Tim Bryant, News Director for Cox Media Group Athens, asked the two candidates seeking Post 2 on the Oconee County Board of Education 17 questions over a 45-minute period in the Republican Party sponsored debate last week.
In the next 45 minutes, Bryant asked six of those same questions and five new ones of the two candidates seeking Post 3 on the Oconee County Board of Education.
Included in Bryant’s list of questions asked of all four candidates was one on the use of Chromebook computers, one on the biggest challenges facing Oconee County Schools, and one asking the candidate’s “world views” on a combined list of what he called “social cultural issues.”
Bryant’s first question of Amy Parrish and Ryan Repetske, seeking Post 2, and of Melissa Eagling and Ryan Hammock, seeking Post 3, produced responses that anticipated others that followed.
Parrish, a Republican and the incumbent for Post 2, told Bryant she wants to be re-elected to the Board so she can continue to enhance and protect the existing school system.
Repetske, running as an Independent for that same post, said he was running for Post 2 because the existing Board is not transparent and has not been fiscally responsible.
Eagling also criticized the Board for a lack of transparency and said she is seeking Post 3 on the Board to guarantee that the Board has procedures in place so it will hear from all members of the community.
Hammock said he is running for Post 3 for his children. To that end, he said, he wants the schools “to stay strong” and the “team to stay strong.”
Although the Oconee County Republican Party labeled the Sept. 26 event as a debate, the candidates did not interact with each other but rather responded to questions from Bryant.
Bryant said “almost all” of the questions had been “submitted through the Oconee County Republican Party.”
He said the questions had been emailed to him “over the past several days and I’ve spent literally several minutes reviewing them for the first time today so that I would be prepared.”
The first 45 minutes of the event were devoted to the 17 questions posed to Parrish and Repetske, seeking Post 2 on the Board of Education.
The second 45 minute-session was devoted to the 11 questions of Eagling and Hammock, seeking the open Post 3 on the Board of Education.
Bryant gave each of the candidates three minutes for introduction, but he asked them in responding to indicate if there is “a particular issue that motivates you to serve on the Board of Education.”
The candidates had 90 minutes to respond to each the questions that followed and then three minutes for a summary statement.
Bryant incorporated into that summary the requirement that each candidate should say something nice about her or his opponent.
The debate took place at the Oconee County Civic Center on Hog Mountain Road west of Butler’s Crossing, a government building jointly owned by Oconee County Schools and by the Oconee County government.
The Oconee County Republican Party had advertised the event as open to the public, though advance registration was required.
I am immune compromised, and, on the advice of my doctors, I do not attend indoor events.
While no restrictions on access were advertised in advance, when at least two people tried to video record the debate they were prevented from doing so by Oconee County Republican Party Chair Kathy Hurley.
Four people who did attend the meeting sent me audio records of the debate they had captured on their cell phones.
Based on those audio files, I have created the verbal summary of the meeting that is below.
I have included one of those audio files at the end of this post. The audio file is of the entire meeting. The counts in parentheses in the text below indicate the location on that file.
Obviously, a summary pulls out only parts of the responses of the candidates, and the best way to learn in detail what the candidates said is to listen to the audio record.
Three different persons who attended the Sept. 26 meeting said about 50 people were in the audience.
In her response to the introductory question on why she wanted to be re-elected to the Board (2:02), Parrish said “It is important to me to support this amazing community that we have.”
“We are very fortunate. We are very blessed. Oconee County is a special place,” she continued. “I would like to continue to be a part of enhancing that and protecting our most important asset, or one of our most important assets, our school system.”
Repetske (5:26) said he was concerned with a “lack of transparency from the current Board” and “a lack of fiscal responsibility” reflected in the “new large Board office being built” and “the property tax increases during a recession.”
“I just feel like the current Board feels everything is fine the way it is,” he said, “and I think it can always do better. I think you can always strive to do better. And I just want to give a new voice to the Board.”
