School leader ‘disappointed’ in mayor’s comments

Palatka’s top politico was critical of nonprofit trying to expand pre-k education in Putnam County

Putnam County School District board Chairman David Buckles said he was “disappointed” to read Palatka Mayor Terrill Hill’s recent critiques of Lift Putnam Inc., a foundation supporting local education housed in the school district headquarters. 

“I was really disappointed,” he said. “I understand the frustration with people saying we have so many poor people in Putnam County. Folks, we do. … Is that an excuse? No. All kids can learn. But it is a fact that you have to go through and deal with that.”

Hill told local leaders at a recent LOGIC meeting people should not assume county’s education and socioeconomic problems go hand-in-hand and children who are poor and/or struggling academically would be better served by a more diverse Lift Putnam board. 

“If you’re trying to reach a core market of people, how can you truly do that or understand the mindset of the people if your board isn’t diverse?” Hill asked. “Because I hear the names on your board, and I’ve only heard of one name based upon the people that I know who really has a true educational background.

“The other part that you have to do is you have to understand the market that you serve. You’ve got to have people from various walks of life so that you can truly educate yourself.”

Hill’s comments came after Lift Putnam’s executive director and former school board attorney Jim Padgett gave a presentation encouraging local leaders to support the foundation. 

“Saying that the board is not a proper composition was totally erroneous,” Buckles said. “I think he misspoke. I think the world of Terrill. I think he caught him at a bad time. We all have bad days.”

Buckles said Hill is a known supporter of children and fine man, but must have had a bad day when Padgett presented Lift Putnam at LOGIC and wasn’t happy with what he heard.

Buckles said the foundation’s goal of establishing a free prekindergarten program for all Putnam County children is critical. 

“If you can’t get them to school in pre-k, you’re not going to be able to serve them,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to do that. … I hope the county leaders understand.”