Six contested candidates in ‘Virtual Forum’ video

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By Bill Short

The six contested candidates in the Nov. 3 Millington city elections are currently featured in a “Virtual Forum” video posted online by The Millington Star.
With Position 1 School Board member Roger Christopher not seeking re-election, Marlon D. Evans and Gregory L. Ritter are competing for the open seat.
Position 3 School Board member Mark Coulter, seeking his second term, is being challenged by Deanna Speight.
Position 7 Alderman Mike Caruthers, seeking his fourth term, is being challenged by Tom Stephens.
During previous election years, all the unopposed and contested candidates were invited to participate in a traditional Candidate Forum at a specified location in the city to answer questions provided by The Star and the public.
But this year, to comply with regulations issued by the Centers for Disease Control during the COVID-19 pandemic, the newspaper chose to present questions to only the candidates in the three contested races.
They did not receive the questions before being interviewed separately by Star Editor Thomas Sellers Jr. either in the newspaper office or at another location. Each candidate was given two minutes to respond to each of three questions.
The recorded interviews were then compiled in a video that is posted on West 10 Media’s Youtube page and provided to all the social media platforms. It can be viewed during this month and through Election Day.
The four contested School Board candidates responded to the following questions:

  1. Do you think the school system should seek donations from Millington residents in its efforts to raise funds for its Five-Year Capital Improvements Plan? Why or why not?
    Evans, Ritter and Speight think that is an “avenue” the system could pursue, while Coulter disagrees.
    Speight favors “traditional fundraising,” such as selling Trojan-imprinted clothing. She also believes that asking residents for $5 or $10 periodically would be a “big help.”
    Ritter recalled that, when the Millington school district was established in 2013, the first elected board chose to pursue the capital improvements plan approved by the Shelby County School System. That led to construction of the Performing Arts Center on the Millington Central High School campus.
    But Ritter acknowledged that many needs still exist.
    “Millington is a small community,” he noted. “We don’t have a lot of revenue streams for taxes. So, anything we can do to try to generate revenue to take care of our kids, I think we need to investigate.”
    Evans said contractors should be encouraged to build houses in the city that will attract families with children who will attend the Millington schools.
    Coulter does not believe the residents should be raising money to fund the school system, because it has a “good fund balance.” While noting that the district receives money from the federal, state, county and city governments, he said the Five-Year Plan will be funded from those sources.
  2. How has the school system performed above and below your expectations during its first six years, and what improvements should be made?
    Coulter believes there has been a “big improvement” since he was elected to the board in 2016. He praised Superintendent James “Bo” Griffin for bringing a “different leadership” in the area of communications. 
    Ritter noted that the first challenge was to get the system “up and running” and make sure it was viable, and he believes that was accomplished in the first two years.
    Although he thinks the system has made improvements in student achievement, Ritter does not like that it teaches so much “to the test.” He believes that takes a lot of the “fun” out of learning. 
    Evans said the system has “gained some ground” in employee compensation benefits. But he thinks it needs to continue striving to raise test scores, acquire property for school expansion, “push” the county school system to let the district have Lucy Elementary, expand students’ eligibility for college-credit classes, improve Career Technical Education classes and make more of them available.
    Speight said the system has performed below her expectations because of how it has “affected” her 17-year-old daughter, who has “severe anxiety panic disorder.”
    She said her daughter was assigned to the Alternative School instead of a regular classroom. But when she felt “comfortable” and wanted to attend class, Speight believes she should have been allowed to do so.
    While noting that her daughter is now home-schooled, Speight said one of the major reasons she is seeking election is to be a “voice” for more resources to help students with disabilities.
  3. How are you best qualified to make decisions about current education policies and budgets that will have a “positive” impact on teacher instruction and student learning?
    Because she has operated a successful business as a nurse practitioner in Munford for almost 12 years, Speight said she is “pretty good” at managing a budget and paying bills.
    She also said her medical training will help the board deal with COVID-19 and CDC recommendations.
    In addition to his service on the board, Coulter said he has been a “productive and involved” Millington resident, parent and business owner for his entire adult life.
    He also noted that his 20-plus professional working years in and around schools and educational systems have given him direct insight into daily operations and “efficiency gains.” 
    Because he has been a civil servant for more than 27 years, Evans believes that has made him “a pretty grounded person.”
    He noted that he has worked on the “inside” in administration and the “outside” as a parent, because he has been a School Resource Officer and a substitute teacher at MCHS, where his three sons graduated. 
    Ritter said he has a “vested interest” in the success of the school system, because two of his three children are currently enrolled in it.
    “As a result of being a youth coach in Millington for several years, I’ve got a lot of kids in the system,” he noted. “And I really want to see them do well.”
    Ritter said that, as a member of the city’s first school board, he spent a lot of time “pouring over the numbers” to determine if they could be made to work.
    “So, I think that experience qualifies me to come in and make a difference right out of the gate,” he concluded.
    The two contested Alderman candidates responded to the following questions:
  4. What will you do to ensure that the Millington municipal school system receives sufficient local funding each year to successfully operate and meet its capital improvement needs?
    Stephens said the city needs to recruit more businesses that will generate revenue to help fund the school system. He also said the Millington schools will be able to “maintain their quality” with the federal funding they receive.
    Caruthers said the school system is primarily funded by the state of Tennessee through its Basic Education Program. The city is only required to fund the Maintenance of Effort.
    “We’re currently funding $500,000 a year,” he noted. “All that comes from the sales tax that we approved several years ago. So, I propose that we continue doing that.”
  5. What will you do to recruit more businesses and industries to locate in Millington, particularly along Veterans Parkway and Highway 51, as a way to increase economic development?
    Stephens said more businesses need to locate along Highway 51, and the city needs to look “very appealing” for people to come in and spend their money.
    He also said industrial businesses need to be located along Veterans Parkway, because the Millington Memphis Airport is several hundred yards away from it.
    Caruthers said the city spent $26 million to construct Veterans Parkway, and he is “disappointed” that only one business has located there.
    He noted that the Millington Area Chamber of Commerce and Millington Industrial Development Board have been “pushing” for businesses.
    “In this economy,” he said, “it’s just hard to get people to move in here.”
    As a member of the Millington Municipal Planning Commission, Caruthers said he has tried his best to make the city “business-friendly.” So, when they come in, they will feel welcome. 
  6. What will you do to ensure that Millington is a safe community with enhanced amenities that inspire individuals and families to make it their permanent home?
    Stephens said Millington is a “very safe” community with an “excellent” fire and police department. He believes that will inspire more people to move to the city and raise their families here.
    Caruthers said the city needs to ensure that its fire and police departments are funded and have “excellent” training programs, so they can handle any situation that arises.
    He said Millington has more parks per capita than any other city in the county, and more are being constructed, as well as residential subdivisions.
    Caruthers noted that the city is also working on expanding its water and sewer lines and building a new water plant.
    “The future of Millington is greater now than it’s ever been since I’ve lived here,” he concluded.

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