Watch video of WFJA’s interview with Democratic incumbent Lynn Smith, who is seeking one of four at large seats on the Lee County Board of Education. Voters can choose up to four candidates. Incumbent Democratic Chairman Patrick Kelly and challengers Tom Frye and Jamey Laudate, and Republican incumbent Sherry Lynn Womack and challengers Sandra Bowen, Eric Davidson and Todd Ashley Miller are also seeking seats. Below, read answers submitted by Smith to The Rant monthly in August, September and October.
Briefly introduce yourself and describe why you’re seeking election to the Board of Education.
SMITH: I want to thank The Rant for providing this opportunity to talk to the voters of Lee County. I came to Lee County in 1972 to practice orthodontics, and It has been a pleasure to offer my services all these years. At retirement in 2009, I decided to run for our board of education and continue serving the students in a new capacity. And here I am 14 years later still asking the voters of Lee County to allow me to continue in this service. We have witnessed some profound changes in our school system and I sincerely hope the voters will allow me to continue my service to our community.
If you’re a challenger, what is the first initiative you’ll undertake as a member of the board and how will it work to the benefit of students in Lee County? If you’re an incumbent, which initiative have you taken during your tenure, and how has it been beneficial to students in Lee County?
SMITH: Obviously, a lot has changed in our school district in 14 years. We have hired superintendents, built and renovated schools, integrated the use of technology in the classroom, but the biggest contribution I have made during my tenure is serving as chairman of the Lee County Board of Education during the planning and site selection process of our newest elementary school. I was fortunate to have a supportive board of education and the leadership of our county commissioners, without which the Wicker School project could not have been completed. This project was finished on time and on budget. With this school we eliminated crowding in our elementary schools, and put a new face on that part of our community, and we preserved the original Wicker School and it’s heritage. As we face a new and unprecedented challenge to our students, I sincerely hope the voters of Lee County will give me the opportunity to continue my service to our county and our students.
More than 1,100 new jobs have come or are coming very soon to Lee County, a factor which will almost certainly lead to some level of increased population growth in the next four years. What should the school board be doing now to prepare for this growth and the subsequent need for increased educational resources?
SMITH: 1,100 new jobs! Congratulations to SAGA, city council and commissioners for your good work when many areas are loosing jobs. And, yes, this means an increase in population, some of whom will be school age citizens. We at the board of education prepare for growth every year, so we are accustomed to the process. Based on available information, we prepare the Capitol Improvement Plan (CIP budget) yearly to identify major capitol projects that we anticipate over a 5 year span. A new elementary school is in the budget already for the 2023-2024 year.
We revisit this yearly and adjust our needs for buildings and facilities based on current available information on population growth.
Do you support the passage of the $25 million parks and recreation bond to pay for the construction of a multi-field sports complex in Lee County? Why or why not?
SMITH: Yes, I support the recreation bond issue. The sports complex is part of the infra-structure we will need to support the anticipated growth of our community. Recreation facilities seem to be one of the most important issues when people are considering moving to a new community.
K-8 children will begin returning to school in person as early as Oct. 5, with high school students likely to return some time not long after that. What are your thoughts on balancing the safety of students, families, teachers and staff with the fact that many situations require parents to be away from their children for work?
SMITH: I support plan B as presented by staff. It allows a return to getting students back in the classroom. My support stems from two considerations: children under the age of 12 seem to be much less affected by the coronavirus, and the plan includes measures to minimize exposure to the virus and procedures for controlling spread if we get incidences of the disease. And I do expect a surge in virus contagion as we reopen our classrooms.
If a return to in-person learning led to a high number of new COVID-19 cases, would you be willing to consider going back to a more virtual setting?
SMITH: If we get a surge of coronavirus infection, my first choice is a short pause in-school attendance, as in Durham Hillside high school, to allow for cleaning and sanitizing classrooms and identifying where cases exist and conduct contract tracing to isolate and contain the disease.
Only if the spread of the virus cannot be identified and controlled, would I be in favor of returning to plan C on a long term basis.