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New school board member puzzled by Ballowe letter
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Gainesville City Board of Education member-elect Sammy Smith said Thursday he was surprised and "simply puzzled" by a letter sent by Superintendent Steven Ballowe responding to one of his campaign mailers.

Smith, who defeated Eric Oliver to win the Ward 5 seat Tuesday, sent a mailer in October to Ward 5 voters questioning the school board’s actions concerning Ballowe’s pay and benefits.

"It’s time to make some major adjustments in the board and its thinking," Smith said in the mailer.

He then went on to compare the Gainesville and Hall County systems according to the number of students, schools, employees and superintendent pay and benefits.

The mailer highlights Ballowe’s pay and benefits as $240,000-plus, compared to Hall school Superintendent Will Schofield’s $183,500.

"It’s time to change the system," the mailer says. "Let your voice be heard to bring common business sense to the school board."

Ballowe sent a two-page letter, dated Nov. 1, to Smith, saying that several people had expressed concern that "your campaign is an attack on my leadership and the Gainesville Model."

The Gainesville Model is a much-lauded system of accountability that involves a battery of basic-skills tests to help identify student strengths and weaknesses and remediate as needed.

The letter goes on to say the board had recognized before hiring him in 2001 that a change in direction was needed for the system. He touts the model and notes academic successes as well as educational choices for families.

"The 2008 Gainesville school board will have to determine what value the leadership of Steven E. Ballowe has been for our children and community and the value of my personal commitment to the Gainesville school family," Ballowe wrote. "I will guarantee that you certainly can get many individuals to work at a reduced rate!"

Smith said he was surprised by "poor grammar and punctuation" in the memo, which was also sent to Oliver, other school board members, senior administrators and Maria Calkins, who won an unopposed race in Ward 2 to succeed board member and current Chairwoman Lee Highsmith.

Smith also said he was "shocked" by the letter’s timing and "simply puzzled with the message and content and the audacity."

As far as questioning the current school board’s actions, he said, "A candidate has the right to question the current school board in any of its official actions."

Ballowe said by e-mail that he has an obligation to ask "any board candidate or board member (who) wishes information or disseminates information ... to consider over viewpoints that may exist."

Ballowe dismissed that he was getting involved in a political campaign.

"This was my personal request for a consideration of other salary comparisons," he said.

Ballowe also had no qualms about confronting a potential future boss in Smith.

"Regardless of the boss, honesty is always the best response," he said.

Ballowe said that he and Smith have not talked personally about the issue.

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