ inquiries” and that if elected, “I will see to it that the research gets done, the questions get asked, and the parents and taxpayers have a voice.”
Who’s Better Candidate?
Mauck said she was the better candidate to be the Republican Party nominee for Post 3 on the Board of Education “because I have been active and involved in the public school system throughout my 25+ years of parenting.”
“For several years, I have been active with the Republican Party and other organizations that educate and empower conservatives to get policy enacted that represents our values,” Mauck said.
“My opponent just joined the Oconee County Republican Party this year, and local Democrat activists are openly supporting his campaign,” Mauck wrote.
“I am also self-employed and am committed to putting my career on hold so that I can focus on the role that my constituents elect me to do,” she said.
Hammock said he is the better candidate because “I enjoy working with a team. As a School Board member the team will center on the Citizens and Children of Oconee County.”
“The best teams constructively critique and work to enhance the overall health of the organization which they support,” Hammock wrote. “I believe in holding teammates accountable and expect I will be held accountable.”
“Once elected I will represent all Oconee County citizens, not special interest groups from outside of Oconee County,” he said.
“While on the campaign trail I have shown my willingness to talk with anyone coming to me with questions,” he concluded.
Relationship Between Boards
I asked the two candidates what they would do to improve the relationship between the Board of Education and Board of Commissioners.
“I would first listen, as I have been doing in my discussions with current Commissioners and School Board members,” Hammock said. “I have heard positivity in those discussions from members of each Board.”
“Once elected, I believe coordination between the two Boards is paramount in protecting our local community culture from the rapidly growing metropolitan Atlanta area,” Hammock wrote.
“I will continue the conversations I have had with various Commissioners and partner together whenever possible,” he said.
Mauck gave a brief response, saying “I have already reached out to and met with some members of the Board of Commission, and I intend to continue and expand that open communication.”
“Oconee County taxpayers deserve to have the benefit of discussion and exchange of information between all elected officials that have an interest in our schools and this county’s growth,” Mauck continued.
The Oconee County Republican Party put four items on the May 24 Republican Party Primary Ballot that dealt with the Board of Education.
I asked both Mauck and Hammock to indicate their reactions to the outcome of each of the questions.
More than 90 percent of the Republican voters who answered the question said citizens should have the opportunity to vote on vacancies on the Board of Education.
Both Mauck and Hammock made reference to the background of this question.
At present, using authorization approved by voters in 1964, the Board fills vacancies, regardless of when they occur, by appointment.
Usually, it seeks public input, but it did not do so in September of 2021, when Board Chair Tom Odom resigned and Kim Argo was promoted internally to replace him. Wayne Bagley was added to the Board, which did not allow application for the opening.
In 1992, voters across the state approved a Constitutional Amendment that would require the Board to fill vacancies by special election unless they occurred less than 90 days before a term ended. If the vacancy occurred less than 90 days before the term expired, the Board could name a replacement.
The 1992 Amendment did not supersede the 1964 Oconee County authorization, which also was in the state Constitution.
Mauck said she agreed with the voters that “Board of Education representatives should be elected.”
“As elections do cost the taxpayers money, I would recommend that the Board put together a policy that is in line with the Georgia constitution,” Mauck said, referring to the 1992 Constitutional Amendment.
“Oconee County voters should be allowed to choose their own replacement representative via a special election for anything outside of that 90 day period,” she said.
If elected, she said, “I would draft a policy outlining same and request that it be put up for consideration by the Board and voted upon.” That request would then have to go the area legislators for action.
Hammock said he had been encouraged to seek a slot on the Board of Education when Odom resigned in 2021.
“While the opportunity to run in 2021 wasn’t available, fortunately those conversations led to many conversations between my Wife and I which allowed for me to make a quick decision to run this year,” Hammock said.
“I believe strongly in our electoral process, and that the Citizens of Oconee County want their voices heard,” he continued.
“Once elected, as one member of the School Board, I will advocate for a special election in the event of a School Board vacancy,” Hammock said.
The Oconee County Republican Party asked voters using the Republican Party Ballot if they approved of a tax break for persons more than 70 years in age, and nearly 90 percent of the respondents said they did.
|Hammock With Family|
“I believe those over 70 should not have the same millage rate as those younger than 70,” Hammock said in his short answer. “I would advocate for those over 65 to have reduced school tax millage rates.”
