The race for the District 82 seat in the Arkansas House of Representatives is intensifying as the Nov. 2 general election draws near. Three candidates, Republican Diana Turner, Democrat Curren Everett and Independent Linn Garner, are vying for term-limited Boyd Hickinbotham's seat.
The News asked the candidates about two issues on the minds of voters as they head to the polls. Following are the questions and the candidates' responses:
Will school consolidation result in better preparing Arkansas students for college? If not, what will?
Everett: Studies conducted over the past 10 to 15 years suggest that in smaller schools students come to class more often, drop out less, earn better grades, participate more often in extracurricular activities, feel safer and show fewer behavioral problems.
Academic achievement in small schools is at least equal and often superior to larger schools. Student attitudes toward school in general is more positive in smaller schools. Student social behavior, as measured by truancy, discipline problems, violence, theft, substance abuse and gang participation, is less of a problem in smaller school districts.
Active participation in extracurricular activities is much higher and more varied in small schools as opposed to larger ones. In small schools everyone is needed to populate sports teams, offices and clubs. Thus, even shy and less able students are encouraged to participate and are given the feeling they belong.
Looking at instructional practices in small schools, researchers found that teachers are more likely to form teaching teams, integrate their subject matter content, employ multi-age grouping, cooperative learning and use performance assessments. Finally, small schools tend to exhibit greater emphasis on learning that is experiential and relevant to the world outside of school.
Let the local school boards and superintendents see that they have qualified teachers in the classrooms. The decision doesn't need to be made by the legislators or the governor.
Garner: The most important issue for this election is maintaining our schools and the rural way of life that we enjoy.
The only people I see benefiting from this $380 million tax increase the Legislature put on us and the $3 billion bond issue they are going to propose in the next legislative session for building construction, will be the bonding company and the contractors. You cannot legislate moral character, desire, respect and intelligence. That has to come from home. Money won't buy achievement; only desire and effort will do that. So why are we going to tax ourselves to death and spend all this money?
It beats the heck out of me. Everyone I talk too that realizes what is going to happen if we as concerned citizens don't put a stop to it.
They are proposing to make all school employees become state employees. This will do away with our local school board and any local control over our schools. The State Board of Education will hire and fire all school personnel. The State Board of Education is not elected but appointed by the governor, who in essence will become the superintendent of all schools in the state.
This is not a Republican or Democratic proposal. Both Republicans and Democrats are supporting this proposal.
I talked to a lady who said she is a Republican and was going to vote Republican. I asked her if she was for what I've mentioned above. She said "H..., no," she wasn't for that.
I am interested in what you think. I am not a politician but a concerned citizen. I am not looking for a political career in government.
Turner: Consolidation by itself will not improve education. Consolidation was proposed to provide a larger span of educational opportunities at a better cost.
An increase in courses designed for college preparation would better prepare students for college. How can we achieve that at a cost that is affordable, is the question. Last year's consolidation has happened. We need to evaluate the results. I oppose any future consolidation based solely on numbers. Performance in larger schools is often worse than in smaller schools such as in north central Arkansas. We need to continue with local control over our schools. We are in an age of high-tech. This has and will continue to change the face of a classroom. I believe we have a better opportunity today to achieve a more personalized education with less cost because of the computer/Internet classroom.
I believe the courts have mandated that we study the actual facilities. I believe that we should study the results of what has happened. We need to carefully evaluate where and what the next step should be before we take it.
Besides education, what do you consider the Legislature's first priority?
Everett: We have to find ways to improve government. A government that improves services, expands choices and operates efficiently. When I say government, I mean all state agencies.
I will help to enact policies that will help economic growth and job creation. I will promote policies that enhance responsible business growth for both large industry and small businesses. I will fully support the preservation of Medicare and Medicaid. I will support tobacco settlements proceeds to be used for research and educate our children about the danger of alcohol, drugs and tobacco use.
I will work with county officials, quorum court members, mayors and city council members to improve law enforcement and to have adequate funding for senior centers, fire departments, city parks, libraries, hospitals, roads and streets.
We must look for responsible highway financing programs to meet the ever changing needs of our state. Road improvement brings economic growth and builds tourism.
I will support federal farm and fair trade policies and work for export of Arkansas agricultural products in the global market.
Arkansas is the Natural State and it must remain that way. Not only is District 82 and the Arkansas environment vital to our tourism industry, it is important because it is our home. We must support recycling procedures, sustainable agricultural methods, solid waste disposal and forestry management so that District 82 will continue to have clean water and air.
Garner: The only issue I'm concerned with is school consolidation. I realize I am not the most capable person in District 82 to represent us, but I do think I am the most capable who is a candidate for the position. I certainly won't be offended if you write in the name of a better candidate and he or she is elected.
Turner: Protection of the people. We need to guard their rights and their pocketbooks. Government should become more efficient and look within itself for savings that could help fund increasing costs in other areas. We need to aid a government that is closest to the people.
The counties have been hit hard with unfunded mandates passed at the state level. We need to work on economical development and improvement of our highway system.