Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Of the three positions on the Walker County School Board it appears that only one, that for Post 4, will be contested during this year’s general election.
Unless independent candidates register before Aug. 6 for inclusion on the Nov. 6 ballot, Phyllis Hunter faces no opposition in her bid for re-election as Post 5 representative.
The Post 4 seat contest pits Democratic candidate Ronald L. Cabero against Republican candidate Dale Wilson.
The Post 1 seat will be decided during the upcoming GOP primary July 31 unless independent candidates qualify. That Post 1 primary race is between Karen Stoker, a retired teacher and graduation coach at LaFayette Middle School, and Dennis Willerson, lead school psychologist for Bradley County (Tenn.) Schools.
Stoker, 56, said her election would make the school board more diverse.
“Being an educator with 33 years of experience is one thing that I can bring to the table,” she said. “Being a classroom teacher for 29 of those years is another perspective that I can contribute. The other board members don’t have that background.”
Teaching is something of a family business for Stoker. Both her parents were teachers and she and her two sisters not only chose teaching as a profession, they all married educators and now Stoker has nieces and nephews who teach.
“You don’t get into teaching for the money, you do it for the love of teaching and for the children,” she said. “I chose to be in the classroom and not administration because that is the heart and soul of a school.”
Stoker said she does not have the answers, but the board needs to reassess how the cash-strapped system allocates resources. Board members need to be proactive rather than reactive when it comes to money, she said. They should also explain how taxes are set and collected as well as educate the public as to how monies are allocated.
During lean times she said it might be better to spend money on people — teachers, bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria workers and secretarial staff — rather than things.
“We need to be better stewards of the money,” she said. “We need to stretch the life of physical objects. During lean times, these types of purchases could wait. We need to make sacrifices in areas other than by just cutting teachers.”
A Gordon Lee graduate, Stoker earned her bachelor’s degree from Jacksonville State University and masters at the University of West Georgia.
Willerson, 65, said campaigning for the Post 1 seat is not a spur-of-the-moment decision.
“I’ve been thinking about this for about a year and a half,” he said. “I want to stay involved in education.”
A resident of Chickamauga, he is retiring after 23 years as a psychologist with the Dade County, Ga., and Bradley County, Tenn., school systems.
Though Willerson and his family’s lives focus on teaching — his wife, son and daughter all are educators — he has had success outside education.
“Not only am I an eight-year veteran of the Air Force and Navy, deployed overseas, I was a blue collar worker at Combustion Engineering — I know what it’s like to be laid off — so I understand the needs of parents and grandparents,” he said. “That background means I can better understand and answer those parents and grandparents whose children are being educated, not just educators. I bring diversity to the school board mix.”
Willerson believes his understanding of issues facing parents, students, teachers and administrators coupled with his experience with management, personnel, purchasing and budgeting issues makes his a voice that is needed on the school board.
The candidate said recent decisions to lay off and furlough teachers, along with the school system slashing its support of public libraries, seem arbitrary and were poorly explained to the public.
“One of the things I’d like to do is better communicate how the public’s money is spent,” he said. “That can alleviate some of the anxiety about taxes.”
Willerson studied at the universities of Maryland, Central Michigan and Middle Tennesse and has undergraduate degrees from Tennessee Temple University, a master’s degree from the University of Tennessee and a doctorate from St. John’s University.