Local candidates for the state Legislature and Kent County Levy Court sparred Tuesday night over how best to get children back to learning core knowledge that will enable them to pass any test and how to create economic incentives for businesses that bring jobs to Kent County.
Continued farmland preservation, best animal control practices and responsive constituent services were also among the quality of life issues discussed during brief debates held by GateHouse Media Delaware and the Dover Post at Caesar Rodney High School. Dover Post Executive Editor Jesse Chadderdon, who oversees five other Gatehouse newspapers, served as moderator.
Senate District 15
Republican incumbent Sen. Dave Lawson, Democrat Kathleen Cooke and Independent Catherine R. Samardza squared off for the 15th Senate District race, where all agreed that constituent services were paramount to public service. But they had different takes on how to approach the education riddle.
Cooke, a teacher in the Smyrna School District, said standardized tests had their place in education. But students were being tested too much – four times a year, she said. In addition, Cooke said people needed to get away from the notion that everyone needed to go to college. That was the intended purpose of trade and vocational schools, which had gotten away from that mandate in order to recruit academic students, she said
"There are a lot of students at Polytech High School, but you need a 3.0 GPA to go there," Cooke said. "People say it's a private school."
Lawson said he disagreed with making teachers "teach to the test."
"That doesn't accomplish anything," he said. "If our children were learning what we used to learn, they could pass any test."
Samardza added that some realism was needed in public schools today. She agreed that college was not for everybody.
"It's not that they're not smart enough for college," she said. "But, when was the last time you needed an MBA? When was the last time you called a plumber?"
The 15th District candidates differed more sharply on the issue of the federal Race to the Top initiative thrust upon local schools. Lawson called it "waste to the top" and another example of over regulation by an increasingly intrusive government.
Samardza said the jury was still out as far as she was concerned when it came to putting public schools under observation by the state and the feds.
Cooke said it was stressful to be put under the microscope. But she said the extra money that was being pumped into schools had provided additional training for teachers.
All of the candidates in this race and others agreed that the state's farmland preservation efforts had done a good job, for the most part, in preserving land from suburban sprawl.
Senate District 16
In the 16th Senate District race, Republican incumbent State Sen. Colin Bonini was unable to attend, but Independent Michael Tedesco took some time to criticize the incumbent as he introduced himself to debate attendees. He said Bonini had run on a platform that included term limits 18 years ago, yet he was still serving in the State Senate.
Education is very important to him since he and his wife have three young children, Tedesco said. He said schools should go back to grouping kids by ability when appropriate, as opposed to lumping everyone together and making more advanced children suffer as a result.
He told voters that a vote for him would not be wasted since he was the only opponent facing Bonini.
House District 29
The 29th House District also did not feature a debate as Republican incumbent Rep. Lincoln Willis was unable to attend. Democratic challenger Charles W. Paradee took the opportunity to introduce himself as a native of Kent County who graduated from the University of Delaware and came back to the community he loved.
Paradee said he was a hard worker who would not miss any votes in the Legislature, referring to a few bills Willis was absent from. His platform includes tax incentives that allow the business community to create more jobs and investing more in technical education.
House District 31
In the 31st Representative District, Republican challenger Sam Chick was unable to attend, and Democratic incumbent State Rep. Darryl Scott took the time to extol his legislative record that created scholarships for students, tax incentives to attract new businesses to Delaware and fighting for jobs south of the C&D Canal and in Kent County.
"Government doesn't create jobs; we simply create an environment that fosters jobs," he said.
Senate District 17
State Sen. Brian Bushweller (D-17th District) is unopposed in his bid for re-election, leaving him with mixed feelings. It was a blessing in that he did not have to deal with the daily pressure of a race, Bushweller said. But, it was a curse in that it would be easy for him to become complacent, he said. He chose to continue on with old fashioned, shoe leather campaigning and door knocking, thereby putting pressure on himself.
Bushweller pledged to keep sunset provisions in place for state taxes that had been raised to help the state through a difficult economic time – unless a compelling reason led him to do otherwise.
House District 32
In the 32nd Representative District, Democratic candidate Andria Bennett was unable to attend due to a prior commitment. Republican candidate Ellis Parrott said he was running because he was concerned about the future of his children and grandchildren in America. The state of Delaware does not have the right leadership in place, he said. And as a state judge for 25 years he understood the various problems people faced. The former Dover Police officer pledged to improve police investigations of crime. He also proposed a minor co-pay for the one out of every four people in the state on Medicaid.
House District 34
In the 34th Representative District, Democrat Ted Yacucci said he wanted to address the highest-in-the-state water and sewer rates and lack of open accounting by the Camden Wyoming Water & Sewer Authority and episodes of "brown-water" that plagued the same residents. He also wants to protect Barclay Farms and other Delaware manufactured homeowners from unjustified land-rent increases. As for education, Yacucci said the Caesar Rodney School District needed to create its own talented & gifted programs so that it would not lose students to the Capital School District and elsewhere.
Republican incumbent State Rep. Don Blakey, a former Caesar Rodney administrator, said all of the students in the CR district were talented and gifted, and the district had the second lowest amount of students being lost to charter schools in the state. And he would fight against school district consolidation to preserve CR's identity.
Blakey said he would continue to be an effective, full time legislator with six years experience in the state Legislature and 10 years experience as a commissioner for Kent County Levy Court. He also said he would work to bring jobs to Kent County that benefited the bedroom communities of Camden and Wyoming. There are jobs out there, but people do not have the technical background necessary for them, he said. That would require providing education for them at the school district or university level.
Independent Doug Beatty said he represented an independent voice voters could elect to office. One thing he had going for him was the fact that he "was too stupid" and actually felt he could go to the Legislature and effect real change, Beatty said. Plus, he was not beholden to any party machine and could truly represent the people. And, he too wanted to ensure police did a better job of investigating crime, citing the unsolved murder of his friend six years ago in his neighborhood.
Nonetheless, Beatty said he had nothing bad to say about his opponents and that the people of the 32nd District would be fine with any of the three candidates.
Levy Court District 5
To conclude the night, Kent County Levy Court Commissioner George "Jody" Sweeney, a Democrat, and Libertarian Andrew Cronk had a cordial debate in the race for District 5. Republican challenger Kevin McCarthy was unable to attend.
Cronk, 22, said this was his first foray into politics and his first debate. He was running in order to be a voice for the people and, if nothing else, to at least influence the outcome of the race.
Sweeney asked voters to support him based on his record, not his potential. That included leading the county to award its dog control contract to Safe Haven in Georgetown, Sussex County after the Kent County SPCA requested a nearly 50 percent increase in funding for its contract to $1.3 million without explaining in detail the need for an increase or its operating style.
"That's not my money to spend," he said. "We negotiated with them for five months."
Cronk agreed with Kent County's move to Safe Haven, which he lauded as a no kill, green organization. He also said the 13 jobs that the Kent County SPCA lost were negated for the most part to a net loss of three employees because Safe Haven had hired 10 Kent County employees.
In all, Sweeney said the county was in great shape after reducing its operating budget from $29.5 million to $22.5 million in the last four years. And county staff was reduced from 325 to 283, he said.
"Two years ago, we decreased the property tax rate and the library tax rate and gave those back to the taxpayers. Don't look at me for what I can do but for what I've done."