LTN Staff reports
The Lincoln Times-News has surveyed candidates for federal, state and local offices this fall, publishing their answers to a range of questions on important issues. Today’s edition provides a final set of responses from the candidate for the Lincoln County Board of Education District 4 seat.
Tony Jenkins is the only candidate still seeking the office, but current board member George Dellinger’s name will also appear on the ballot because he withdrew after the ballots had been printed. Elections officials have said votes for Dellinger will not be counted. That doesn’t quite guarantee Jenkins the spot. In theory, a write-in candidate could win the race.
District 4 is a newly created seat representing areas of Lincolnton, Pumpkin Center and Iron Station. However voters from all areas of the county will be able to vote in this race.
Jenkins, a Lincolnton Republican, was previously a member of the board through 2008, when he chose not to seek re-election.
Question: The two high schools attended by most students in District 4, East Lincoln and North Lincoln, were the only two in the county where students scored above the state average on SATs last year, and all local schools fell below the national average. What should be done to ensure that students with a diploma from Lincoln County public schools are more competitive for jobs and college?
Jenkins: I have to look at all schools across Lincoln County.
With the new common core state standards being implemented this year, students may very well be put on course to achieve higher SAT scores. Teachers should realign to the new common core state standards which will hopefully help students interested in going to college achieve higher SAT scores. Not all students are college-bound.
Changes are occurring everyday in workforce demands with different skills. We want all our students to be highly educated and productive citizens. As the workforce changes we must adapt courses of study to meet the workforce requirements.
Q: 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?
Jenkins: First of all, Dr. David Martin did not have the full support of the board when he was hired. It was clear 10 minutes after he walked out the door on the last day of interviews that some board members did not support him. Those board members made comments like “he is only here for a North Carolina retirement he will not get.” Next, when you have board members state prior to seeking a new superintendent “you must never question the superintendent, if we can’t trust the superintendent’s information why have them because the Board works for the superintendent.” Now a few of the same ones that made these comments are still on the board today. So where do you set your standards as a board member? Dr. Martin came in knowing no board members and not owing a board member anything. Therefore this would cause turmoil for friends or family members who were not qualified to get a job.
We did lose a lot of great people that came to and were in our schools to be teacher assistants because of the requirements that they had to have a 2-year degree, equivalent college course work, or pass a test.
It is without question when you serve as a board member and make decisions from a personal approach you are dead wrong. Employees are quick to realize this approach and are then scared to speak out for fear of retaliation.
Q: If you are on the board and disagree with a policy decision made by the majority, what do you feel your role should be? Are you obligated to silently endure a policy you think is wrong in order to promote unity or do you continue to have a right and obligation to speak your conscience, even if it creates disharmony?
Jenkins: I am not obligated to silently endure anything I feel is wrong. I always heard in the past while on the board that we must all agree to show harmony. In other words, put up a front. We must never let the public see us at odds because it will be perceived by the public as the Board being wrong and criticism will occur.
Speaking your conscience is always right. If all you are going to do is be a YES member then why be on the Board?
Q: Even though unemployment in the region is high, industries with good-paying jobs in Denver have said they can’t find enough workers with the necessary advanced technical training. What can board of education members do to address this issue?
Jenkins: By jointly meeting with the local industries to discuss the skill sets they require, the board could then prescribe a course of study to meet industries’ workforce skill set needs.
Also, see if internships could be made available by the industries for on-the-job training for the skill set needed and then upon graduation the local industries could hire the high school graduates and they would possess the skills needed for the job if they are not college-bound.
Q: 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?
Jenkins: I graduated high school in 1973 and did not go to college. I am a retired firefighter and currently serve as a volunteer for Boger City and part time at North 321.
I previously served two terms on the board, from 2000 to 2008.
If elected, my prior experience on the board for understanding the N.C. General Statutes and board policies will allow me to hit the ground running to better meet the educational needs of students.
I know that we as a board set the policies and they change with the times.
It is my duty as a board member is to ensure that school monies are spent wisely.
However, my main priority is and will always be that our students get the best education possible.
Q: 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 business being done in closed session was improper, what would you do?
Jenkins: I would ask the attorney present to please clarify if the matter pertains to or is comparative to what our closed session is about.
If not then I would ask the chairperson to refocus the board members on the closed session issue.
Question: At budget time, the board often faces tough decisions. What would your priorities be in such a situation?
Jenkins: It is simple; students are afforded the best education with available monies. That’s the priority. Items that do not pertain to the best education possible would be placed way down on the needs list.
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?
Jenkins: Once again it is simple. The board can only hire the superintendent and you hire the most qualified candidate to fill the position.
Question: While charter schools in some areas of the state have struggled, Lincoln Charter School has consistently posted better scores on standardized tests than the public schools in this county, including the recently released SAT scores. What do you think of charter schools and Lincoln Charter in particular, especially as they affect funding for and perception of traditional public schools?
Jenkins: I have no problem with the charter schools. This should be perceived as another means for parents to select a school that they feel will provide the best education to their child.
Lower number of students in the classroom allows teachers to provide more individual help to students to ensure students master the information being taught. As a result of the additional time to individually support students there is a linkage to improved SAT scores. Of the eligible students at the Charter school, 62 took the test. Whereas in Lincoln County Schools there are larger classroom numbers that reduce the time the teacher has for each student. There is a direct linkage to lower SAT scores where teachers spend less time with students.
The state allows a certain dollar value for each student no matter if in a public school or a charter school. The state money follows the student. In my opinion the Charter schools do not affect funding.
Question: Some past board members have complained that the school board’s attorney, himself a previous partisan office-holder, has given biased and sometimes misleading legal guidance to the board on a variety of issues. What should the relationship between the board members and the attorney be and what should board members do if they question his counsel?
Jenkins: There’s not much a board member can do to rectify misleading legal guidance by the attorney if the board member is in the minority. The attorney is an ‘at will’ employee of the board who is selected by a board vote. Therefore if a majority vote to resolve a board/attorney conflict cannot be achieved then the attorney’s counsel will continue, business as usual.
The attorney knows only the facts count. Games should not be played. The relationship between the board and attorney should be a mutual one, all advice provided should be the same to all BOE members, and a clear understanding the attorney is an “at will” employee of the board and can be replaced.