“Senior citizens, who tend to be on a fixed income, have been particularly hurt by the exorbitant increase in property taxes,” Mauck said, “and with the volatile economy and record-breaking inflation of the current administration.”
“I strongly agree with the proposal for a school tax reduction for persons over the age of 70 in Oconee County,” she wrote.
“As putting this on a ballot for a voter referendum is a legislative matter, I will work with our State House Representatives Wiedower and Gaines and State Senator Cowsert to get a bill passed in the next legislative session that would enable the voters of Oconee County to vote to enact the reduction for seniors locally.”
The reference is to Rep. Marcus Wiedower and Rep. Houston Gaines and Sen. Bill Cowsert, who represent Oconee County in the legislature and are the Republican Party nominees for re-election to those offices.
More than 40 percent of Oconee County Republican voters, and about half of voters in the primaries of the two parties combined, favored non-partisan elections for the Board of Education.
More than 40 percent of the Oconee County Republican voters were in favor of election by District, rather than at large. If Democratic votes are included, just less than 50 percent were in favor of districts.
I asked the candidates “how they would respond to the sentiments of the voters?”
“I agree with the majority of Republicans who believe that the Board of Education elections should remain partisan,” Mauck said. “ Partisan elections provide for a quick snapshot of which party’s values a candidate subscribes to, as they are vetted and take an oath to that party before qualifying to run.”
“I agree with the voters that these elected positions should be kept at-large,’ she said. “Typically, the votes taken by both the School Board and County Commission and the related expenditures, affect the entire county and not just a specific region of the county.”
“I believe politics has no place in my child’s classroom and our county’s children are most successful when all parents work together with our teachers.,” Hammock said. “A partisan election allows those Citizens who are unsure of a candidate’s core values (i.e. fiscal conservatism), to have some idea of where that candidate stands.”
“I believe at-large local elections will best protect our county’s commitment to responding to all county needs,” Hammock said. “If a Commissioner is primarily responsible for their Post, they have little incentive to advocate for a different parts of the county.”
Live-Streaming, Citizen Comment
I asked if the candidates approved of the decision of the Board of Education not to live stream its meetings and of its policy of restricting citizen comment to its Regular meetings, at which citizens are given three minutes to address the Board.
“I have yet to hear why the meetings are not live-streamed but posted online after the meeting,” Hammock said. “Based on the information I have at this time, I see no reason not to live stream the meetings.”
“The School Board is employed by the Oconee County Citizens and should always be responsive to Oconee County Citizens,” Hammock said in response to the second question. “The ability to speak at School Board meetings is one way to publicly share comments.”
“I encourage these Citizens to share their concerns with School Board members prior to work sessions or regular meetings,” he continued. “In this way their individual concerns may be resolved with staff expeditiously, with continued Board involvement.”
“While I would love for the School Board to live-stream meetings,” Mauck said, “this is also something that any citizen could take upon themselves, and the meetings are open to the public.”
“If it was voted on and the expenditures to make live-streaming the meetings were appropriate, I would vote to get it done,” she added.
“I approve of the policy to only permit citizen comment at regular meetings,” Mauck said. “The purpose of the work sessions, which are available to the public to attend, is for the School Board to review and hash out the issues before them.”
“What I would like to see, however,” Mauck said, “is for there to be a sincere attempt on the part of the Board members to listen to the citizen comments with the respect that they deserve and give them some honest consideration prior to voting (which should, at times, require them to table a vote and go back to work).”
Town Hall Meetings
I asked Mauck and Hammock if they approved of the decision the Board of Education not to hold Town Hall meetings and to decline holding joint Town Hall meetings with the Board of Commissioners.
|Mauck With Family|
“I think that the Board of Education should absolutely hold open or Town Hall style meetings with the public, and I would be in favor of joint Town Hall meetings with the Board of Commissioners,” Mauck said.
“I will do my best to make the Board of Education understand why this is so important and volunteer to attend the meetings myself,” she added.
“I support a town hall meeting with only the School Board or jointly with the Board of Commissioners,” Hammock said.
“If elected, I would encourage the School Board to participate in these types of public events,” he added.
