The Transylvania Times -

By Park Baker
Staff Writer 

Board Of Education Candidates Speak Out - Brevard NC

 


Editor’s Note: Six candidates are running for two seats on the Board of Education in November.

During last week’s candidates forum at the library, four of the six — Marty Griffin, Jenni Pogue, Michael Rogers and Betty Scruggs — responded to several questions. Tom Ammons and Michael Shelton didn’t attend the forum.

Are you for school consolidation?

Griffin: I’m against it. I taught at both high schools, and the schools are the community. Across the state, people would kill to have the graduation rates that we have at these two high schools. The students that graduated from those two schools are proud of what they accomplished. Please keep in mind that if somebody says you’re going to save money by busing students, I could never agree with that. Education is too important to put more funding in buses. I don’t see us spending $70 million on a new high school, but, yes, they need continuous maintenance. If you had been at the Board of Education meeting (Sept. 15), you’d know that Brevard High School needs a new boiler. Consolidation is not good for Transylvania County. If you consolidate, you’re taking away pride and community.

Pogue: This subject has definitely been a point of contention, but I don’t feel like I have enough information to support that decision. With the size of our county and with the amount of time some of them already spend on school buses, I echo what Mr. Griffin said. The pride that the schools have is important. I don't feel like I have enough information to support that decision.

Rogers: We need to start having a community discussion about what we can do to provide the number of courses needed to support rising needs of students and a smaller, broad range of students. Whether that includes consolidation or two high school magnet schools or a career tech center in the middle of the county between the two schools, we need to have that conversation. The facts are that we lost 200 students between 1997 and 2007.

Since 2007 to 2014 we have lost another 200 students. I’ve done my own research and homework based on current enrollment numbers at each school at each grade level. The projected loss of students in our high schools is in excess of 190 students. Not only did I come up with that data by doing the due diligence necessary, also a professional firm partnering with Moser Architects presented this to the Board of Education on Sept. 4. Again, the problem is being able to provide the number of courses necessary to a smaller ranges of students.

Scruggs: First, I support community schools. Consolidation is a solution to an issue. At this point I am not privy to an issue or problem recognized by the community, educators or leaders. I do support small schools and research supports small schools. When we think about the schools in this system we have options. We are a small community. In my experience, particularly as an assistant principal, when parents would come in and they were taking their child out of our schools, whether it was Brevard High or Middle, no one was ever taking their kids out of these schools and saying they are taking them to larger schools.

They were going to home school or private school. In the meeting that Mr. Rogers is referring to last week, those folks also mentioned that they did not have other data to add, such as students who had enrolled in high school.

We need to be careful of statistics.

Fundraisers are being held to supply classrooms with extra materials. There is a trend of decreasing enrollment numbers but an increasing percentage of children with greater needs, such as those with learning disabilities or those who qualify for free or discounted lunches. What budgetary changes should be made to deal with these issues to change this?

Pogue: That’s a hard question to be kind of put on the spot to answer. I think a question like that requires a lot of research on the school systems, and budgeting is a real concern that’s faced every year. There are always difficult decisions to be made every year about what needs to be cut and what should be cut, and, quite honestly, there is a lot controversy on that. So, just to pick items off the top of the list would be very difficult for me, because I think that what it would require is taking some time to really look at our statistics and look at where our students are at and what things are being utilized and what things we have and then try and go from there and try to make those very difficult decisions about cutting certain things out.

Rogers: A lot of the need for extra materials is because of state cuts. As far as budgetary cuts, I have currently proposed a comprehensive study that has been tabled at the school board meetings for a couple of months now. We are currently paying more than $950 per student than our neighboring county. Jackson County has 400 more students than we do. We have 3,500 students. That cost us about $3.5 million more per year than our neighboring county. A study would help us realize what we need to cut costs to take care of our teachers and staff better.

