MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Robert Porterfield, the incumbent and current school board president, will go up against Claudia Mitchell in the Democratic primary run-off elections next week. Due the fact that there are no Republicans running for the seat, whoever wins the run-off election will take the seat.
In last month's primaries, Porterfield led the polls. However, Mitchell was right behind him by only one percent of votes. While Mitchell is backed by a number of local groups and Deena Weston, who was third candidate running for the spot in the primaries, Porterfield has the support of current board members Mary Briers and Arika Watkins-Smith, whose terms are not ending.
Porterfield said he is the ideal candidate for the seat he currently holds for a number of reasons, including his experience. This is his 10th year on the board, and he has led the board for a year and a half. He is also a product of Montgomery Public Schools and taught in the system for 33 years. He said his priority is supporting the "public" part of public education.
"My priority is children and our future," said Porterfield. "Education is certainly my passion. We know that education is the solution to all of our social, political and economic ills."
He said he believes public education in Montgomery has been skewed negatively in the public community.
"It's certainly undeserving," said Porterfield. "Children have been smeared, teachers, employees and now it's trickled down to the board as far as everything, but anything that's positive."
Porterfield said he believes the media and community have put too much emphasis on where the system lacks instead of focusing on what's being done well. For example, he said he does not agree with reports from the state indicating that MPS has a number failing schools do the ACT scores it reported. He also said he does not agree with the way people are reacting to the report from AdvancED, that showed that the system only exceeded expectations in one category and met expectations in one category of 31 total categories.
"When you see we have 19 categories that ranked emerging, people need to realize that we're moving forward," said Porterfield.
When looking at challenges in the community and how they relate to MPS, Porterfield said he believes MPS takes the blame for things it is not responsible for.
"You often here that so goes education, so goes Montgomery," Porterfield said. "But we're never told that there are as many private schools in Montgomery as there are public schools. Not only that, but Montgomery has many more colleges and universities than any of the cities around the state. I think we need to look at other avenues instead of blaming all things on public education."
Porterfield said, even when looking at the number of students who have left the system, he believes consideration needs to be placed on issues like crime and differences in economic growth.
When looking at finances, he said the system is underfunded and does well with what it has in comparison to systems that receives more public funding.
As for the system's current status of "accredited under review" he said work is already being done to address the issues by the deadline at the end of year.
"We are presently working with a superintendent that I had to go to court to get now," said Porterfield. "A superintendent, a CSFO officer as well as a legal counsel."
Porterfield said he currently sees collaboration where he did not before and that the system is moving in the right direction to come from under review for its accreditation.
He said other priorities of his include expanding technical education for students so they are prepared to enter the job force. He also said he believes students who are talented in the arts need more support, and he wants to increase arts programs in schools as well as providing more interpersonal support for students who may be struggling in the classroom.
Mitchell is also a product of MPS. Like Porterfield, she returned to the system after completing her higher education and taught in MPS for 27 years. She said she also wrote the initial technology curriculum for Booker T. Washington Magnet High School. Unlike Porterfield, she said she believes the information about MPS' struggles are completely legitimate and need to be the board's focus. She said her top priorities are student achievement and safety.
"Making sure that we get our students back in line with where they should be nation and worldwide," said Mitchell. "I actually really envision a Montgomery where every student in this city will receive a first-class education."
She said she believes it is unwise to ignore the information being provided by the state and AdvancED.
"I've been an educator for a long time," said Mitchell. "The accrediting body will not come in for a review if there is not a need. The Montgomery County Board of Education requested intervention in which they said they were having financial problems, and they weren't able to run it. Then, the state came in."
Mitchell said she believes policies and procedures need to be created, updated and implemented "properly" in order to support that vision. She said policy is especially important when it comes to fiscal responsibility.
"We need to make sure that the few dollars we have coming in, we're spending those dollars wisely and utilizing them to the best of our ability," Mitchell said.
She said it is "imperative" that the system find more sources for local funding and receive more financial support from the community, but she believes steps must be taken before the system can expect to see that happen.
"We need to show that we will work and use the money wisely so we can regain the trust of our community," Mitchell said.
While Mitchell said she does not believe the current board can be solely blamed for the system's current status, she said ignoring the issues is something Montgomery County cannot afford.
"We have some issues," said Mitchell. "The issues are there. The issues did not start in the past 10 years. We've been having issues for a long time, but we have just come to a pinnacle now in which was cannot wait any longer. That is why I say our children cannot wait while we debate."
Mitchell said she believes her ability to work well with others and collaborate is one of the things that would make her good for the position. She said the board needs to work better as a unit.
She said she also has the knowledge and trust of the community as someone who has worked extensively with different organizations and groups. She said that work is why she believes so many groups in the community have supported her campaign.
The primary run-off elections will be next Tuesday.