During the last school year, when only in-person instruction was offered, Oconee County Schools released to the public only the number of Active Cases of COVID-19 in the school system each week.
A group of parents each week filed an open records request to learn how many cases had been reported, where those cases had occurred, and whether they involved students or staff. The group shared that information with the public.
I asked Hammock and Mauck if they approved of the policy of the Board.
“I support how the current Board and Administration managed the School System from the early days of the Pandemic to today,” Hammock said in his single-sentence response.
“I approve of Oconee County Schools’ policy to release only the number of Active Cases each week,” Mauck said. “It is an institution of education and academic learning and not a health institute.”
“Too much information being provided could be construed as a violation of privacy, and parents always had the option for their children to stay home and participate virtually if they were considered at-risk or if they felt unsafe,” she said.
Reaching Out To Citizens
Only about 40 percent of the households in the county have a child in Oconee County Schools, based on data given me by Oconee County Schools and data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
I asked Mauck and Hammock what policies they would advocate, if any, to reach out to the 60 percent of the households not directly connected to the schools but which are paying to support them?
“Every taxpayer that lives in Oconee County is able to vote for the Board of Education and legislative representatives that affect education in our country, state, district, and county,” Mauck said. “Their voices are necessary and appreciated.”
“I intend to keep all residents of Oconee County informed and to respect their input and participation without regard to whether or not they have children in our public schools,” she added.
“I venture to say many others have grandchildren, nieces/nephews or other family members who benefit from the best schools in the country,” Hammock said.
“I have met and talked with numerous multigenerational Oconee County families who take pride in the education their family members receive in Oconee County Schools,” he added.
Oconee County Schools, based on a policy implemented by the Board of Education in 2020, charges the Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department for use of school sports facilities.
The county does not charge Oconee County Schools for use of county sports facilities.
I asked Hammock and Mauck for their opinions on the School Board policy.
“The same taxpayers cover the expenses,” Hammock said. “I believe coordination between all agencies best benefits the Citizens and Children of Oconee County.”
“I would work with other School Board members and the County Commissioners in an attempt to find a way to maximize athletic facilities for our residents,” he said.
“I have heard about this and, at face value, I think it’s an unfair policy,” Mauck said, “but I would need more information to make a decision about whether or not it’s appropriate.”
“It's unfortunate that, at the end of the day, it’s the children who just want to play sports and the taxpayers that pay the price,” she added.
Board And Superintendent
I asked Mauck and Hammock, as my final question, to offer their views of the proper relationship between the Board of Education and the Superintendent.
“The School Superintendent is hired by the School Board on behalf of the Oconee County taxpayers to manage all facets of the school system as directed by state and federal legislation and the School Board as representatives of the taxpayers,” Mauck said.
“It is essentially an employer (School Board) / employee (Superintendent) relationship,” she added.
“The Board of Education serves on behalf of Oconee County Citizens,” Hammock wrote. “The Board of Education is responsible for listening to Oconee County Citizens in the creation of policy and selection of curriculum.”
“The Superintendent serves as the chief education officer and is the sole employee of the School Board,” Hammock continued.
“The Superintendent and School Board form a Governance Team,” he wrote. “The Superintendent provides professional guidance and School Board Members consider his or her recommendations along with professional insight and experience they bring to the process.”
“The Superintendent is responsible for the implementation of Board Policies,” Hammock said.
Early voting for the June 21 runoff also will be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on June 13 to 17 at the Oconee County Office of Elections and Registration, 10 Court Street, across from the Courthouse in downtown Watkinsville.
The deadline for applying for an absentee ballot is June 10, and ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. on June 21.
Application information is available HERE.
Election Day voting will be from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Oconee County’s eight precinct polling locations.
Voters who used the Republican Ballot on May 24 or who used the Non-Partisan Ballot may vote in the Republican Runoff, including for Hammock or Mauck. The only other race on the ballot will for U.S. House District 10.
Registered voters who did not vote in the May 24 Primary also may use the Republican Ballot in the June 21 Runoff.
The Democratic ballot contains no local races. It does include a runoff in the U.S. House District 10 race and for several state offices, including for Lieutenant Governor and Secretary of State.
The full text of Mauck’s comments is downloadable HERE.
The full text of Hammock’s comments is downloadable HERE.