Richard Irby

Richard Irby

Why are you running for this office? How does you background prepare you for this position?

Call it a part of my background or not, I married a teacher. Now of course that is not the only life choice that qualifies me for school board but being married to an educator gives me a unique perspective on how the day-to-day workings of the classroom are going. I have been involved one way or another in Education since college. I am a musician and have been working with school music programs in one form or another since 1988. My work has allowed me to remain in close contact with the schools here in Georgia for going on 26 years. I am in management with an Atlanta based company and my department deals with sales to educational institutions.

I see on a daily basis the needs and struggles that teachers have in the classroom, not just here in Jackson County but all across North Georgia.

I want to see the Jackson County Schools keep up with the growth that the county is experiencing. It is a crucial time for the Board of Education and many financial decisions are going to be made to devise a plan for growth and execute that plan. I want to be a part of that decision and I hope to bring a little outside perspective to the board to help us plan not just for today but for the explosion of growth that is upon us.

Our students need to know what it is to have a childhood. To ask a 12-year-old to choose a pathway is wrong. Let out kids be kids. They have plenty of time to be adults. We should focus on giving our young people a great foundation of knowledge. If we do this, we will give them the tools they need to find that pathway to a career in their adult lives.

Due to growth, the construction of new schools looks to be an ongoing process in the county for many years to come. Do you support continuing the use of SPLSOT funds and bond referendums to pay for those large capital expenses?

The Jackson County school board is behind the curve when it comes to facilities to keep up with growth in the west side of the county. We are going to have to set a plan in place to get ahead and that is going to take a huge investment on the part of the board. Bonds will have to be used to finance the upcoming construction projects and the SPLOST funds are a great way to collect money to pay those bonds back. Jackson County has a money maker running right through the middle of it, and that is called I-85. We need the SPLOST in place because every traveler that stops along the way pays into the schools of Jackson County and that expands our tax base.

School curriculums have been controversial in some areas of the country, specifically about what books should be used in classrooms. How do you propose balancing the input of parents in that process with the decisions of school curriculum professionals and teachers?

It is important to note that the curriculum that is used in every classroom in Jackson County and across this great state of Georgia is set in place by the State Board of Education. Your choice for Governor and State School Superintendent is your way as an individual to get involved in what is being taught in the classrooms of your child’s school.

What is the strongest aspect of the Jackson County School System? What is its weakest point?

Where the Jackson County School System is strongest can be found in the incredible teachers that we have in the classrooms around the county. Without these qualified passionate teachers, we would have nothing. Our teachers show up every day because they care about your kids and the importance of their education. To attract and retain qualified teachers, we need to do better supporting them every day in the classroom. If we do not find a way to keep our teachers, then we are failing our students. I want to give our teachers a voice by listening to their needs and daily struggles. I see across the state that more and more teachers are leaving the profession and that is a huge problem. They are not leaving because they hate teaching their students in the classroom. They leave because of all the other things they are required to do outside the classroom. Teaching is so much more than an eight to four job.

The school systems weakest point is the lack of planning for the future. We open schools that are too small they day the doors are opened. It is going to take a financial leap for the board of education, but we must get ahead of the growth in Jackson County. Not giving our students the facilities they need hinders their education.

How big of a role should athletics play in the life and culture of a school?

We need to be asking the bigger questions. How big a role should fine arts be playing in the school? How big a role should FFA be playing in the schools? You see, all these activities are a part of the culture of the school. All these programs are equally important. Not every student plays a sport. Some are a part of the arts in our schools. Many participate in FFA here in the county. Yes, sports are important but so are so many other activities that our students participate in.

For many of our children, these programs are what keep them motivated to stay in school. Every student needs a creative outlet and all these activities do just that. So many skills are learned from participating not only in sports but also in the Arts or in the FFA program at the school. We should be supporting these programs equally.

Senior citizens often complain about having to pay school property taxes. They argue that they don’t have children in school and shouldn’t have to pay. But others say paying for a community’s education is everyone’s responsibility not just for those who have children in school. In addition, county leaders have said that cutting residential property taxes can’t happen until the county has a larger industrial tax base; that cutting property taxes for senior citizens would, in effect, shift the tax burden to younger homeowners. What are your thoughts on that debate and would you support amending the county’s homestead exemption rules to allow for a larger tax break for senior citizens?

It takes a village to raise a child. In this case it takes a village to fund a school system within our county. I would absolutely support phasing out or lowering the tax burden of our aging citizens in Jackson County. We should be looking at optional sources of income for the school system. Perhaps it is time that the developers in Jackson County begin to give back. They are making millions building neighborhoods so maybe we consider an impact fee for every home they build. These fees would go directly toward the construction of the schools needed to house the students moving into the new neighborhoods.

Do you support the board of education’s recent move to increase the size of county schools (by increasing the number of students in each school) in an effort to save money by building fewer, but larger schools?

To me it is not about the size of the school building itself. We must ask so many questions with this topic. Are we keeping our classroom sizes at a good level? Do the larger schools have the needed facilities to house more numbers? Are our gyms large enough, are our cafeterias large enough? Do we have enough counselors, art and music teachers, foreign language classrooms, coaches? We save money by having fewer buildings to maintain; however, we cannot just build a larger building without first making sure we have within the building adequate services for our students.

Do you think it is appropriate for state lawmakers to dictate the details of what is and is not taught in Georgia classrooms? Should the state or boards of education limit discussions about racial and LGBT issues?

Until the State of Georgia amends its constitution the State Board of Education has the authority to set curriculum for the classrooms. There are many social issues that face this nation and face us right here in Jackson County. As parents we need to be involved in our student’s education by asking questions daily when they get home. A teacher doing their job in the classroom will often bring up current events to teach their subject. Your child will certainly hear things at school that may not 100 percent follow your personal beliefs. This creates an opportunity for you to start a discussion at home and that is how we get involved in in our child’s education. Your voice in making changes to school curriculum comes at the ballot box. Your vote cast for Governor and State School Superintendent is how you take control of the discussions being had in the classroom.

We can get involved in education by talking to our students and by teaching them to be respectful of others’ beliefs. We can learn by listening to the ideas and viewpoints of others. We succeed by finding our paths in the world and being open minded to appreciate and love those around us.

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