District 4 candidates field questions at forum
Editor’s note: This is part one of a forum held for candidates seeking the District 4 seats on the Board of Supervisors and the School Board.
WOODSTOCK – Karl Roulston and Michelle Manning, candidates running for District 4 seats on the Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors and the School Board, responded to questions at a forum Wednesday in Woodstock.
Manning is running unopposed. Roulston is challenging Supervisor Cindy Bailey. Bailey, who is seeking a second term, did not participate in the forum.
The Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce organized the event with the Shenandoah County Education Association, the Shenandoah Forum, Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River and the Farm Bureau of Shenandoah County.
Woodstock attorney Paul J. Neal Jr. served as moderator and read questions submitted by the audience at the venue prior to the event.
How will you apply business principles to Shenandoah County government challenges?
Roulston – Well, one of the things we do in the business world is negotiate and have to – you have to navigate difficult waters where two parties might want different things but you have to come out with an acceptable outcome for everyone. So a lot of business is working in the middle with opposing, different opinions to try and struggle to get that moving forward and off the ball. Another thing that business owners do is form teams to actually work and take over a project, whatever that might be, but you form a core team to go and address the issues. You do that by building trust. You do that by respect. You do that by appreciating the people that you’re working with. I think those are some important skills that business has that I’m seeing a lack of that in the county these days.
If elected, how would you improve communication and the working relationship between the School Board and the Board of Supervisors? It hasn’t always been quite so smooth in recent years.
Manning – I don’t know that I could single-handedly improve that current situation because it takes two people to have dialogue. So if only one person is willing to have that conversation, there’s not a whole lot that you can do to control the other individual. I think of us as counterparts for District 4 in representing – Certainly, Karl and I have actually had the conversation about the idea of how important it is to work in conjunction in these two positions because both have viewpoints that, that may not be as apparent to the other and I think if anybody’s willing to have a conversation and have a discussion and a dialogue, it’s not a difficult thing to improve on. But the willingness has to be there.
Given your professional commitment and travel schedule, would you expect to be able to fully participate in the Board of Supervisors activities; would the business-side of your life cause a problem?
Roulston – I really don’t foresee that being a problem. I’m not a 24-year-old engineer anymore. I own a business. I can work kind of at my leisure, where I need to, when I need to. So I’m able to manage a schedule now. I don’t think managing an additional task schedule will be that difficult. I can – I have the luxury of being able to off-load it to confident, qualified people. I’ve had that question before. It doesn’t frighten me.
Recently we’ve had a fairly high rate of teacher turnover in our schools, going to other schools in the area or even outside of the area. What are some ideas that you might have to help remedy the problem of teachers leaving here for fairer pastures?
Manning – There are so many components to a happy working environment. I think that one of the things that stand out to me is the situation of overcrowding in some of our schools. That is just stressful, in and of itself, for people that are there. I have had conversations with individuals at varying levels in several different schools, from teacher to administrator, of the challenges that they face and what seems to be happening not quite so much is a dialogue that happens across the board that acknowledges everyone’s frustrations or challenges or areas where they need help. I would hope that I’d be able to help facilitate more of a dialogue in that arena as well, besides with the Board of Supervisors, so that some of those things can get addressed. In doing so, I would hope that it would lessen the dissatisfaction that employees seem to be feeling. I don’t believe that money is the be-all, end-all answer to the problems that we face. Whether or not, you know, the magnitude or the aspect of that is to be seen. But I think there are some other fundamental things that can be done to reduce the outflow of our educational staff.
What ideas or thoughts would you have on improving the relationship between the Board of Supervisors and the constitutional officers? By no means do I think anyone thinks that’s a horrible relationship but, at times, maybe a little frost around the edge. What ideas do you have to improve that relationship?
Roulston – I think it all starts with just coming in to the discussions with respect, social discourse. You know, honestly, I don’t – and in the discussions I’ve had with constitutional officers, it’s not just the Board of Supervisors that they may get bullied, pushed around by – there’s some dysfunction within the county as well that needs to be addressed. I think you address it by building trust, starts with having a dialogue from a place of respect. If you treat me without respect, I’m more than likely gonna give you the same back and then it just escalates from there. Open communication. Open dialogue. Understanding the position of the other person. Those are very important communication skills that need to be exercised when you’re dealing with a constitutional office or anybody in the county.
What, if any, changes would you make or support to achieve or strengthen the relationships between the schools and the towns where they are in?
Manning – That’s an interesting question. I think that it goes without saying that we are in need of added facilities to our school system in order to alleviate the overcrowding situation that we have and I can appreciate the local commitment to the schools that their grandparents have gone to and their parents and, you know, we bleed blue and gold or purple, you know. I understand that. But most importantly we are dealing with the education of our future and I don’t know, I actually don’t know what the answer is to strengthen that. But to somehow convey that how important it is that we all work together as a county within our own groups and within the county as a whole to make education a priority so that our children get all that they deserve and hopefully have reasons to come back here and continue the success of the county.
If elected, do you plan to tour the schools on a regular basis? Neal expanded on the question, asking Roulston how he would interact with the schools to improve the relationship between the School Board and the Board of Supervisors.
Roulston – I think it’s important to visit all the schools. I think it’s important to understand when somebody says my classroom is this full to actually lay eyeballs on it and say, you know, you can have something described to you but when you actually see it, it has more of an impact of what it really means. So I do think touring the schools is important. I also believe that, you know, attitude reflects leadership and by taking the time to go visit the schools, that means a lot to the schools. It means a lot to the students and I know high school students don’t like to show that because they’re cool but it does mean a lot. It shows that your Board of Supervisors is engaged. They care and they are there to see what’s going on at the schools. So I think just showing up – not just touring the school but going to the sports games; going to the basketball games; the football games and then working with – I think that we need to work more on boots in the school, too, so that it’s not just relayed through the normal channels. But go talk to a teacher. What’s it like there? What are your problems? You know, the old management adage is my job is to remove the obstacles keeping you from being successful. Talk to a teacher. What is keeping them from being successful? What could you do to help them more, too? I think the more that you are present and around, the more you’re going to hear. That starts building the trust as well where you can start. Then they feel some trust level in being able to talk to you and you’re not going to just go run and – yellow carded – they’re not gonna just run and tell somebody else this teacher said that to me and punish them. So that’s what I think is an important thing is to make a presence and to be there.
Do you have two or three priorities that you hope to address to improve the schools?
Manning – Well, I think the three obvious things are, one, that you mentioned in a question earlier is our turnover and our long-term plan. I would like to definitely be part of the future of Shenandoah County and, not just in the next four years, but in a way that has a lasting benefit to sustain the county and bring us to the next place where we need to be as the world progresses and moves forward. And general morale and kind of foster the idea of a team. Being on the School Board and representing District 4 doesn’t mean that I only care about what happens in District 4 because what we really need to work toward is what is the best for the county overall. But probably teacher morale, overcrowding and, of course, the accreditation issue that we need to face and I think those are also tied all together to some degree.