Do you think there is a conflict of interest with your spouse working in the county office? How do you reconcile serving in the best interest of your constituents in this regard?
No there is no conflict of interest with me being a board member and, my wife, Dr. Sharon Simmons, being an employee of the Baldwin County Board of Education (BCBOE). As a board member, along with four other board members, it is our duty to legislate general policies and procedures for the school system. Obviously, if there is any issue that come before the Board where I have a conflict of interest, I will abstain from voting. As a board member, I do not implement the policies and procedures and have no daily role or input on the operation of the school system; that is the Superintendent's responsibility.
How do you feel the board of education can be more transparent in its dealings? What about ethics? How accountable should individuals in public office be? When should they step down?
Since I have been serving on the BCBOE, transparency has been one of the board's hallmarks. The Board always complies with the legal requirements that the agenda be publicized prior to the meetings (posted at the Board office and the BCBOE website), all of our meetings are open to the public, and all meeting minutes are maintained and available to the public. I am very involved and take great pride in our community. If anyone feels that the BCBOE is not transparent in its dealings, I welcome any questions and I am open for dialogue and suggestions with anyone on ways they feel would make the board appear more transparent.
All elected officials, including myself, have an ethical duty and obligation to the public in general, and particularly to their constituents. Elected officials should be accountable for their actions while in office. The existence of accountability creates the needed public trust and belief in our democratic system. As a board member, I believe in being accountable to the citizens of Baldwin County and that's why I am an advocate for a safe and wholesome learning environment for the children in our school system. I am committed to educational excellence and equality for all children, teachers, and staff of the Baldwin County School System.
Are you opposed to raising the millage rate?
I would need to know the specific circumstances before I could answer this questions. Over the last few years, the Baldwin County School System has had to endure substantial federal and state budget cuts, while attempting to provide its students with the same or higher level of educational programs and a satisfactory workplace for our employees. Even though we have had record budget cuts, the BCBOE board members have kept the millage rate at its current rate for the past three years. In spite of the reduced funding, we have continued to make great strides. I am an open-minded and fair person. I will keep all of my options open and act in the best interest of our school system when considering the issues of the millage rate and budgetary items.
What do you think board members can do to foster a better environment to retain quality teachers?
Retaining quality teachers is an ongoing and evolving issue that I am concerned about as a board member and a parent. I feel that currently the Baldwin County School System has a good retention rate of quality teachers. The feedback the I have received from our teachers overall has been positive. As a board we have the primary duty of creating policies and rules that make our school system a safe and friendly environment for our teachers to work. We attempt to retain our teachers by providing them a safe work environment, competitive pay and benefits, along with providing them with adequate and updated teaching aides and equipment to make their jobs easier and less stressful.
How would you describe the role of a school board member in meeting the needs of constituents and serving the overall needs of the school system?
As a school board member, it is important to learn and stay abreast with new innovations in the field of education so that we can provide the children in the system and my constituents with the most modern and efficient educational system possible. It is also important that I be a good listener and fact finder when addressing my constituents' concerns. As a board member, I do not interfere with the daily administrative decisions as this is the function of the Superintendent. I have confidence in our Superintendent to take our school system in the right direction. Again, I am always open for discussions and input from my constituents about ways we can make our school system more effective, efficient and productive.