By BOB PALMER
Jimplecute News Editor
Candidates for Jefferson ISD Board of Trustees in the May 4 election faced voters Tuesday in a forum sponsored by the Marion County Chamber of Commerce, the Jefferson Jimplecute and the Jeffersonian Institute.
In the election Kent Thigpen, DDS, is unopposed for Place 2. Incumbent Board President Jason Bonner faces a challenger for Place 1 in Bruce Boyd. Lorrin Minton opposes Place 3 incumbent Bobby Langbartels.
The following transcript of the forum has been edited for space.
Readers can also find responses to the candidate questionnaire sent to all candidates by the Jimplecute on Page 10.
Early voting begins April 22. Questions ranged school finances to “inappropriate” relationships between teachers and students.
Do you support the armed guardian program at JISD? Why or why not?
Minton: I need to learn more information about the program.
Langbartels: I am 100 percent in agreement with the Guardian Program we put in place at JISD. Mainly for not just the safety of my daughter, but for the safety of every student in that school. These teachers are willing. They are not appointed and they are thoroughly trained. We’ve got good people in place to train them. Game wardens are in charge. As a board we want to know that the training is being done, that is being done properly and that they have all the tools and resources they need.
Bonner: I am 100 percent behind it. Our people have to apply for it. We send them through the training. If we are not satisfied or the instructors are not satisfied, they are not a part of it.
Boyd: I’m on the fence on this program. As a former federal agent, I want to know if my teachers, the faculty members, are prepared to take that life. That’s not easy. I’ve done it twice. I want our teachers really, really trained up. I was 19 years old the first time I took a man’s life. It wasn’t easy. I think it’s a good idea. I carry a pistol. It’s our God-given right. That being said. I think we need armed people in our schools.
In the tug-of-war for funds between academics and extracurricular activities like athletics, where do you stand?
Boyd: Academics is my first priority. I played baseball. I’ve always loved sports. Academics have to be number one. That football game is not going to do them any good when they are 22 years old and they are out of a job. We have to make sure we take care of that child’s mind.
Bonner: Academics is the most important thing we do. Are extracurriculars important? I think they are. For some students that activity is what makes them want to come to school. Our main goal is to make sure they get an education. We have not done like many other towns and put in a $5 million football field. We took what we had and worked with it.
Langbartels: Academics is always going to come first. Athletics is secondary. We have to operate within a certain budget. As a school board, our students come first and academics is our main priority.
Minton: Academics is going to be number one for me. I also understand athletics is an outlet for many of our students.
Last year, the Texas Education Agency gave Jefferson Independent School District a grade of “C.” Do you think that is good enough? What can be done to improve student scores on state-wide tests?
Boyd: Our demographics here are wide-spread. There are programs out there. We need to figure out what is right for our community. Grade C is not good enough. I’ve seen scores that are worse than that. We’re in the bottom 18 percent of all Texas schools. I’ve hear every excuse on the planet. We have to be smart with the revenues we have.
Bonner: I absolutely do not like a C. It’s not what I want. You can’t define our kids with a letter grade. It does not show all the strides we have made. The grade program is new. There will be a lot of changes.
Langbartels: Everybody expects more. We want more. It’s my opinion the attempt to make comparisons between districts don’t adequately reflect due to the complexity of the criteria used in the system. Every school is different. Some have an unfair advantage to fund the system. They can pay teachers more and hire interventionists. It’s not the same for every district. It just doesn’t work. I think all the kids in Marion County are worth just as much as any other kid.
Minton: While a C is passing, definitely think we can improve. Anything worth doing is worth measuring. Need to track our students after graduation.
In the last two academic years, a JISD teacher has been arrested for illegal relationships with students. Do you see these as individual incidents or warning signs of something wrong within the district? As a trustee, what do you think should be done about this problem?
Boyd: It reflects leadership. A leader is responsible. We are not paying attention what is going on. Out kids were exposed to this. I found out from the New Diana school district.
Bonner: It is not our administrators ‘fault. It’s society’s fault. Our administrators in both cases handled it right when it happened. I can’t go into detail. It was handled. We don’t sweep it under the carpet.
Langbartels: I think it is unfortunate that one teacher reflects poorly on the entire school. A thorough investigation was done before any decision was made. I feel confident we did the right thing. We have the DA of Marion County going down and telling these teachers that if you do this, this is what is going to happen.
Minton: The big thing for me is the transparency. Why were five basketball players at a cheerleading competition? Where were the chaperones?
If someone wrote you a check for $500,000 for the Jefferson ISD, what would you do with it?
Langbartels: Give it to the teachers. I think the teachers are in desperate need for raises. I think it needs to be across the board.
Bonner: I think we have some real good teachers and they need to be paid for what they do. We also need to spend it on interventionists.
Boyd: I agree with Jason and Bobby for the most part. I would like to see a bonus program for teachers who excel. The support staff needs a raise as well.
Minton: I agree with everybody. I would like to see teachers and staff get a little more money.
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