LYNCHBURG — Bedford County School Board candidates Martin Leamy, the incumbent representing District 7, and challenger Patti Kese answered a few questions to give voters insight into their campaigns. District 7 spans from south of the town of Bedford to just east of Forest.
Q: Why are you seeking (re)election?
Leamy: “I seek reelection because as the District 7 representative, I have unfinished business. While we have moved forward in many areas such as completing Liberty Middle School on time and under budget, beginning the expansion and renovation of Forest Middle School, reinstituting pay steps and upgrading the tracks at all three high schools, as examples, we still fall short in others. We must provide equal facilities and curriculum divisionwide. Students at Jefferson Forest High School and Forest Middle School should have the opportunity to take agriculture classes if they desire as students at Liberty High School should be provided the chance to take a physics class. This is currently not the case.
“The recent Elementary School Facilities Study includes options for closing and consolidating community schools. These schools are the heart of our county’s communities; are paid for; and with upgrades and preventative maintenance going forward, can serve the division for years to come. This is simply good stewardship of taxpayer dollars.”
Kese: “I have been involved in Bedford County Public Schools for almost 15 years with two children who have graduated and two who are still enrolled. I have the very unique perspective from all of my time inside the schools, whether it’s my roles in the PTA as president, secretary and treasurer or a member of the Health Advisory and Dress Code Committees. I have been a substitute teacher and a part-time employee. I am the most qualified candidate because this unique perspective will bring invaluable ideas for what’s best for our students, teachers, bus drivers, paraprofessionals, custodians, cafeteria workers and administrators.”
Q: What do you see as Bedford County Public Schools’ greatest strengths?
Leamy: “The strength of Bedford County Public Schools lies in its teachers and support staff. These are the individuals who day in and day out do the division’s heavy lifting. Our teachers have been and will always remain the primary contacts, mentors and role models who interact with and prepare our students for what is next in their lives. They are securing the future not only for our students but for previous generations.”
Kese: “I absolutely love Bedford County Public Schools because of the vast range of opportunities that it provides for all of our students. There is Governor’s School, Early College, Bedford Science and Technology Center (BSTC), and select classes at CVCC. BSTC just held its first Signing Day for students who were graduating and heading straight into the workforce. Studies have shown that high-paying trade jobs are sitting open. Great schools are a byproduct of great communities that invest in them. This is a concept that I’ll champion for all of our schools.”
Q: What do you see as the division’s weaknesses?
Leamy: “Bedford County Public Schools currently experiences low double-digit teacher attrition annually. While reestablishing [pay] steps is a good start, we need to further and better incentivize our teachers through smaller class sizes and enhanced benefits to stay with BCPS.
“The Bedford County Education Association President identified low employee morale as the number two concern among its members. This is a significant contributing factor to staff attrition and must be addressed. I attribute the low morale in the division to the senior leadership in the Central Office. We need to take a deep dive into the corporate culture of the current administration and its effect on morale, and take corrective action as appropriate.”
Kese: “Our teachers are our most valued resource. Too many of these teachers are holding two jobs to make ends meet while also raising children. I feel that this is our division’s greatest weakness, and I will work hard to ensure they are given future resources that they desperately need.”
Q: What are your top priorities for the division in the next year if (re)elected?
Leamy: “Ensuring that equal curriculum opportunities and facilities are offered divisionwide; preserving our community schools, thereby providing fiduciary responsibility and stewardship of taxpayer dollars; attracting and retaining quality teachers and support staff; and restoring employee morale.”
Kese: “Once elected, I will continue to support step increases and raises for employees by voting for a budget that includes these. As a PTA officer, I have seen how much our teachers and staff love their students. They are so appreciative of the many dinners and appreciation days that show them how much they are valued. We have to show them our support with more than dinners and appreciation days. In order to provide retention and recruitment for our teachers we must provide them with salaries that let them know how important they are. One other priority I firmly believe in is facility improvements across all zones. On a recent visit with a principal, all he requested was that his classrooms be painted. We need to concentrate on all of these small improvements that need to be done across all zones.”
Q: Concerns have been raised at school board meetings about disparities in the allocation of resources within various school zones. How will you address those concerns if (re)elected?
Leamy: “I will ensure through the annual budgeting process and prioritization of capital improvement projects that those high school zones that have been historically overlooked will be afforded the resources that they are owed and overdue.”
Kese: “One of the strengths of Bedford County Public Schools is the great diversity of programs and course offerings that we are able to provide to our students. We can better address concerns about inequality of offerings by focusing on improving access to these diverse programs and courses. Every single one of our students matter equally. As a school board member, I will fight to ensure that equal treatment is given to not only each one of our students, but each one of our teachers and other school employees as well.”