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Q and A with City Council candidate Carolyn Frank

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This Q and A was done as part of a series covering all the non-incumbent candidates for the city council election on Nov. 6. More Q and A’s will be posted throughout this week.

 

Carolyn Frank

Q: Why are you running, and when did you decide to run?

A: On the eleventh hour. It wasn’t something I planned to get back into. I served eight and a half years on city council. I ran for reelection in 2010, and at that same time, I announced my retirement from the phone company after 38 years. So I was really looking forward to being back on council… The voters retired me from politics also; I didn’t win my election in 2010… I felt like I had the experience, and I was concerned about the tax rate and the financial health of our city. I made that decision to jump in the race.

Q: What are some points in your platform that affect young people?

A: For students, the financial health of the city is very important… I care about education, and I think that as citizens and people we care about education. But we care about taxes, too. We’ve got a retired group of people finding that the city is possibly becoming unaffordable. I care about education, but I care about debt load. I think we really need to be forward thinking… Governor McAuliffe did some things looking at the future of high school education and the remaking of a high school. One of the things I’m concerned about is that we’re going to put a lot of money into brick and mortar, and there might be alternative ways to educate students that would be more positive for the students also.

Q: What’s your plan for building a new high school?

A: Financially, the City Council said that we can’t do it until 2023… We have two years to go back to the table and have some conversations, especially town hall meetings, to get the citizens involved. One of the things that happens sometimes is the ball starts rolling, and it takes a long time to engage people. It’s not City Council’s fault or the School Board because they made a really concerted effort to do that, but it just didn’t happen. Now people are engaged and it gives us time to explain to the people and get them on board or come up with something better. One of the things I’ve floated out there… is year-round schools because we’re not an agrarian community anymore. It gives flexibility to the family and the student… I’d like to have some feedback from students about what they think of that…

We don’t want our city to ever be divided over education, because that’s never a good thing. I think we’re going to be able to come together and do something good for our community.

Q: Was the building of the current high school an issue when you were first on city council?

A: Yes, it was. We ran a campaign in 2002 not to build the new high school, but to keep the old high school and do an auxiliary school somewhere else. That was the campaign that the people I supported [ran]. What we were talking about was an auxiliary campus: not a mega high school, but a focus school. That was clearly not the wishes of the people of Harrisonburg at that time. It showed us that they wanted one high school for the community.

Q: How does that compare to what’s happening now?

A: There are concerns about dividing the community with two high schools. It wasn’t clear how the high school was going to work because Dr. Kizner made a statement that [students could take some classes at a school that wasn’t their own]. That’s not quite a separate high school. If we’re going to make an auxiliary campus, let’s put it across the road. Another thing that’s a big concern is that if we separate, people in high school two aren’t going to want to come to high school one to play football games… The other major concern is that… within four years of the election we’ll need a new middle school. Financially, I don’t see how the city is going to keep up with the building of schools and keep Harrisonburg affordable for its citizens.

Q: What are alternatives to building schools then?

A: [Alternatives include] year-long schooling, doing an auxiliary campus close by. [HHS] was meant to be expanded, that’s why we made the glass wall because it was cheaper to take out glass than it was to take out brick. Looking at how we remake the high school, something that’s very important to me is education outside the classroom. I think that if we don’t put our money in brick and mortar, we can do that. It’s important to me to attract quality teachers and to have nursing staff and counselors and whatever we need in the school to help students that struggle. Just to have different paths, I think [would be good]. I spoke to people in the county. They do things differently when you talk about vocational education. Some of the students will be college bound and they’ll be successful… no matter if this school is crowded or not. Then there are some students that it doesn’t matter how much we do, they’re going to struggle. But we don’t want to lose those kids in the middle either. People need a career path; they need to be able to make a good living.

I don’t think anyone can dispute the fact that we have a great high school here; that we have great programs. ”

Q: The School Board did consider building an auxiliary campus, but decided that a new high school would be a better option in their eyes. Would you suggest revisiting that?

A: Yes, and hopefully they’ll be open to that. There will be some new people on the School Board; we’re getting a new superintendent. I’d like to revisit vocational training and see if there are spaces that some of the students could move to. Who knows how [expensive] the [new high school] will be? [It’s important] to give us some breathing room. When we built this high school, Weldon Cooper did this study about what Harrisonburg was going to look like and said that [HHS] was the last high school we were going to have to build. Well, that’s not true. Trends can change. Growth trends can change, too. In Augusta county, two schools are closing down. This gives us some breathing room to see if the projections are right.

Q: What are some things HCPS does well and what can we improve?

A: I don’t think anyone can dispute the fact that we have a great high school here; that we have great programs. That’s the thing that we want to keep. Our arts programs are exceptional programs. There are concerns about that when you divide those programs… There are opportunities that you have with a bigger school.

One of my strengths is connecting people. I listen and I connect. I think it’s good for young people to advocate for yourself. I show you the avenue and then you advocate.”

Q: What qualifies you to speak for students or young people in our community?

A: I’ve been a parent. I’m a grandparent now. I’m very connected to the community. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work. I started [the soccer program at Smithland]. Those fields are there because of my advocacy work… I put my whole life into this, and the first year we had 450 kids… I spearheaded and pushed to have an all-girls league. All that was my blood, sweat and tears. I gave leadership to that for five years. Then, I’ve been a scout leader, a youth club leader, my boys played sports. I love young people.

Q: Do you have any other ideas for new youth programs like the soccer fields?

A: I think that we have a great recreational program to involve all youth. I can’t think of anything we’re missing. When I was on City Council, youth came to me about skateboarding… One of my strengths is connecting people. I listen and I connect. I think it’s good for young people to advocate for yourself. I show you the avenue and then you advocate. [The skateboarders] did the legwork and I showed them the path. That’s how we got the skateboard park.

Q: How did your education and upbringing lead you into politics?

A: It didn’t. What lead me into politics was my commitment to my community, to always being involved. I was sitting at City Council meetings trying to get some soccer fields where the golf course is and thought we were going to have them. Low and behold, we had a golf course. That’s what got me in. I listened to the golf study report, and I had lots of red flags in it. So I spearheaded a group of people that opposed the golf course. That’s how I got into politics. I was [on City Council] to advocate for those soccer fields.

Q: What advice would you give to students who want to pursue politics or community involvement?

A: Go for it. It’s a little scary now how you’re scrutinized, but that shouldn’t stop you. Everyone has to live out their passion. As a young person, I never had a passion for politics. I was already pretty happy to sit on the sideline as a cheerleader if that was an option, but in my life it wasn’t an option… There were things that were important to me that I had to give leadership to. Whether it was being the den mother or being a team mom or being a room mother, I just stood up when nobody else would stand up and did my civic duty… It’s been an incredible learning curve being involved in politics at the local level.

Q: Do you have anything else to add?

A: We don’t want our city to ever be divided over education, because that’s never a good thing. I think we’re going to be able to come together and do something good for our community.

 

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Q and A with City Council candidate Carolyn Frank