Fielding public school questions about technology, tax increases, and the teaching of science versus religion, eight candidates for the Oak Ridge School Board tried to distinguish themselves from one another Wednesday night at the League of Women Voters’ Candidate Forum held at the Oak Ridge High School Amphitheater, to a crowd of about 150.
Board candidates offered largely similar answers, with the greatest difference of opinion posed by Aaron Wells. He spoke against school tax increases and one-to-one technology in schools.
“The biggest impact on me growing up was when my teachers gave me one-to-one education,” Wells said. “How many hours a day are kids staring at a screen? It’s too many. We need to do more with less, because money’s tight. We’ve got to get back to the basics.”
Also participating in the forum were two candidates who are opposing incumbent Chuck Fleischmann, a Republican, for the District 3 seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Mary M. Headrick, a Democrat, and Cassandra J. Mitchell, an Independent, answered questions. Fleischmann was not present.
Also, Tennessee House Representative for District 32, Kent Calfee, the Republican incumbent, and Joe Kneiser, his Democratic opponent, fielded questions about four referendum questions on the ballot Nov. 4.
Three seats on the five-member Oak Ridge Board of Education are open. Bob Eby is the only incumbent running for re-election. Other candidates include Jean Hiser, Andrew Howe, Mike Mahathy, A. Paige Marshall, Laura McLean, Laurie Paine, and Wells.
Radio personality Matt Shafer Powell, an executive producer at WUOT, posed questions to the candidates. He asked the board candidates about whether they would ever approve a budget that requested a tax increase from the city.
None except Wells ruled it out definitively.
“A decision on a $55 million budget is not a binary decision,” Marshall said. “It is a complex set of choices. It can’t happen from a fox hole, popping your head up and shooting a few bullets. Budget management doesn’t happen that way. A flat budget can’t sustain excellence, but I think it’s a much more complicated decision than yes, no.”
Wells pointed out that Oak Ridge spends more per student than the national average. “We can’t keep taxing ourselves out of competitiveness. Let’s learn to do more with enough. No. I will not vote for a tax increase.”
In the U.S. House District 3 discussion, Headrick stressed she is running “as a progressive, and also as a Roosevelt-type Democrat,” she said. “We need to address man-made climate change, unfair taxation, and shipping our jobs overseas.”
Mitchell said she is running as an Independent who is young and familiar with technology. “I am very young, but being young has its advantages. I’m energetic, I’m flexible, and I have a very unique perspective.”
Randy McNally and John D. Ragan, both running unopposed for their Tennessee Senate and House seats, were introduced but did not speak.
Early voting runs Oct. 15 to 30, and the election is Nov. 4.
Rebecca D. Williams is a freelance writer.