Tolbert pledges to focus on BoE budget

The November election is almost here. And for those interested in local education there is one more vote that will matter. Voters Nov. 2 will decide if the Fayette County Board of Education Post 5 seat being vacated by Lee Wright will go to Democrat Laura Burgess or Republican Sam Tolbert.

The Citizen prepared several questions for the candidates so that voters could get a better idea about the opinions and perspectives held by each. The responses by Tolbert are included below. Responses by Burgess are not available since multiple attempts to contact her were unsuccessful and phone calls were not returned.

Tolbert was asked about his thoughts on current curriculum offerings and what could be done to keep Fayette public schools ahead of the curve in providing even better academic challenges for children over the next decade.

Tolbert said the Fayette curriculum appears to be a well-rounded, generally traditional education program structured to meet or exceed the State of Georgia educational requirements.

“We need to look beyond the state’s educational requirements for centers of excellence in academic programs and learn what we can from the best of the best. It has been reported that Finland has the best educational program worldwide. We need to see what we can learn from them and other successful programs that can be adapted to our educational system that will challenge our students to a higher level of scholastic success. This research should also include successful vocational programs that can be adapted for our use,” Tolbert said.

Some reports suggest that a substantial percentage of jobs in the coming decades will be vocationally-oriented. If you agree, then how might a school system transition into a more vocational curriculum without sacrificing the long-held academic orientation?

“I agree we need to adapt vocational programs into our educational program. The programs would need to be streamlined around the general program requirements and customized to the type of vocational programs being offered,” said Tolbert. “Depending on the vocational program more emphasis may need to be placed on math, science, language, or other studies specific to the particular vocational program. These programs may also include completing an internship working in a particular vocation during the students' senior year. Selection by the student to take the general education route or a selected vocational program would need to be made at the beginning of the students‘ high school years.”

Another question dealt with fiscal matters and accountability. Despite the claims of Washington and Wall Street the recession on Main Street appears to be far from over. The Fayette County tax digest lost significant value this year and state cuts to education are anticipated to continue, at least for the short-term. What is your outlook on school system fiscal accountability and how will you assure voters that you will vote to spend taxpayers money wisely?

“Operational funds for the school system indeed are limited as the result of U.S. economic conditions. Funding for education over the next five years will require a strong due diligence by the board of education to maintain and improve performance while working within tight budget constraints. Forecasting pro forma budgets based on estimated funding of the school system three to five years out will be critical to the board’s decision making process. Month to month expenditures will need to be closely monitored and reported at the school level with review meetings held with the superintendent on each school’s performance to their budget. The superintendent should then report the overall school system’s performance to the board of education, also on a monthly basis. Budget over-runs should be identified with ‘Get-Well-Plans’ on how these over-runs will be resolved. Budget performance will need to be part of each school leader and superintendent’s performance review,” Tolbert said.

“I pledge to the taxpayers of Fayette County that as an elected official I will be a responsible and accountable steward of school system funds. I further testify that I have no relationships or business interests with any one or any entity that would influence my voting on the board of education beyond what would be in the best interest of the school system and the citizens of Fayette County. I further state that I will utilize the business management skills and abilities I have learned in over 35 years in business management coupled with my educational degrees earned in the same subject,” Tolbert continued.

Yet another question pertained to Fayette’s declining student enrollment that has been occurring over the past few years, which translates into fewer state dollars received by the local school system. Fayette also has a new school that sits essentially unoccupied and other properties that, to date, have not sold. Pertaining to the short-term and long-term, what is your plan to address falling revenues if state cuts continue and enrollment does not pick up?

“It is truly unfortunate that those decisions to build new schools that sit unoccupied, and land purchased for further use, were made when it was obvious that from 2005 through 2011 that the student count was decreasing or statistically flat. Looking at years 2001 thru 2011, the mean or average enrollment was 21,482 students with an average deviation of 597 students which equates to slightly less than a 3 percent variation. Providing we had ample facilities in 2005, there was no need to add additional schools after 2005 unless it was to replace older buildings that were getting too expensive to maintain,” Tolbert said.

”We could review building maintenance expenses to determine if replacement is in order with one or more of the new buildings. We could also look at the possibility of leasing or selling unwanted buildings or find a new use for those remaining idle. This also includes the vacant land. Can we find a use for (that land) that would repay the school system for its purchase? If not, it should be leased out or sold.”

The final question asked what he brings to the school board that should compel voters to elect him.

“My family and I have been part of the county for the better part of 26 years. We moved to Fayette County because of the excellent legacy of the school system. I commuted 110 miles a day during my working career so that my children could attend school in Fayette County schools,” said Tolbert. “I built my management and engineering career on being accurate and honest with my subordinates, my peers, my upper management, and my business customers. Providing an informed, direct and candid appraisal with a concerted effort to achieve consensus with my fellow board members will always be my goal. I will do no less for the citizens of Fayette County.”

Tolbert is a semi-retired senior manager and most recently worked as an adjunct professor of mathematics at Gordon College in Barnesville.

His qualifications/accomplishments include:

• Board member Georgia Tech International Standards & Quality, Southern Tech Center for Quality;

• Conducted continuing educational classes for Georgia Tech, Southern Tech and Dale Carnegie Institute;
• Board member and lead auditor for Georgia Oglethorpe Award committee;

• Awarded Pioneer of the Year Award by Georgia Oglethorpe Committee for Organizational Turn Around at Scientific Atlanta Instrumentation Division;

• Key member of Rockwell International Management Team forging a documented nationally recognized organizational turnaround in a defense business Managed Quality Standards Division for major government contracts;

• Developed and conducted training programs directed at organizational and personnel performance enhancement;

• Developed and implemented a wide range of computer applications requiring both computer hardware and software for business performance improvement; and

• Wrote my thesis and dissertation on organization improvement processes

Tolbert said his platform is simple.

“I believe that with my combination of educational and business experience, I can provide the tools to organize, develop, and effectively manage a workable budget that will create a new level of efficiency for the board. I also pledge to be accessible and a good listener to the public,” Tolbert said.

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