As Bartow County voters go to the polls to vote for their next president, residents in District 4 also will be electing a new school board member to represent them for the next four years.
Republican Butch Emerson and Democrat Dexter Jones are facing off in the Nov. 3 election to replace Bartow County School Board incumbent Fred Kittle, who announced in February that he wouldn’t seek re-election to a third term.
The bank manager of United Community Bank’s Cartersville office since 2005, Emerson defeated real estate agent Roger Maier in the June 9 Republican primary for the chance to face Jones, who ran unopposed in the Democratic primary, in the general election.
Emerson, 58, has been married to his wife, Starr, a special education teacher in the Bartow school system, for 37 years, and they have five children and four grandchildren.
Two daughters, Sarah and Samantha, are teachers, and their son, Anthony, is a school custodian.
The Republican provided answers for a Q&A with The Daily Tribune News, but Jones, a Cartersville resident who works for Bartow Transit, did not respond.
The Daily Tribune News (DTN): Why did you want to run for the District 4 seat on the Bartow County School Board?
Butch Emerson (BE): I was raised in Bartow County. I went to Cass No. 1, Cass No. 2 and Cass High School and graduated in 1981. My childhood was less than ideal. God put people in my life at an early age who, to this day, still have a profound impact on me. My fifth-grade teacher, Mrs. Tilley; my middle school principal, Walter Johnson; high school teachers like Nettie Holt, Keith Dempsey, Coach Shinall; Mr. Kiser, my bus driver; Mrs. Crumbly, Mrs. Ledford and Mrs. Cochran from the lunchroom, all had a great influence on my life. They literally saved my life. I owe them so much. In the Bible, God tells us to whom much is given, much is required. That’s the answer – I want to give back to my community. Bartow County has been good to me and my family. I have worked all my life to repay the love and kindness people like I mentioned above showed me as a child. I want to use the gifts he [God] has given me to give back to my hometown. Our children, our grandchildren are my top priority. They always have been, and they always will be.
DTN: What do you think are the most critical issues facing the school system at the moment, and how would you propose to resolve them?
BE: I’ve spent a lot of time talking with parents, grandparents, teachers, bus drivers, administrators and students in our community about their concerns. I believe some of the things they are concerned about are the effects of COVID-19, digital learning and financial accountability. I believe folks want to have a better understanding of what our teachers and counselors are facing daily. I know social bullying, increased drug use, hunger and homelessness are current and serious challenges. But even with these issues, the folks I’ve spoken with want everyone to know how proud they are of our school system and our school employees. We have a great superintendent and good board members. They all are working to help build an excellent school system for our community.
DTN: What did you think about the decision for students to return to full in-person instruction Aug. 5th?
BE: I think [Superintendent] Dr. [Phillip] Page and our board did a good job in handling that situation. It’s my understanding Dr. Page spent a lot of time meeting with a parent advisory group as well as a teacher advisory group. From their input, the district staff put together a plan to offer both in-school learning and digital learning. I believe 81% of families chose in-school learning, and 19% chose digital. I’m very proud of our teachers who have been very innovative in finding ways to educate our students during this time. I think the rest of our state could take a big lesson in learning from our school system on how to handle this situation.
DTN: What goals do you hope to accomplish as a board member if you are elected?
BE: I want to use my gifts and business experience to help expand our school system’s relationship with our supportive business community. I will work to expand more programs at the Bartow County College and Career Academy to meet the growing demands of the county’s workforce. I will work to expand our very successful Read to Grow program in our elementary and middle schools. I’m extremely proud of our magnet school programs at each of the high schools – Adairsville High School’s Advanced Studies in Science, Technology and Math, Cass High School’s Advanced Studies in International Studies and Woodland High School’s Advanced Studies in Medical Science. I will work to help our system find more financial partners to help our AP [Advanced Placement] students with the cost of their exams. I will work to put free breakfast for all our students back in our schools.
Most of all, I want to earn and maintain the trust of our students, parents and system employees. I want them to know I will work hard to be a trusted advocate and voice for each one of them.
DTN: What is your plan for keeping the school district financially stable?
BE: I understand completely that our school system is in the business of educating our children. This costs money. Eighty-five percent of the school system budget is dedicated to personnel costs. The other 15% is operations. I plan on using my 34 years of business management skills to exercise sound financial leadership in every decision. I plan on using the business contacts I’ve made to increase the number of businesses who will partner with us in the education of our children.
DTN: What is your position on what school system employees or board members should or should not be allowed to post on their social media accounts?
BE: Well, you just stated it – it’s their social media post on their privately owned devices. I believe they should use proper judgment on what they are posting. I would also caution them to make sure they don’t post anything that would violate the code of ethics they signed.
DTN: Where do you stand on getting a senior tax exemption bill on a future ballot for voters to approve or reject?
BE: I stated early on in my campaign I’m in favor of senior tax exemption as long as it’s fair to all concerned. If you take away from one group, you put it on the other. We’ve got to find other avenues of revenue to make up the difference. I would work with our local legislators to accomplish that task. I would encourage them to continue to work on this issue.
DTN: Given all the COVID-19 restrictions that have to be followed, what has this campaigning season been like for you?
BE: It’s been a real grassroots effort. I’ve been doing it the old-fashioned way, getting out and meeting people while taking safety measures, making phone calls and putting signs out. I’ve been respecting people’s concerns about COVID so I have used social media as opposed to knocking on lots of doors.
DTN: Finally, why are you the best candidate for this position?
BE: I’m asking the voters to put their trust in my ability to safeguard their most precious gift – their children. Our children and grandchildren are our treasure. Starr and I know how precious our children are to us and that they truly are a gift from God. I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to help make a better life for our children. Now I want to do that for all of the children in the Bartow County School System.
I ask the voters to put their trust in my 34 years of business management leadership. Our school system is in the business of educating our children. I ask the voters to put their trust in my reputation as a person of integrity who will always exercise sound financial leadership.
To our teachers, parapros, bus drivers, custodians, counselors and support staff, I ask you to put your trust in my dedication to be your advocate on the board of education. I’ve met with many of you during this campaign, and I have heard you. I’m proud of each and every one of you. I truly do understand your frustrations, and I applaud your victories.