“The Oconee County Board of Education lacks transparency in their decision-making process,” Eagling said in response to that first question embedded in the introduction (48:31). “They don’t have an adequate system in place to hear from all citizens so that all citizens have a substantive voice in the matters of the community.”
“I’m here because I want the Board of Education to put more systems into place where we can hear all members of the community,” she said. “We can hear all voices. All political spectrums. All religions. All socio-economic levels.”
“I would replace Wayne Bagley, who had decided to not run for re-election,” Hammock said in explaining his decision to run (52:17). He said he decided to announce his candidacy as soon as he learned that Bagley was stepping down.
“My decision to run for School Board was not a rash one,” he continued. “I’m doing this because of my children. We have young children. I need our schools to stay strong. I need our team to stay strong.”
Nature of Questions
Bryant asked a number of specific questions about governance and about critical race theory and gender and athletics of Parrish and Repetske. He also asked them the two a general question about social and cultural issues.
He asked a different set of questions about governance issues of Eagling and only the general question about social and cultural issues.
Quite often Bryant varied the wording of the question on a given topic when he asked it of the two candidates running for the same position, meaning they were responding to at least slightly different questions.
For example, when Eagling told him she had four children, aged five to 11, he followed with: “And you have time for this? This School Board business?”
“Are you going to ask the male counterparts?” Eagling replied.
Addressing Hammock, Bryant said, “I think that actually is a valid question. How do you find time for this?”
Hammock said he had time, even with his three young children.
Bryant had not asked Parrish, with her two children, or Repetske, with his three, this question, though he had asked them the number of children they had.
A number of the questions that Bryant asked overlap very closely with ones I asked of all four candidates in a standardized questionnaire I distributed to the candidates on Sept. 11.
I used the responses to those questions to create a Voter’s Guide.
I wrote a post briefly summarizing that Guide, but the Guide also is available without that summary for downloading or reading HERE.
The two Independents also were asked questions posed at a meeting of the Oconee County Democrats, and I did Zoom interviews with them challenging them about their reasons for running as Independents–a topic also covered by Bryant.
Oconee County Schools has a policy of issuing a Chromebook computer to each of its students. It does not use textbooks.
The sixth question following the introduction in each of the two sessions dealt with the use of Chromebooks.
Bryant said the person who submitted the question said there was evidence use of Chromebooks could be a “detriment to student learning” and then asked Parrish and Repetske if there should be “a textbook option” to the Chromebooks? (20:11)
“I believe you can opt out,” Parrish responded. “That is my understanding. I could be wrong.”
“I don’t think there has been an overuse,” Parrish continued. “You need those skills.”
“I don’t think it is a bad thing to give parents options, but as you go into the work force, being computer literate is very important,” Repetske said. If there are other options, he said, he would be “thrilled with that.”
Parrish told me in an email exchange on Oct. 3 that Oconee County Schools does not provide a textbook option.
“(T)he materials are all online,” she said. “If a family does not want their child to use technology, the school works with that family to provide accommodations,” she added.
More On Chromebooks
Bryant’s question to Eagling and Hammock was more complicated.
“Evidently there is some concern on any number of levels, security and tracking and so forth and the fact that students maybe don’t spend enough time as some think they should picking up those things we used to call books. Should those books be more readily available options in Chromebook settings where they aren’t now?” (1:11:06)
“I believe in Oconee County we can opt out of a student having a Chromebook,” Eagling said. “However, if you do that you’re placing an incredible burden on the student and on the teacher who is teaching that class.”
“We really need to keep an eye on that balance and making sure that our education is developmentally appropriate as far as technology is concerned,” she added.
Bryant changed the question he asked Hammock.
“The Chromebook question, Ryan Hammock, and the balance she is alluding to,” he said. “The balance with the more traditional learning methods. How do you square that circle and what should the Board do to try to pursue that?”
“Beyond a shadow of a doubt, schools are very different today than schools when I graduated 22 some odd years ago,” Hammock responded.
