When Maryville city voters go to the polls this election season, they will see three names vying for two spots on the Maryville City School Board.
One is an incumbent with a background as a builder and former teacher; one is as mother and human resources manager with Ruby Tuesday; and one owns a Blount County car dealership.
While they all have different backgrounds, each voiced similar concerns as reasons for seeking to be on the school board.
Doug Jenkins, 55, who is seeking his third term in office, said his experience is strength. “We’ve got a lot of challenges. We’ve got a new director and assistant director, and we’re going through a major building program. A lot of people have asked me to stay.”
Bethany Hodson Pope, 32, said the new intermediate school planned for the old DeLozier farm property on Sevierville Road came in $10 million overbudget.
“Funding for our new school and the system is going to be a huge issue because of the economy. We don’t have lot of new businesses to get more tax money for schools. I think funding is a big thing for schools,” she said.
Jenkins said the difficult economic times would be a challenge. “We’re going to have to be good stewards. It’s challenging,” he said.
Charles West, 34, of West Chevrolet, agreed that funding would continue to be an issue in the coming years. West said he hoped to help the board be better stewards of funds so that taxpayers would get a “bigger bang for their buck.”
“We’ve got tough issues,” West said. “I hope I can help out with what is already a good school board team.”
Jenkins, who grew up in Nashville, moved to Maryville 16 years ago. He and his wife, Joan, have two children, Kaitlyn, 19, and Ryan, 21. Jenkins, who taught at Doyle and South Doyle high schools for 13 years before returning to contracting, owns Foothills Contracting.
Jenkins said he wants to be part of the board in the coming years as changes occur. “There’s a lot of neat stuff going on. This construction is exciting.”
Pope and her husband, Rick, have two children, Connor, 6, and Mckenzie, 3. Pope graduated from Maryville High School in 1994 and Maryville College in 1998 and has worked with Ruby Tuesday Corporate for 10 years.
Pope said she became interested in running for school board when attending meetings the system held in 2007 to discuss plans for construction to deal with overcrowding.
“I was intrigued. Everyone seemed to be talking about how this snuck up on us. That blew me away. They said it had been so long since they had done a study. At that point I wanted to run to make sure that didn’t happen again,” she said. “I feel like maybe we should’ve seen it before we did and tried to take action. That’s the reason I wanted to get involved. I don’t want my children to be in overcrowded schools.”
Regarding overcrowding, Jenkins said the board has been dealing with the issue for six or seven years. “Mike Dalton was trying to figure out the best way to accommodate growth. We were very deliberate in making decisions. We had several options. It was a slow process. It’s not like we’re at critical mass. We are still in very good shape, and we need to deal with the population we have.”
Jenkins said that because the central office staff was very deliberate, the board hit on the intermediate school idea. “They did a lot of studies on it and had community meetings and came up with this plan. The good thing about this school system and this town is that this was not a knee-jerk decision. They put a lot of thought into this,” he said. “We do make mistakes. Could we have been quicker on the decision? Possibly, but we try to consider those things and move forward.”
West said the City of Maryville has grown 2 percent on average over the last decade. “Putting a second intermediate school on line will alleviate elementary overcrowding. We’ve still got time to go on the high school overcrowding, but it’s something we need to address in the near future,” he said. “The classroom space in the high school is getting tight, and we may need to look at growing the high school in phases to see if we can put more classrooms on line. We need address this sooner rather than later.”
Each of the candidates spoke about the importance of maintaining a good relationship with city council.
Pope said the school board needs to work closely with the city council on funding. “From everyone I’ve spoken with, they have a great working relationship, and I think that’s very important,” she said. “The school board goes to the council for what they need.”
Jenkins said having taught in other school systems and going to statewide meetings has helped him see the real unique situation Maryville has. “It’s a reflection of this community. The people, the governing bodies, they respect and trust each other, and we are in partnership. The school board, central office and city council are partners along with the community,” he said. “No one has their own separate agenda and motive.”
Jenkins said that is why it takes time for some decisions to be made. “You listen, learn and share ideas, and then you process it and make decisions,” he said. “That’s why I love working on the board. I feel fortunate people have elected me to do this. It has been a great experience for me.”
