Cindy Wigley is the Republican incumbent Marshall County School Superintendent. David Jones is the Democratic challenger.
The 2 candidates took questions and made remarks at a debate Oct. 16 hosted by the county’s 3 newspapers and moderated by Kerry Chatham.
Jones said his decision to run “did not come lightly” but he was approached “by a group of individuals” who asked him to do so.
“One of the biggest issues our teachers face is support, not money,” he said. “We’re not providing the best environment. We must improve student discipline in the classroom. We must make sure teachers can teach and students can learn.”
Wigley said she is a product of the Marshall County School System as are her husband and their children.
“I am proud to lead my hometown,” she said. “I am a graduate of Douglas High School. I was a teacher 9 years, an assistant principal one and a career tech director for 10.”
She said safety had been a top priority and she had instituted an energy savings project guaranteed to save $16 million for the system.
The candidates were asked these questions and gave these answers:
Q: What is the No. 1 issue facing the County School System? How do you intend to address it?
Wigley: “We have a $60 million budget. The majority of our funds go to support teachers and instructional support, $38 million. We do support our teachers. We operate a balanced budget every year. We have clean audits. We have 5,600 students 14 schools, 80 bus routes and 724 employees.
"Our tax structure is our no. 1 issue. We have school systems in all our municipalities. The largest businesses supporting our county schools with sales taxes are 3 Dollar General stores and Grant Foodland.
“Albertville gets $4 million in sales tax. Guntersville gets $2.7, Arab $2.6, Boaz $2 and Marshall County Schools $1.2 million.”
Jones: “I do agree tax structure is an issue, but it cannot be solved by the board or superintendent. The County Commission is the gatekeeper. It is something we have to address, but it is not something that will be fixed immediately.
“My issue is very simple, student discipline. Teachers can’t teach and students can’t learn if there is no discipline in the classroom. Teachers send students out and those students come right back. How can we raise our scores if we let this issue go unchecked? Something has to be done.”
Q: Each of the cities has sales taxes from within the cities to support their school systems. Yet the county school system gets no sales tax support from within the cities. Does this need to change and how would you go about affecting that change?
Jones: “I agree 100 percent something has got to be changed. If you live in the county, where are you going to shop? You’re going to go to the cities. County people’s hard earned money goes to those cities. County people say why can’t we get a share? One of the best plans I heard a few years ago was to institute a tax and split it 5 ways. It got voted down almost unanimously.
“Within about a year, cities came in and voted themselves a 1-cent sales tax. This one comes down to people. We have to go demand something be done to even out the tax structure in the school system. The people have got to get behind whoever holds this office.”
Wigley: “The main issue is our tax structure. To tell our story, Guntersville gets $1,456 per student in local tax money. Arab gets $1,047. Boaz gets $895 per student and Albertville gets $744. Marshall County schools get $226 per student.
“Our county citizens are funding city students with school taxes. We need to look to our legislative delegation and our County Commission. They could do something about that. However, we also have other issues. The Foundation program has been in place since 1995. It is not fully funded. Our buses travel 5,000 miles a day. We spend $400,000 year from our general fund because transportation is funded by the state at 70 percent.”
Q: There seems to be a gap between academic achievement in the county school system and the city systems. How can you narrow that gap?
Wigley: “Our poverty rate is close to 75 percent. Arab’s is 35, Guntersville 42 and Boaz 68. It’s said we should have the same grade on the report card because we have the same students. No we do not have the same students. We are quite different. Our Hispanic population is 23 percent. Our special ed population is 14 percent. The cities runs 7 to 10 percent.
“Attendance is a huge issue. We looking at that problem and asking parents to partner with us.”
Jones: “I do agree with Dr. Wigley we have quite a bit of high poverty rate. Our students come to school at a little bit more of a disadvantage than city students.
“But that has been said for 22 years. And it hadn’t been taken care of in 22 years.
“It is an indicator. It is not the end all, be all. I think our students can learn and excel like any other child.
“Sure, we have some economically disadvantaged children. We need to work hard to figure out how to solve this problem and move on to the next one.”
Wigley: “I am proud of the progress we have made over the last 4 years. Our teachers work hard. They do a lot with a little. Safety is my top priority. I will continue to make the best financial decisions while working with a tight budget. I will bridge the gap between education and workforce development. Our goal is prepare students to be college and career ready. Our focus couldn’t be more on the students.”
Jones: “I will stand for kids and stand for the teachers. Education happens in the classroom. A superintendent can go on vacation 2 weeks and no one notices. A principal can go on vacation and no one notices. A teacher goes to the water fountain and everyone on the hall notices. We are going to improve scores. We’re going to improve discipline in classroom.”