“I see our world continuing to become more reliant on technology,” he continued. “Our children learning how to use that technology is a positive.”
Social And Cultural Issues: Post 2 Candidates
Bryant’s question on what he called social and cultural issues was complex and varied so much that each candidate was responding to something at least somewhat different from what the other candidate had been asked. (10:22)
“A lot of questions are in fact going to require, for lack of a better way to say this, partisan answers,” he said to Parrish. “Or at least they are questions that are posed in a partisan fashion. I’m scanning the list of questions. There is a lot of CRT, critical race theory, that is on the minds of a lot of people who submitted questions. A lot of questions about boys, biological boys, competing in sports with girls. There are a lot of questions about LGBTQ and the rest of it. So those are the things that frequently do elicit partisan responses. And with that in mind, let me phrase the question this way. We’ll drill down on some of those as we go through this evening. But Amy Parrish to you, you identify as a Republican. You run for office as a Republican. You’ve been elected to office as a Republican. How does your world view, how does your status as a Republican, shape your world view on those sorts of issues, social cultural issues?”
“I have some concerns about those issues and how they fit in with my personal values,” Parrish responded. “The Board rules different in that we govern as a whole body. No one person makes the decision.”
“The state requirements are that we come to a consensus,” she said. “The School Board is led by what the community tells us to do,” she added
“Your political world view, your philosophy ,” Bryant said to Repetske. “As you approach these issues from 30,000 feet, big social, hot button, cultural issues, give us, if there is one, a philosophy or world view that guides you as you look to answer some of these questions and address these issues.”
“A lot of issues are already established by the state,” Repetske responded. “By state law, what can and can’t be done. Personally, I think it is important to give people choice.”
“I think the most important thing is to get community feedback and make sure we are setting the community standards that are representative of everyone in the community,” Repetske added.
In the Oct. 3 email exchange, Parrish corrected her answer on state mandates regarding a consensus.
“I was incorrect in inferring that the State encourages school boards to vote unanimously,” she wrote. “What I wanted to communicate was that during my time on the Board the training I have received often speaks to the benefits of the Board working as a united Board and not as individuals with individual agendas.”
Parrish said “I've attended required training sessions hosted by the Georgia Schools Board Association.”
She sent me a link to this document from the Georgia School Boards Association by way of explanation.
Social And Cultural Issues: Post 3 Candidates, Eagling
In the session with Eagling and Hammock, Bryant’s question had morphed into this: (1:18:27)
“Very broadly speaking, your own political views, how do they inform your thinking. And get as specific on any of these as you would like. But very broadly speaking, look at it from 30,000 feet. How do your own political views, Melissa Eagling, we’ll start with you, shape the way you look at things like political race theory, LGBTQ issues, boys competing in girls sports, those hot button social and cultural issues.”
“That is a big, 17-part question,” Eagling said. “So my world view certainly is that every single student in our community deserves to be respected, and honored, and given the utmost opportunity to receive the same education as every other student in the community regardless of social economic class, regardless of race and ethnicity, regardless of political values, regardless of physical or mental abilities.”
“Every single student,” she said. “Those are really my beliefs.”
Eagling told Bryant that “The Georgia High School Association has already determined that a student will play on the sport of their assigned gender at birth. I as an attorney believe we should follow the guidelines and laws, federal and state, that have been put in place for us.”
“Oh, what else was in that pack?” Eagling asked. “Oh, Critical Race Theory. I don’t think is an issue that is currently a problem in our school system and within our community.”
“I believe that students should be taught facts, They should be able to be taught how to think, and how to analyze. I also believe that students should be taught how to look at different perspectives.”
Social And Cultural Issues: Post 3 Candidates, Hammock
“Ryan Hammock, that same monster of a question for you here and try to distill it down from 17 points,” Bryant said. “But just broadly speaking, of these big issues that have attracted so much attention nationally. We’ve heard Melissa Eagling say to this point, don’t appear to be big issues in the Oconee County School District. I guess I would ask, what if they were? What if tomorrow this became Critical Race Theory, LGBTQ, whatever the issue to be? What if these types of political divisive, typically left-right divide, issues, became concerns in the Oconee County School District?”
