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School board District 1 candidates respond to questions

 

LTN Staff reports

 

Lincoln County voters will be deciding this fall on which candidates for a range of federal, state and local offices they want to represent them. The Lincoln Times-News is surveying those office-seekers with questions related to issues they are likely to face if elected. Their answers will be published throughout the next several weeks. Today’s edition provides the  responses from candidates for the Lincoln County Board of Education, District 1 seat.

This is a new seat, created when the board drew up new districts last year, in response to a legislative mandate. For the first time, the districts in Lincoln County will be blanaced by population. Although residents of all parts of the county may vote for this seat, only those living in District 1, which is in the western portion of the county, may run.

Among those competing for this seat is current board member Tommy Houser, a registered Democrat who is seeking a fourth term. Two Republicans, Cathy Davis and Nolan Nance, are also seeking the seat. Because this is a nonpartisan seat, there are no primaries and no runoffs — whichever candidate has the most votes will win.

 

Question: North Brook Elementary School, which is located in this district, has posted below-average scores on state tests for several years, even though some other schools in Lincoln County have performed fairly well.  What can you do as a member of the board to ensure North Brook parents that their children have as much access to a quality education as those in other parts of the county?

Cathy Davis:

I would not be able to address parents without first having conversations with the superintendent and possibly the principal at North Brook. I would want to know what issues have been identified, review the action plan in place, and assess any other information that would allow me to be informed when talking to a parent. The implementation of the new Common Core and Essential Standards would be a positive talking point. I would also challenge each parent to communicate with the child’s teachers to ensure everyone is doing what they can to aid the child in the educational experience.

Tommy Houser:

I’m concerned with any school, not just North Brook, where students are not achieving at a level that will prepare them for success. The No. 1 job of a school board member is to work with other members of the board and the county commissioners to make sure the teachers and students have the resources needed to meet students’ needs. Our superintendent and her staff are working with the principal and School Improvement Team to address the issues at North Brook.

Nolan Nance:

I would assure parents and students that they are receiving a quality education at North Brook. The teachers at North Brook Elementary are highly qualified teachers that receive the same Professional Development, resources, and support the rest of the county does. With that said, if the students are not performing to the standards of Lincoln County and the State, I would propose ways to get the parents involved more, offer tutoring if necessary. It is our responsibility to devise a plan to help them reach a level of success that is achievable.

 

Question: The previous superintendent of Lincoln County Schools did not have his contract renewed after accusing board members of allegedly unethical conduct, including using their board positions to seek unfair favors for relatives and friends. What do you think about how that situation was handled and do you think the conduct of which he accused the board members, if true, would be inappropriate?

Cathy Davis:

In any situation involving personnel I think a great deal of pertinent information is not and cannot be made available to the general public. It is so imperative that we elect candidates for any office that we trust fully to use the information given to them to make sound decisions. In this particular case I believe that schools system and the board of education consistently portrayed to the public via the media a glowing image of the superintendent until the point at which he pointed fingers at their presumable inappropriate request. Everyone outside the school system was caught grossly offguard when it was announced that Dr. Martin’s contract may not be renewed. It was easy for many to view this as an action of retaliation and causing much of the community to rally to his aid. If the superintendent’s accusations were true and could be proven to be so, not hearsay, then yes I believe it was very inappropriate for a board member to expect favors.

Tommy Houser:

The previous superintendent resigned prior to an official vote being taken on his contract. The No. 1 qualification for someone seeking a job with our school system is their qualifications. And that is what hiring should be based upon. Also, we have a nepotism policy, which prohibits employees from supervising their immediate family members. A board member’s relative should not be advantaged or penalized for seeking a job with the school system. The bottom line issue is that jobs should be given to the most qualified applicants.

Nolan Nance:

I think the previous board members and the current incumbents handled it very poorly and are why they were unseated in the last election and hopefully the remaining incumbents will be unseated as well. The community outcry to keep Dr Martin was loud and clear, yet the board members disregarded it as they used their power to not renew his contract. Yes, the conduct by those board members was inappropriate – employees should be hired by who is the best person for the position.

 

Question: The Board of Education recently debated repairs to the track at Lincolnton High School, which had been forced to bus athletes elsewhere for competitions. Although the repairs were approved, some concern was expressed about spending money on such facilities when budgets for teacher salaries and academic resources are tight. How do you feel about this type of spending?

