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Carson challenges Hornback for West Knox School Board

Political newcomer Karen Carson has thrown her hat in the arena to unseat incumbent Brian Hornback as the Knox County School Board representative for the 5th district in the upcoming county election Feb. 10.

Carson, who is no newcomer to community involvement, currently serves as chairman of the Knox County Schools Foundation and sits on the board of directors of the Teacher Supply Depot and the Clothing Center.

“I am confident in my qualifications and ability to fulfill the requirements of this School Board position,” Carson said. “I believe it is time to end the personal squabbles and petty politics, and get the board’s focus back to the task of providing a quality education for our children.”

Carson, a registered nurse currently employed by Children’s Hospital in the emergency department, has two of her three children in the Knox County Schools system – TJ, 15, a sophomore at Farragut High School, and Rebeka, 9, a third-grader at A.L. Lotts Elementary. Doug, 13, attends a private boarding school.

Carson said she understands that the Knox County Schools system faces a tremendous challenge in providing quality education to more than 52,000 children and stresses that the basis for providing quality education is maintaining quality educators.

In order “to maintain the excellence in education already present in the 5th district,” she said, “we will have to make every effort to recruit and retain great teachers.

She added, “It does seem fairly obvious that if we want to recruit and retain great teachers, we must pay them appropriately. To achieve this, I would work cooperatively with county and city officials to make sure that we are running (government) as efficiently as possible and that any duplication of services is absolutely justified.”

In addition to maintaining a staff of quality educators, Carson said programs need to be developed to enhance student achievement. She said she plans to work to promote school, parent, student and community programs that are designed to improve student achievement.

“The potential to develop programs to enhance student achievement is wide open,” she said. “Three areas that we can focus on are: parents, we need to continue to develop and enhance our parent involvement programs at our schools.

“Teachers, we need to retain our teachers. A mentor program could be developed to pair our experienced teachers with those new to the profession. Too often, good teachers leave our system within the first three years of their employment.

“Students, we need to work diligently to improve the quality of technology and software programs available to our students. This technology must be available to all students.”

Carson will square off against incumbent Hornback, who has held the 5th district seat since beating out then long-time school board member Tommy Prince in the 2000 Knox County Election.

Hornback will again run on the ABC plan he campaigned on in 2000.

He said, “In 2000, I promised an ABC plan” consisting of: accessibility to the public through regular district meetings in the schools to discuss issues and concerns, and returned telephone calls within 24 hours; Budget control ensuring that budget line items focus on children and the classroom, and to work for responsible budgets that reflect real needs; and children first, making every decision in the best interest of children, and to work closely with parents to determine what benefits children most.

“Every year I have conducted town hall meetings at each school,” Hornback said. “West Valley (Middle School) is the only one this year, we are in the process of scheduling the others this school year.”

Hornback said the attendance at his town hall meetings varies.

“Some are attended in large numbers,” he said, “others are small. Cedar Bluff last year drew about 135 people; West Valley this year drew about 12.

“I have attended hundreds of events at all the schools in the district, always making myself available and accessible.

Hornback said, in reference to budget control, “I have real world business experience that allows me to get into the budget and ask the tough questions during the budget process. Two years ago, in December, we had to cut $6 million out of our budget and I went line item by line item to ensure the cuts would not hurt the children, classroom or teachers.”

Hornback added that by being available and accessible is one of the ways he keeps “children first.”

He said, “Being available and accessible to the community … it keeps me in contact with the pulse of all the citizens, those with children and the senior citizens, young adults and those parents that have the exercised right of utilizing private schools in our community as well. They pay for the education of our students and should be heard as well. They have as much right to speak to the issue of the education of our students as anyone else.”

Hornback said there are many things that he is proud of concerning his accomplishments over the past term.

“If I had to narrow the list to one or two things that I am most proud of,” he said, “it would be that when I came on board there was no real item on the five- or 10-year capital plan that impacted this district.

“In my time on the board there is $82.2 million in capital projects that will directly benefit this district.”

He listed a $458,000 improvement at A.L. Lotts Elementary School, $19 million for a new Cedar Bluff Primary School, $5.7 million for a renovated Cedar Bluff Intermediate School, $40 million for a new West Knox County high school, and $17 million for a new West Knox County elementary school.

Hornback added that these expenditures did not include the new track, bleachers and 99 additional parking spaces created at West Valley Middle School, the new bleachers and air-conditioning in the Cedar Bluff Middle School gymnasium, the additional parking, upgraded air-conditioning and new paint throughout Bluegrass Elementary School, and other improvements at Bearden High School.

Hornback said, “The other thing I am most proud of is that people in the district feel that they have a board member that they can approach at the grocery store, restaurant or movie theater, and have comments and input. It keeps me accountable to the public and allows them to have a say and input into the decisions.”

Both candidates have issues with the speed at which local government works.

“I get most frustrated by the bureaucratic government process,” Hornback said, “Why does it take months or years to examine an issue? If after review it has merit, vote and when passed, implement it the next day.

“The government process should be more like the private sector. Consolidate duplicated services with Knox County, there is no reason to have two departments performing the role of payroll, human resources, business office when one can do it as effectively and efficiently, and return those dollars to the classroom.”

Carson expressed her concerns with the speed of government using the over-crowding issue in West Knox County as an example.

“I think over-crowding is the number one issue in this district,” she said. “Reducing the strain on both Farragut and Bearden High Schools has got to be a priority of not only the 5th district board member, but of the entire school board.

“We have waited too long to address this problem. I will work cooperatively with the school board, administrators and (Knox) County Commission to speed up the process required to put into action a plan to resolve this problem.”

Hornback, a Knox County native, has three children in the Knox County Schools system. The Hornback family lives in the Bluegrass community. He has worked for the Nestle USA Company in sales covering a territory mostly of East Tennessee independent grocery stores. His wife, Rachel, is a secretary at A.L. Lotts Elementary School.

Carson and her husband, Joe, have lived in West Knox County for more than 13 years. The Carson family lives in Farragut and the couple teaches Sunday School at Cedar Springs Presbyterian Church.

Carson has been in the pediatric health care field for 23 years since earning her nursing degree from the University of Southwestern Louisiana in 1980. Her husband is an engineer employed by the Department of Energy in Oak Ridge.

The Knox County School Board sets the operational policies for the school system. The School Board consists of nine board members elected to four-year terms from nine districts. The Knox County Commission adopts the school budget that has been prepared by the School Board and sets a property tax rate for school purposes.

The 5th district encompasses Cedar Bluff Primary, Intermediate and Middle Schools, Blue Grass and A.L. Lotts Elementary Schools, West Valley Middle School and Bearden High School. The Farragut schools are shared with School Board member Chuck James of the 6th district.

The Knox County Primary election is scheduled for Feb. 10, and is to be held in conjunction with the Tennessee Presidential Primary.

Also on tap for the Feb. 10 election will be the race for Mike Arms’ Knox County Commission 5A seat. At press time, two candidates had filed for a place on the ballot: Mike Hammond and Jim Ford. West Knox Homeowners Association President John R. Schoonmaker was wooed for a run for the seat, but declined Monday. The deadline for filing was noon Wednesday, Dec. 17.

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