“I think there are two sides to that, Tim,” Hammock responded. “One is I believe every student, every parent deserves respect and deserves to be heard.”
“I believe someone’s personal beliefs when they are in the school is one thing, but I don’t believe those things should be taught in our schools,” he continued.
“I also want to say I’m thankful we do have House Bill 1084 that was passed that restricts divisive concepts from being taught in our schools,” Hammock said. “I’m very glad that that was passed because those items don’t align with my personal beliefs.”
In both sections of the forum, Bryant asked the Independents why they ran as Independents and the Republicans why they ran as Republicans (7:51)
This was, in fact, the first question Bryant asked of the Post 2 candidates (7:51) and the second he asked of the Post 3 candidates (1:00:23).
Repetske told Bryant he didn’t think the School Board elections should be partisan and he didn’t align with either party. He called himself a “political moderate.”
“I just more closely identify with the Republican Party at this point in time,” Parrish said. “We really don’t put a partisan spin when we’re trying to decide what’s best for children of Oconee County,” she said in reference to Board.
“I don’t identify strongly with one political party or another,” Eagling said. “Additionally, I do not believe that any political agenda has any place in the school system whatsoever.”
“I am a Republican,” Hammock said. “I most closely identify with the Republican values. And one of those is fiscal conservatism.”
“I want to be very clear. My first grader. Politics has no business in his class whatsoever,” Hammock continued. “Political agendas don’t belong in our classrooms.”
Second To Last
Just before the requests for a summary statement, Bryant asked both of the Post 2 (38:04) and both of the Post 3 (1:22:49) candidates to identify the biggest challenge facing Oconee County Schools.
“I think it is definitely our growth and how the community changes and deals with that,” Parrish said.
“I agree with Amy about the growth,” Repetske said. “We just need to make sure policies are in place to handle that growth like expanding schools or building new schools,” he added.
“I think one of the biggest challenges we have out there is growth,” Hammock said.
“We have to decide as a county what size elementary schools do we want? What size middle schools do we want? What size high schools do we want? What size classes do we want?” Hammock said.
“And those are things that have to be decided as a county,” he said. “I do believe our largest concern, or our largest item coming up will be continued growth.”
“All four of us are in agreement here,” Eagling said. “Exponential growth in the community is a huge challenge.”
“And making sure that we are forward looking to be sure we’re taking care of the needs that our community has now and what our community values, our community structure, our community numbers are,” she said. “What our resources are right now. As well as being able to look forward to accommodate what is coming.”
“I believe that that is going to require some real introspection into how our Board of Education operates and looking at how we can put systems into place so that we, all residents, do have an opportunity to have their voices listened to,” she said.
Summary Statements: Post 2 (40:12)
“We’ve had a good experience so far,” Repetske said of his children’s time at Colham Ferry Elementary School. “But I’ve heard from other parents that they aren’t having the best time,” he said in his closing comments.
“So I think we still need to push to make sure that all families are included. Especially those that have special needs,” he said.
“The main reason I was running is because I feel like the Board is still lacking a lot of transparency as far as how the processes go,” he continued. “I’ve also heard that it’s next to impossible to get an email response.”
“Even if we don’t win, we’d also push for some change,” he said. “And based on some of the responses I’ve seen from questionnaires and things like that, I don’t know that any change will occur with the current Board without someone else getting put in.”
Parrish said that when she joined the Board in 2016 “I was a people pleaser. Being on the School Board has kind of taken that out of me a little bit, which is a good thing. Because you can’t please all of the people all of the time. I also realized too that that’s not my role.”
“When I went through training I realized that, like I mentioned before, School Board is very different. Part of our accreditation is making sure the School Board is not involved in the day-to-day management of the school system.”