Cathy Davis:

The money allocated for the repair of this track and the track at West Lincoln Middle School is not money that can be used to aid teachers salaries. When looking at expenditures many of us, myself included, do not fully understand how federal funds, state funds and dollars from bond referendums can be spent. While yes, I am sure there are other needs that many of our facilities have, for example, Lincolnton High School is in great need of an auditorium for their performing arts programs that can also be used by the community, like that at North Lincoln High School. I would say to the athlete, who is working hard to achieve academically and excel athletically in track and field, having a home track for practice is very important to him or her in order maximizes their potential. It may be critical to them in terms of receiving a scholarship for their talent.

Tommy Houser:

The school board is charged with maintaining school facilities. We also are concerned with equity between schools. Funds used to address repairs come from  capital outlay fund that can only be used for that purpose. We get these funds from the county commissioners. Funds needed for pay raises for teachers primarily come from the state. During the 12 years I have been on the school board we have doubled the local salary supplement for teachers.

Nolan Nance:

All money spent should be shared equally among the schools. If a school is in need, we should find a way to support them. Lincolnton had issues with their track, next time another school may need the same amount of money to fix a problem. We have to be fair to everyone.

Question: Even though unemployment in the region is high, industries in Lincoln County have said they can’t find enough workers with the necessary technical training. What can board of education members do to address this issue?

Cathy Davis:

We once had very strong vocational programs in place that supported the work force of local manufacturers as well as other employers.  At one time there was great emphasis on cooperative opportunities throughout the local school system that engaged students with these employers. I believe that the superintendent has made strides by engaging the Industrial Managers Association of Lincoln Economic Development.  This partnership will create more internship or apprenticeship opportunities for students who have determined that college is not in their immediate future. I support this effort and any other collaborative efforts that engage the current trends of the Lincoln County workforce.

Tommy Houser:

We have to address the needs of all students. I believe we need to look hard at our career and technical training programs to make sure our programs address the needs for jobs in today’s economy. I hope to work with the board and administration to evaluate programs at the School of Technology. Perhaps this will address some of the concerns local industry and business have expressed.

Nolan Nance:

As a small-business owner, I face this problem every day. When I am looking for an employee, it is difficult to find someone that has the technical training to be successful with my company. I would encourage board members to add more vocational courses into the middle school and high school curriculum. More than a third of students graduating high school and moving to a community college are required to take remedial math and English before they can begin core classwork. They should also be equipped to begin work in a field of their choice, after graduation if they choose. Or some could still continue their education but use their skills to work while they attend higher education classes and not have to assume large amounts of debt to pay for college.

 

Question: School Board members have to handle a range of complex policy and legal issues. What can you tell us about your educational and professional background that would show you are the most qualified candidate in this race?

Cathy Davis:

The greater of my work experiences that will lend itself valuable to my service as a school board member would be my employment with Belk Department Stores. At Belk I had several management positions beginning with that of Loss Prevention Manager, after which I was promoted to an  Area Sales Manager and then on to the Human Resource and Operations Manager of the Belk at Valley Hills Mall.  Implementing policies and procedures in the workplace and managing employee performance as they pertain to such was my primary responsibility.

Tommy Houser:

  I have been a small-business owner for most of my life. I see the skills firsthand concerning what students need to be successful in this area. I attended N.C. State and am proud of the track record of Lincoln County students who have gone on to further their education. I have worked hard during my 12 years on the school board to help create a school system that addresses all students’ needs. In my business, I am in a position to have the public drop by and speak to me on many issues they have concerning their students’ education. This is a great way to gain information from the public and use this to help me be an informed board member.

Nolan Nance:

My degree is in Engineering Technology from Western Carolina University in Cullowhee. I am also a small-business owner in the western end of Lincoln County. As for policy issues, my employees must follow policy given to them in our staff handbook. These policies are created to help ensure a safe working environment. I am able to use this experience to help our board make policies that enrich our schools which in turn enriches our community. As for the legal aspect of being a board member, I am a proud father to two adopted young sons. We have had our fair share of adoption issues along the way. I am very knowledgeable when it comes to child rights and the legal chain of command.

 

Question: The School Board is required to enter a closed session to discuss some issues, but not allowed to examine other matters or take most actions while in closed session. If you were on the board and believed that improper business was being done in closed session, what would you do?

Cathy Davis:

Be very vocal with my colleagues and the superintendent, making it clear that I did not agree with  the issue at hand as well as openly consult with the Lincoln County Schools’ attorney.