West said “I’m glad to see there are lots more joint meetings and workshops with both boards because school are such a big percentage of our city’s expenditures and getting all 10 of those people on the same page is such a positive for this community,” he said. “I see a lot more cooperation between the city council and the school board in the next four to five years.”
All three candidates say they support the half-cent sales tax initiative that is on the ballot.
“I voted for it already because of the money for the schools,” Pope, who participated in early voting, said. Jenkins said that even though he hates taxes, the half-cent sales tax referendum is important. “I do know this: If we don’t take this half-cent, the state will, that’s the bottom line for me,” he said. “I wish there were no taxes. Our federal taxing system needs to change but, in this particular issue, it’s not about that. There is a half-cent out there and if we don’t take it, the state will, and it needs to be left locally.”
West said he supported the half-cent sales tax referendum to support education. “I’d rather pay a half-cent sales tax. That’s better than putting more burden on property tax payers,” he said.
West said he learned much from watching his father, Steve West, serve as mayor on city council. West said serving constituents is similar to working with customers as he does in his business. “I’m used to it, and I’ll try to be responsive,” he said.
Pope said she wants to be an advocate for the community, the schools and the kids. “I want to be the person trying to do what’s best and keeping our school system as well thought of as it is. That’s the reason people move to the city, and I think it’s important to uphold standards even with the economy and funding the way it is,” she said.
Jenkins said the board is a cohesive group. “We work well together. We are a good group. Right now we really need experience and stability because we’re already going through a lot of changes,” he said. “Because of my building and education background, lots of folks think I’m a valuable asset to the board. I’m the school board representative to the Maryville Public Building Authority during this construction process, and I think folks think I bring something to the table during this period of time.
Pope said many people who have visited her website have asked about Fort Craig School of Dynamic Learning, where her older daughter attends school.
“I can understand why Fort Craig is a hot topic,” she said. “What most people seem to be concerned about is whether Fort Craig is helping with overcrowding. They should help, but I don’t know that we need to change their calendar to do that. I think Fort Craig should be willing to help with overcrowding and, in talking with teachers and principals, I think they’re very willing.”
Pope said parents should be more concerned about from where money is going to come to keep Maryville’s schools on a high level.
“I think it’s appealing to the community to be able to say, we have the choice. It’s a different school with a different style of teaching. I think they’re all great, that why I wouldn’t hesitate to send her to Sam Houston,” she said.
Regarding Fort Craig, Jenkins said every school has a different personality and each one is exceptional.
“I think Fort Craig should stay the way it is. It does a great job and is another of our great schools. Regarding over crowding, we all have to give. The people at Fort Craig have been extremely willing,” he said. “We need to work hard at trying to stop this distinction of giving credit or blame. It is part of our family. If you visit there, you feel like it’s part of our community and it’s a great place and serves a great population. They are willing to do their part to contribute to solutions for our problems.”
West said Fort Craig is a positive for the school systems. “It provides some competition on an elementary level and, as a result, all elementary schools are better because of that academic competition,” he said.
While Jenkins is finishing his second term in on the board, he said what keeps him fresh and focused on the job is that there are always new challenges to address. “These changes are really invigorating and help us learn. Going through the process of choosing a director of schools was great learning process for me and was a great growth process for the school board,” he said.
This is a first time candidacy for both Pope and West.
“I’ve never done anything like this before,” Pope said. “I feel I would bring fresh idea and perspective and try to be more proactive.”
Pope said she talked to a lot of teachers and parents within the community before making her decision to run. “It seems there is kind of disconnect between what the community is feeling and what we’re doing, and I think the problem is maybe the community is not speaking up enough,” she said. “No one ever goes to school board and says, ‘Here’s my problem.’ I haven’t seen that.”
West and his wife, Mary Beth, have two daughters, Elizabeth, 6, and Maggie, 3. He pointed to his daughters as his motivation for running for school board. “I’ve had a lot of people ask me, ‘Why are you running for school board?’ The answer is, I have two daughters, 6 and 3. I want them to have the same opportunities for a world-class education that I did.”