“We have a highly qualified CEO in our superintendent and his excellent staff on hand that do that and are far better at it than I would ever be,” she said. “So I don’t need to insert my nose into that part of the business.”
“We are a very welcoming body of individuals if you will take the time to reach out to us and give us the opportunity for you to have that experience,” Parrish said. “We do value your feedback. And we know it is the reason why Oconee County Schools has been successful and will continue to be successful.”
Summary Statements: Post 3 (1:26:09)
Eagling said that Parrish had listed advisory boards and committees that Oconee County Schools has in place “to hear from different community members.”
“How are those people chosen?” Eagling asked. “Who are they? Whose voices are being heard?”
“I’m hearing overwhelmingly from special education parents that they are not being heard,” she said. “I’m hearing that there are the parents who show up to the meeting to speak that that time is not being honored. That what they stand up to say isn’t actually being considered. That the decision has already been made at that point.”
“I’m here because I see issues that I want to bring to the surface,” she said.
“I want to emphasize I believe our schools are strong,” Hammock said. “And our schools are strong because of our positive educators and our parents working together as a team to help our children.”
“It takes that teamwork,” Hammock said. “Everyone coming together.”
“That teamwork is what we have in Oconee County,” Hammock said. “That is part of our community, something that we’ve had for generations. And because of our children and they are educated is something that we’ll continue to have.”
“Because of that I’m optimistic about our school system, he said. “I want us to continue the excellence our students and educators bring every single day. Again all the while working on continual improvement.”
Post 2: Gender And Athletics
Bryant asked Parrish and Repetske specifically about gender and athletics (30:27).
“Should biological boys, that is to say, boys, should they be allowed to compete against girls or in girls sports in Oconee County Schools?” he asked.
“I am going to have to respond as a Board member to what my community wants,” Parrish said. “What my community says is important to them and also come to an agreement with my fellow Board members.”
“As Amy Parrish, an individual non-Board member, I’m not comfortable with that,” she said. “I believe women have worked so hard, and girls, females, and so many things have been designed to push females forward and to elevate them that now it feels like a little bit of a setback.”
“I don’t know what the solution is,” she said. “I don’t have all of the answers by any means. As a School Board member, my own personal preferences cannot come into play. It has to be what the views of my community are, the desires of my community.”
“The issue has already been decided by state law,” Repetske said. “Children shall participate in the gender that is assigned on their birth certificate. So really my personal opinion doesn’t play a part in that.”
Post 2: Critical Race Theory
“The question of critical race theory, however one chooses to define it,” Bryant said to the Post 2 candidates. “It is very contentious as people attempt to define it and as school boards across the country and school districts and parents and teachers across the country struggle with it. What would you do with it and about it as a School Board member?” (32:28)
“I don’t feel like that’s really an issue in Oconee County Schools,” Repetske said. “If it ever became an issue, we would fight it but definitely just leave it up to the teachers and administrators to handle that.”
“If, for some reason, they are unable to deal with it, state law has been passed recently that I think would help everyone deal with it quickly,” he said.
“We are very fortunate here in Oconee County just because our school system is a mirror of our community,” Parrish said. “Most of the people working in our school system live and have kids in our school system.”
“CRT is not currently being taught here,” she said. “We teach the curriculum. And it is not part of it. So I just think again going back to, it is a mirror of our community and the direction is going to be set by what our community wants.”
Post 2: Redistricting, Third High School, Vocational Education
Bryant asked Repetske and Parrish for “any thoughts on what should happen” with redistricting underway largely to accommodate the opening next year of Dove Creek Middle School (14:09).
“I have not heard a lot of complaints,” Repetske said, and Parrish said she was happy with what the district plans the “school system staff” had produced.
Bryant next asked if Oconee County needed to consider a third high school (16:21).
Parrish said this will be considered as part of ongoing work on the next strategic plan for the schools.
Repetske said it depends on what the community wants “but I don’t think there is any problem with a third high school at some point in the future.”