Tommy Houser:

Every time the board has gone into closed session, we are accompanied by our school board attorney. One of his responsibilities is to make sure we follow the law. We have been in compliance and I will always follow the law in this area.

Nolan Nance:

If an improper situation came about, I would make it clear that it is unacceptable and I would discuss with the chair of the board and other board members to rectify the situation in a proper manner.

 

Question: At budget time, the board often faces tough decisions. What would your priorities be in such a situation?

Cathy Davis:

My priority would be any line item that has a direct impact on students and their ability to learn or that provides educators with the means to carry out their duties.

Tommy Houser:

Students always come first. Their needs and ways to improve their education are most important. This should be what our priorities should be based upon. We do need to support our principals and teachers to help them have the resources needed to do the job. Maintaining our school facilities to keep them up and running is a challenge, but it is something that the public expects. We have to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money and we need to look for ways to save money where we can.

Nolan Nance:

When tough budget decisions need to be made, it is important to keep highly qualified teachers in the position with materials they need to teach the new Common Core State Standards. Rather than cutting teachers during budget crisis, it is important to find creative solutions to keep positions, by looking at and addressing wasteful spending within our schools as well as our county.

 

Question: If the board is asked to hire high-level administrators, should whether a candidate is from Lincoln County, or a certain part of the county be a factor in the decision, either for or against them?

Cathy Davis:

No, being from Lincoln County should not matter if they are clearly the most qualified, their credentials are certified, their references respond with good reviews and they interview well. All factors should be taken into consideration when candidates are selected without the knowledge of or consideration to where they are from, where they currently reside, or to whom they are related.

Tommy Houser:

As I stated previously, jobs should be awarded on qualifications. I hope our system is creating opportunities for employees to be promoted. It’s good for morale to work hard and be recognized you’re doing a good job and when an opportunity comes up you can be considered for a promotion. However, our students should be served by a highly qualified staff. The bottom line is who is most qualified for the position.

Nolan Nance:

If the board is asked to hire high-level administrators, the place in which the administrator lives should not be a factor for or against them. The administrative candidate needs to be what is best not only for Lincoln County but ultimately for the students of Lincoln County Schools. We need to remember that our goal is to educate students so that they can be successful adults. The best person for the position should be hired not because of their location or relation to anyone.

 

Question: In conducting board business, do you believe it’s more important for members to show a united consensus on major policy decisions or for individual members to express their personal points of disagreement on substantive issues?

Cathy Davis:

I think it is healthy for any organization to have a board that is willing to have open dialogue, allow each individual to express concerns or interest and various opinions, some of which they may have formed by listening to the public that elected them;  to include parents. Before moving on a major policy revision or implementation I would hope that all board members are confident in the decision being made and can defend that decision even if they were the only board member who made a descending vote.

Tommy Houser:

An elected board is a democracy. The majority rules. But each board member has been elected and they bring skills and experiences to the board. Everyone should have the opportunity to express their viewpoints; we should try to work as a team. But once you’ve expressed your opinion, if you are in the minority on an issue, you need to support the decision of the board.

Nolan Nance:

It is very important to express your opinion when conducting board business.  I believe when major decisions are being made, everyone looks at them from a different angle. If I completely disagree with something, and I do not believe it to be in the best interest of Lincoln County, I am not voting for it. On the other hand, if I am in that minority vote, and a major decision passes, I will give it my full support and work collaboratively with the other board members.

 

Question: Much of the board’s work currently takes place in committee sessions that are not heavily attended by the public, with final action often coming only in reference to proposals discussed during the committee sessions. Does this procedure serve the public well and would you want to see any changes?

Cathy Davis:

This practice is not uncommon among large governing bodies of nonprofits and even churches. Committee work is extremely important and streamlines the work load. It is important to have board members who demonstrate a strong dedication to any task and work hard to understand the subject matter of each issue within their committee assignment. If elected, after being involved in the meetings, I might have ideas that would allow a greater stream of information for the public.

Tommy Houser:

The board’s work is complicated and time-consuming. It would be difficult to complete our work in regular meetings. The length of the meetings could easily go well beyond midnight. This would not make a good climate for board discussions and decisions as well as access for the public. The committee meetings are open to the public and provide an efficient way for the board to conduct their work.

Nolan Nance:

I would work diligently to try to increase the attendance at the committee sessions. Many people in our community are unaware of what the sessions entail and even where they are located. I find it imperative, in order to produce successful students, to work with the public and our community in order to achieve success. Televised board meetings might be a way to get more exposure and accountability from the board.

 

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