The Richmond Register

October 19, 2012

Madison County School Board candidate profiles -- Part 1

By Crystal Wylie
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — This is the first of a two-part series of school board candidate profiles, the second of which will publish in Saturday’s paper. Next week, the Register will feature candidate profiles for the Richmond City Commission, Berea City Council and state representatives from districts 36, 73 and 81.

Educational districts one, two, four and five will be on the ballot Nov. 6.

Kathie J.R. Bettler is running against incumbent John Lackey for the first district. Bill Phillips, Jimmy Allen and Greg Mayo are running against Becky L. Coyle for her second-district seat. Mary J. Renfro is competing with incumbent Christopher L. Hager for the fourth-district position. Debbie Secchio and Robert. G Stephens are running for Beth Brock's seat in the fifth district.

In general, boards of education in Kentucky consist of five members. Members are elected on a nonpartisan ballot in even-number years.

Members serve four-year terms — staggered so that the terms of not more than three members of a local board expire at the same time, according to the Kentucky School Boards Association.

Fourth district

This district consists of City Hall, Telford, Eastern, Campus, Ridgehaven, Mayde, South Robinson, Duncannon, South Richmond, Menelaus-Todd, Burnam Highpoint and Tevis Cottonburg-Poosey precincts.

Fifth district

This district consists of North Chenault, North White Hall-Daniel Boone, Forest Hill, Newby Jones, Valley View, South Chenault, South White Hall-Daniel Boone, Courthouse, Red House, Central, North Crutcher and South Crutcher precincts.

Candidate profiles

Christopher L. Hager (4th District)

Christopher Hager joined the board in April to replace Doug Whitlock, who had stepped down last year.

Since 2006, Hager had been visiting Guatemala where he was on the board of directors for a girls' home. The girls' home took in orphans, cared for them and provided for their education, he said.

“I was involved with the education and well-being of children in Guatemala. I thought how neat it would be to be involved in the education system here in Madison County,” said Hager, whose daughter graduated from Madison Central High School a few years ago.

 As a tax payer, property owner and business owner in the county, Hager was concerned about taxes. He wanted to be part of a team of fiscally responsible people, he said, while “keeping an eye on the way we spend money and making sure we take care of the kids.”

He knows the future of Madison County relies on how educated its citizens are, he said.

Mary J. Renfro (4th District)

Mary Renfro is a foster parent and the married mother of two daughters in Madison County.

There are several changes she would like to make if elected to school board, she said, such as shorter bus routes, after-school programs for middle and elementary schools and all-day kindergarten.

“Surrounding counties such as Garrard and Fayette already have all-day kindergarten, we should too,” Renfro said.

Renfro also would like to see better technology options such as the use of iPads instead of paper, she said.

Beth Brock (5th District)

Beth Brock joined the board in July after the early resignation of Betsy Bohannon in June.

A longtime school volunteer, Brock served four terms on B. Michael Caudill Middle School’s site-based decision-making council, of which she was vice chair. She also has served two terms on the White Hall Elementary’s school council and has been president and vice president of that school’s parent-teacher organization.

Brock also participated in writing the policies and procedures for Caudill when it opened in 2009, she said.  

“I'm involved with the schools daily and my experience gives me good insight,” Brock said, whose two children attend county schools.

“My kids have received an excellent education and I could not be more please,” she said.

Brock said she will represent her district by listening to the thoughts and concerns of parents, teachers and administration so she can make “informed decisions on what is best for kids at all times.”

She wants to be fiscally conservative while ensuring the district provides for children, said Brock, who voted against a proposed tax increase in August.

Debbie Secchio (5th District)

Debbie Secchio moved to Richmond from New York five years ago, where she served on a district-wide site-based council and was a PTA board member, she said.

“My main concerns are that we do what counts with less  money. We have to re-prioritize what we are spending money on,” Secchio said.

If someone was to look at the district's assessment scores for the past five years, she said, “almost every school in our district has fallen significantly.”

The solution to raising test scores is to reconnect with teachers, she said. “Teachers have gone several years without a raise, yet it's the teacher that will raise scores and academics.”

Secchio sees a need for better pre-school options and full-day kindergarten, she said, instead of spending money on stadiums and administration.

“We need to stop spending money foolishly and prioritize better,” said Secchio, who is endorsed by the Madison County Tax Watch.

Robert G. Stephens (5th District)

Robert Stephens served on the site-based councils for White Hall Elementary and Madison Central High schools for seven years. Stephens was a state trooper for 32 years and was chief of the Richmond Police Department between 2004 and 2007.

Stephens has always enjoyed working in the school system, he said, and thinks the board should be a “good steward of our money while giving the best education we can to our students.”

In light of state funding cuts, “we need to look within and see how funds are being spent and better utilize the finances we have,” he said. “I want to find out where the money is going.”