Bryant asked if Oconee County Schools is providing sufficient opportunity for students who want to pursue a trade? (18:03)
“The traditional college path isn’t for everyone,” Repetske said, “and giving families options is important.”
“Right now, I believe we have processes in place that meet their needs,” Parrish said of the students.
Post 2: Town Hall Meetings
Bryant asked Parrish and Repetske if the Board of Education should hold Town Hall meetings, with or without the Board of Commissioners (22:34).
Parrish said these are not needed.
“I think we have so many levels of communication that people just aren’t aware of,” she said.
“I and my fellow Board members are available at any time, by phone or emails, or meet in person, to address questions or concerns,” she added.
“Yes, I believe the School Board should be more transparent, have more meetings,” Repetske said. “As much feedback you can get from the community, the better.”
Bryant followed by asking how the Board of Education and Board of Commissioners can coordinate their work if the two Boards are not meeting together (25:05).
“There is still a misconception that we don’t get along with our fellow commissioners,” Parrish said. “I know I do and other Board members have great personal individual personal relationships with commissioners.”
“From what I’ve heard the relationship is a little contentious,” Repetske said. “It just feels like there’s opportunities to meet that have not happened.”
Post 2: Districts, Live-Streaming
“You’re elected at large and serve as a post member rather than representing a geographic district,” Bryant said to Parrish. “Should that change?” (34:03)
“The size that Oconee County is right now, at-large is the better approach,” she said. “I’d rather have a community where all five board members are looking out for every kid in Oconee.”
“I think there definitely should be geographic districts on the positions,” Repetske said when Bryant turned the question to him. “
“There’s a chance that parts of the county do not have a voice,” he added. “If you have districts, you’ll insure that everyone has a part.”
Bryant next asked if School Board meetings should be live-streamed, as they were during the pandemic (35:54).
“We showed we have the capability to do it,” Repetske said, “so why not provide additional transparency and active community feedback?”
“I think the current system is working,” Parrish said. “The School Board is a meeting of the School Board in front of the public.”
“We do want the public to attend,” she said. “Unfortunately our space is very limited right now. When we have a bigger space, people will feel more welcome and hopefully come to the meetings.”
Post 2: Tax Increase
Bryant pointed out that the Board originally proposed a millage rate that resulted in a 9.8 percent tax increase and, after hearing complaints from citizens, settled in August on a 4.7 percent tax increase (28:10).
The Board initially proposed a millage rate of 16.25, but ultimately lowered it to 15.5. It was 16.5 last year.
“What did you think of that process? Bryant asked Repetske. “Where would you have wanted to go with the millage rate?”
“I think you just keep it (the millage rate) as low as possible and do everything possible not to have a tax increase during this recession we are in right now,” Repetske responded.
“We did lower the millage rate,” Parrish said. “A tax increase was going to happen because property values obviously have gone up. But it was important to us from the get-go that we not raise it, that we could lower the millage rate.”
“We were finally able to lower it substantially,” she said. “We didn’t do the rollback. But we did lower it.”
“What is important is balancing that out with what our community desires are,” she said. “We heard from people they didn’t want their taxes increased but then we hear on a regular basis the quality facilities, the quality school system that the community members and families of Oconee county want and expect.”
“So it is just a balancing act,” she said.
Post 3: Fund Balance, Hammock
Bryant didn’t ask the Post 3 candidates about the millage rate, but he did ask, as the first question following the introductions of the candidates, a complicated question about the Fund Balance, or the reserve funds of the schools.
Bryant said that some say the Fund Balance is too large, others say it is where it should be. “What is your understanding of that? Where should it be in your estimation?” he asked Hammock. (56:24)
“I hope everyone in the room has a rainy day fund,” Bryant said. “It is something we need to teach our children in our classrooms. How to be fiscally responsible.”
