The Edmond Sun

January 24, 2014

School board candidates face off at forum

Patty Miller
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — At a candidate forum Thursday night, the two opponents for Edmond Board of Education Seat No. 4 discussed their concerns for the district’s financial future.

The parent club at Summit Middle School in Edmond hosted a forum for the two candidates, Cynthia Benson and Stephanie Bills, running for the board’s District No. 4 seat. KOCO morning anchor Wendell Edwards moderated the hour-long forum between Benson and Bills.

Bills was appointed to the Board of Education last spring when board member George Cohlmia resigned before the end of his term so that his daughter could apply for a teaching position within the district. Benson was one of five people who applied for the appointment, but Bills was selected from the applicants by the Board of Education. With the term completed, the position is up for election. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Feb. 11.

To handle district population growth, Benson said, “We may have to come up with some creative solutions. It is unfortunate Mother Nature delayed the opening of two new schools.”

District officials earlier this month announced the opening of a new elementary school and a new middle school will be delayed by a year each, moving the openings to 2015 and 2016.

Bills said growth is a good thing, but bond money cannot pay salaries and without more teachers it looks like large classes may be a necessity in the future.

“Education is not a priority at (the) state level,” Bills said.

Benson said she sees as some of the biggest challenges facing the school board as funding and reform fatigue being felt by the teachers.

“The Legislature has decreased funding again, and they are staring us in the face and not budging,” she said.

Benson added that in talking with teachers she is seeing reform fatigue among them and many are retiring early while others just aren’t choosing to go into education.

“We need to figure out a way to keep our teachers by offering support and encouragement,” Benson said, “but it is also our job to give them the tools to implement the changes that they are expected to fulfill.”

Bills agreed funding is the biggest challenge saying it is important for parents to get involved.

“We need to trust the administration to bring recommendations to us (as a school board),” Bills said. “We only have one employee — the superintendent. The trust factor has to be strong. Ultimately, the decisions fall on the superintendent.”

Bills agreed one of the challenges is the loss of good teachers.

An audience participant asked the candidates about their voting records in school elections.

When asked whether either of the candidates voted in the $80 million bond election in 2013, Benson answered, “Yes,” while Bills answered, “I did not vote.” Bills replied the weather was bad that day and like many voters who stayed away from the polls she did also.

“I was in Norman,” Bills replied. “Shame on me.”

Voting records provided by the Oklahoma County Election Board confirm that Benson voted in the 2013 bond issue election while Bills’ record shows she has not voted in a school-related election going back to the year 2000.

Benson’s voting record shows she has voted 17 times since 2000 and those votes included general elections, the presidential preferential primary, a municipal election and four school bond elections. This compares with Bills’ nine outings to the polls, which included general elections, the presidential preferential primary election and a municipal election.

Benson was employed in Arkansas and Missouri prior to working as a clinical dietitian at Deaconess Hospital and HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital. She also has been a practicum instructor at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Benson has taught Sunday School for many years at Quail Springs Baptist Church. During the past nine years, she has been an active parent volunteer in Edmond schools serving on the budget committee for the Summit Parent Club as well as helping to organize fundraisers.

“I chose to say home and use my gifts, skills and talents to benefit and enrich my community,” Benson said.

Bills is a certified teacher and principal and is completing her superintendent’s certification. Bills taught in both Moore and Edmond and currently serves as the executive officer in Human Resources at Metro Technology Center.  

Bills said she is a servant leader and brings service, talent and experience to the board if elected and also certain skills in administration to the board team. She added she would like to maintain and sustain the quality education for which the Edmond Public School District is known.