Selection of the newest Morgan County School Board member came down to two issues: special interest groups and homeschooling. In the end, three board members voted for Ronald Blunck while opponent Lydia Nuttall had the approval of only two board members. Both applicants answered a series of 14 questions in a public interview period Tuesday. It is nice to have qualified people apply for this, Board Member Ted Taylor said. According to state statute, the school board can appoint an applicant to fill a vacancy. For example, Board Member Jody Hipwell was originally appointed to the board upon the death of another board member. Board Member Mark Farmer was also originally appointed to the board when another board member resigned to accept a religious position in the community. Recently, Hipwell announced her intent to resign since she will be moving to Arkansas, thereby vacating her District 1 seat. Ron Blunck will now serve until the end of 2016. Blunck has lived in the Mountain Green area for 23 years while five of his children went through Morgan County schools. He recently retired after 36 years as a senior officer in the military. My background is in making decisions and evaluating data, Blunck said. I am accustomed to dealing with government funding, taking input from a lot of directions, evaluating and coming up with a decision. You make half happy, and half mad. That is just the way it is. Nuttall has lived in the county for 13 years and has been routinely attending local and state school board meetings since 2009. She has actively volunteered in all district schools in several capacities such as the PTO and community council. Hipwell officially nominated Blunck to replace her, which was seconded by Board Member Neil Carrigan and voted affirmatively by Board President Ken Durrant. Board Members Ted Taylor and Mark Farmer nominated Lydia Nuttall. Ron comes highly recommended by members of this community and his district, Hipwell said. He is a highly regarded person that has the support of the community. But most impressive to Hipwell was Bluncks interview response about special interest groups. Special interest groups have to be factored in, but they cant drive the agenda, Blunck said. You have to be very careful (and not) allow them to gain a life of its own and monopolize the agenda. Special interest groups deserve to be heard. They are part of our community also, Nuttall said. As a member of the board (I would) bring their comments to the table and we sift them out together. Hipwell was also concerned with Nuttalls relationship with district employees, teachers and board members. I dont think the relationship is there, Hipwell said. Carrigan said he was concerned that Nuttall had homeschooled her daughter in the past. It is a bad image to people if your kids arent in school yet you serve on the school board, Carrigan said. I dont think you can be on the board and not have your kids in public school, Blunck said during his interview. I homeschooled my child last year. One year of homeschooling shouldnt disqualify me from serving on the board, Nuttall said. It is awesome we have the freedom to (homeschool). I chose to exercise my parental decision. That should be respected. I know my child better than you do. (The board) is here to education children. It shouldnt matter what form of education they receive. Who are we to decide? At least two board members decided Nuttall was the best candidate. We have two very, very qualified candidates, Board Member Mark Farmer said. Lydia has demonstrated commitment that she consistently shows up for board meetings. It comes down to demonstrated dedication and likely dedication that Blunck would also consistently attend board meetings. Taylor said he nominated Nuttall because of her extensive experience in both state and local education settings. She has a lot of experience that could help the board, and help me with understanding how the law works, Taylor said. She is a good avenue dealing with the state board, and helping us have a bigger voice to make changes. Both candidates agreed that growth was the biggest challenge facing the Morgan School District, saying that the districts attempts to form a growth task force subcommittee was laudable because of how it effectively involved several facets of the community. Nuttall and Blunck disagreed on the necessity of mandated testing in public schools. You have to test to assess students, but there is a point where you test too much, Nuttall said. I am leary about things being mandated because districts are all different. Testing is critical, Blunck said. It evaluates the program and gives us a baseline and benchmark of where the students are and where the teacher can improve. However, it should only be used as one datapoint of many when evaluating teachers, he said. The two applicants also disagreed on federal funding in schools. We have to be careful with federal funding because there are always strings attached, Nuttall said. Is what we get from the federal government worth what we have to give? It is virtually impossible to (break away from federal funding), Blunck said. There is no other way to get funding. Blunck, who considers himself a fiscal conservative, said bonding should be a last resort that should be a very transparent effort. Nuttall advised the board against going into debt unnecessarily. The more tied down we are to debt, the less independent we become, she said.
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