“From a school system standpoint, we’re encountering, or we’ve seen, tremendous growth,” he continued. “When we think about what’s an appropriate Fund Balance, we look at–I can’t say we, I’m not on the Board right now–but there is a period of time through the year where tax revenue is not coming in, so that Fund Balance is drawing down to be able to pay our teachers’ salaries, to be able to pay the staff member’s salaries.”
“By doing that we don’t have to touch tax anticipation notes,” Hammond continued. “The school system does not have to borrow money.”
Post 3: Fund Balance, Eagling
Bryant changed the question for Eagling.
“I’m going to assume that these numbers provided are correct here. The estimated unassigned Fund Balance for the current year is 26.2 percent of expected General Fund Expenditures, which, with the naked ear, does seem to be on the excessive side. And some might say. There is a Board policy, as I understand it, it should be closer to 15 percent. What’s your view on that?”
(The figures used in the question come from a post I did on Sept. 6 on the Fund Balance.)
“The current policy that is stated by the Board of Education is that the Fund Balance, the rainy day fund, should be around 15 percent,” Eagling said. “So the fact that the increase that the Board just approved resulted in that Fund Balance being at 26 percent is a pretty big jump.”
“And it is a little bit of a red flag that they are not following their own policy that they set,” she said.
“So certainly that is something I would be very interested in as a Board of Education member of being sure that the policies that are in place are being followed,” she added.
Post 3: Non-Partisan Elections
Bryant followed his Fund Balance question by asking Eagling and Hammock why they chose to run as an Independent and a Republican respectively. (The answers are reported above with those from the Post 2 candidates.)
He followed that by asking: “Should we simply have nonpartisan School Board elections?” (1:03:24)
“In Oconee County I do not believe that we should have nonpartisan elections,” Hammock said. “I am a Republican, so, when people see that, they know, hey Ryan, there are certain values that line up with the Republican Party.”
“One of those again being fiscal conservatism,” he added.
“In last election, around 53 percent of the people who took the time to vote, wanted nonpartisan elections,” Eagling said.
“In the age of the Internet, every single person does have the opportunity to understand and know what each candidate is about,” she said.
“I don’t have to have a personal one-on-one conversation with each person for them to be acquainted with what I stand for, what I believe in, what I think the Board of Education needs.”
Eagling overestimated the percentage of voters favoring non-partisan elections. It was 50.2 percent.
Post 3: School Security
“Making Oconee County Schools physically more secure, making them safer in light of the tragedies elsewhere,” Bryant said. “What should be done? What can be done? What should be done in your estimation?” (1:05:50)
“I think that our schools are doing a really excellent job with the emergency preparedness drills that they do with the students,” Eagling said.
“The Board of Education has spoken and partnered with the Sheriff’s Department, who, it is my understanding, have really excellent plans in place and that they are continually re-evaluated based on new things that happen in our country,” she continued.
“I think keeping our children safe should be the number one job for our School Board,” Hammock said.
Hammock said he had a “sit down with Dallas LeDuff who runs, who is in charge of campus security.” LeDuff is Associate Superintendent of Oconee County Schools to Superintendent Jason Branch.
“I was just trying to educate myself on what we do as a school system,” Hammock said. “I was amazed at the level of technology and the level of preparedness that our school system puts out for our students and for our teachers who, I pray, never have to make a difficult decision out there on what to do.”
Post 3: Arming Teachers, Hammock
Bryant followed Hammock’s answer with another question.
“Let me get your thoughts on a low-tech solution if you will,” he said. “To what extent should school resource officers or other school personnel be allowed to, be empowered to arm themselves with fire arms? Yes or no.” (1:09:20)
“What I’m seeing out there is our Sheriff’s Department pushing out updates saying we do not need school resource officers right now,” Hammock said in response. “They have their officers dropping in at random times. They’re always within a certain distance of the school.”
“I believe in listening to the experts out there. In this case, its’s our Sheriff’s Office,” he said.
“Teachers arming themselves? Principals? Administrators? Yes or no.” Bryant persisted.
“I have yet to hear a teacher say they want to be armed,” Hammock responded.
