Loudon candidates stress schools at forum Hopefuls differ over ways to fund building program

Hugh G. Willett knoxnews.com
LENOIR CITY - The need to build new schools in Loudon County was the issue most often mentioned during a candidates forum held Tuesday night at Lenoir City High School.

Almost every candidate, from those seeking the county mayor's office to the County Commission, promised to build new schools and increase per pupil expenditures.

"The most important issue is the funding of the school building program," said Don Miller, who is seeking re-election to his County Commission seat that represents Tellico Village.

How to fund the building program without raising taxes seemed to be the biggest difference between the candidates.

"I'm for schools and I'm for teachers' raises, but I will not vote to raise taxes," said Wayne Gardin, incumbent candidate for the commission's 6th District seat.

All candidates looking to succeed Doyle Arp as county mayor supported increased funding for the schools, but offered different approaches.

"Everybody here is for the same thing; education and schools" noted Mark Matlock.

The Lenoir City developer said what separates his plan from the others is leadership.

Matlock, a Republican, promised to bring his long-range planning and business skills to the task of funding the building program and increasing the tax base.

Good schools are necessary to recruiting business to the county, Matlock said.

Lenoir City Mayor Matt Brookshire, a middle school teacher and the lone Democrat seeking the county mayoral post, said he supports the building program, teachers' raises and the need to increase per pupil funding.

Increasing tax revenue from tourism and aggressively applying for federal grants could help generate the needed revenue for the schools, he said.

Candidate Van Shaver, a Republican, said he supports the building plan, teachers' raises and increased per pupil funding but doesn't want to raise taxes to pay for it. With the chance of increased federal, state and local funding available, the real solution is to control spending, he said.

"We have to make much better use of the $38 million we already get," he said.

Republican Glenn Hagerman said he supports the school building program but thinks the solution to funding the program as political rather than financial.

"We need someone who doesn't have a history in politics," he said.

As a newcomer to politics Hagerman said he doesn't owe anybody anything. He said that life safety issues such as those at Greenback School should be a priority.

Estelle Herron, also a Republican, said she could not yet offer an opinion on how to solve the school building issue but promised, if elected to the mayor's job, to have a plan prepared after a single budget cycle.

"The first thing I will address is the budget," she said.

Possibly the most unusual presentation was conducted by Mike Cartwright, a Republican candidate for the Trustee's office. Instead of using his allotted minute at the podium to present his credentials he climbed off the stage, grabbed a flag from a nearby hallway and returned with it to lead the audience in the "Pledge of Allegiance."

"I was kind of surprised that they didn't start the forum with the pledge," he said afterward.

The primary is May 4.