Post 3: Arming Teachers, Eagling
“Melissa Eagling, Same question to you,” Bryant said.
“Absolutely the same,” she said. “I’ve had several conversations with different teachers. And the overwhelming response is: ‘Absolutely not. I do want that responsibility. I do not want to be put in that situation.’ And certainly I’m not advocating to arm someone who doesn’t want to be.”
“But this would be among those who want to be armed,” Bryant said. “To arm themselves. I’m not aware of any place that is mandating the teachers or principals or anyone else have firearms. Would you allow them, or pursue a policy that would allow them, if they chose to?”
“I’m going to agree that listening to our Sheriff’s Department and their expertise is the best thing for students,” Eagling said. “I believe we are doing that in Oconee County right now.”
Post 3: Budget Cuts
“Where would you, as a School Board member, where would you look to make budget cuts, if any place at all?” Bryant asked. (1:15:26)
“I do believe in fully funding education, and I believe that involves fully funding our teachers,” Hammock said. “One of the things I would look at, Tim, and everyone in here, is the money that we’re spending.”
“Is it helping our children become independent critical thinkers? And if the answer is no, we need to strongly reconsider our position,” he said.
“I’m a little bit skeptical about the design of the new administrative building that is being proposed,” Eagling said. “It looks like there are some excessive frills included that are going to be very, very expensive.”
“I believe our priorities should be on focusing on the actual school buildings where our children are learning before they are on the appearance of an administrative building,” she added.
Video Recording Banned
One of the persons who was prohibited from video recording the meeting was a neighbor of mine, Brad Cook, who has extensive experience as a journalist.
I had told Cook I could not attend the meeting but would like to have a video recording of it.
Cook told me he was interested in attending the meeting with his son and would like to make a video recording of the meeting for his own purposes.
I told him I would lend him a camera and tripod if he would share the video with me after the meeting.
Cook told me that when he entered the meeting and checked in, Kathy Hurley, chair of the Oconee County Republican Party, told him he could not video record the meeting. Cook said he had not mentioned my name or this blog.
Cook said that Hurley said she wanted to control whatever video was produced of the meeting.
Michael Banks, a student in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, told me he also tried to video record the meeting but was told by Hurley he was not allowed to do so.
Banks said he and a fellow Grady College student attended the meeting with plans to do a report for Grady NewSource. He said they did make an audio recording of the meeting and will use it for a story they hope to publish on the NewSource web site.
GOP Video Policy
The policy of the Oconee County Republican Party since shortly after Hurley took over as chair has been to ban video recording of its meetings.
Hurley told me in June of 2021 that she was responding to “some concerns voiced to me, as the new chairman, by members of our group in regard to the videotaping of each of our monthly meetings.”
I previously had recorded all Oconee County Republican Party meetings or had arranged for them to be recorded with a camera and tripod I lent to another person. Often that person was the late Sarah Bell, former chair of the Oconee County Republican Party.
I had been allowed to video record a candidate forum the Oconee County Republic Party co-sponsored with Bethel Baptist Church for Watkinsville candidates in May of 2021.
I emailed Hurley on Oct. 3 and said I learned she had not allowed at last two people to video record the Board of Education Debate.
“I was surprised by this since this was not a party meeting but rather an open candidate forum and because it was on public property, rather than private space you rented,” I wrote.
“Can you confirm what happened?” I asked. “Also, I would appreciate your explaining that policy so I can understand why you did what you did.”
Hurley has not responded to the email.
As I noted above, after the meeting, four different people who attended the debate sent me copies of audio they had recorded on their cell phones.
I have used one of those versions to create a video, which is below. I also checked it against another version to make sure the audio I used was complete.
In the video below, I overlaid still images of the candidates on the audio track to make it easier to follow the exchange.
The still images of the candidates I used are ones the candidates provided to me earlier this year.
Bryant sent me an image of himself–not taken at the meeting–which I used in the video as well.
It is possible, of course, to simply listen to the mp4 file without watching the video.
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