Scruggs: That’s a very interesting question and, having served this past year in the school system and working with the teachers and principals with budgets, I cannot think of an area in which the schools are funded that could be cut to fund the children that you were talking about or to put more money into instructional supplies. I just do not see that money there and available. We’re very fortunate in our community to have many volunteers and individuals who are very active. They’re all very appreciated. I don’t mean to be flippant, but we as community members need to continue to advocate to our state representatives. We as Board of Education members just need to continue to advocate to our state representatives that we need more money year after year.

Griffin: To take care of one group, you need to sacrifice one group. I don’t see where we can cut in this county, and when the state cuts your funds, it trickles down. Right now, 62 percent of the kids are on reduced and free lunches. Where else can we cut to help those students? They can’t do it themselves. The county and state are responsible. I just don’t see where we can cut anymore. We are doing a great job.

In what ways should the school system work with Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) and Brevard College to provide the best education possible, or/and maximize limited resources?

Rogers: We have a great partnership with both of these schools. We need to continue that partnership. If we had two magnet schools, one at both high schools… one with a focus on higher education like the art and AP classes, we could bring Brevard College in and further reinforce higher learning for those students. The other magnet school could provide vocational opportunities for students. We could bring BRCC in and help provide additional courses for those students also.

Scruggs: We’re lucky to have these schools in our area. For several years, BRCC has offered a dual enrollment program, which allows students to earn college credit, which decreases the amount their parents have to pay at a four-year school. Recently, I had a conversation with Linda McCarson, the dean at BRCC, and I was very excited to hear courses that BRCC is offering this year for students in our county. Rosman High School can access those courses, too. That is just one example. I do believe that with our business leaders in the county we need to look at our schools establishing STEM schools to help prepare our students to be ready for these jobs in the future.

Griffin: The entire time I was at either high school the dual enrollment was the best thing we had going on. We had students who had the ability to be at Brevard College at the same time they were enrolled at both, when we couldn’t provide what they needed. We’re thankful for two higher education facilities like that. I don’t think there’s any better program than the dual enrollment in this county.

Pogue: We are blessed to offer that opportunity. Schools have changed so much since I was in school. It’s set up more like a college atmosphere, and my son, right now, is participating in dual enrollment. He loves it and is empowered by it. If he continues to be able to do this, he will graduate high school with a semester of college completed already. It offers some really wonderful opportunities for our students, but it would be nice to be able to broaden the courses to be able to offer them more opportunities.

What is the biggest challenge the Transylvania County school system is facing, and what would you do as a school board member to overcome it?

Scruggs: I guess my greatest concern is with high quality instruction with teachers. This past summer we did see our teachers receive a raise, but as I am sure you are aware through the media you saw those raises vary greatly. What does it tell experienced teachers?

That they are worth less than new teachers? Our students depend on quality instruction. Our universities are seeing decline in teaching programs, anywhere form 15 to 25 percent at Appalachian. We need to do more. If it can’t be through money, we need to find more ways to support them ourselves and appreciate their hard work.

Griffin: We talk about the citizens of Transylvania County being a very important resource. Probably, the most important resource are the kids. They are future of this county. If they are the most important resource, we need to have the best instructors that we can have. Paying teachers is very important. The teachers leave for many reasons — marriage, retirement, but the ones that want to be here, we must find ways to help them: affordable housing, recruiting, a county supplement. If the superintendent, the assistant principal or the principal doesn’t show up for work, you might not notice, but if you don’t walk into that classroom when you’ve got those 25 or 30 kids sitting there, if the teacher doesn’t show up, they’ll know. Teachers are important. If you read the paper or watch TV, you’ll see where other states are coming here to recruit our very best, but we want to keep them here.

Pogue: I agree that teacher retention is one of the difficult issues that we face. The cost of living here is something we’ve been dealing with for years also. When I was on the board in previous years teacher retention was discussed a lot. We have to provide support and we have to be creative in this. Obviously, our funding is what it is. We can’t grow it on a tree, so we just have to make the best of it. We need other ways and ways of making them want to stay and make them feel supported. One of the things I hear quite often is that they want to feel like they matter. Again, I think that our instructors have to be at the top of our list.

Rogers: There is a demanding market, which requires much from our teachers and staff. These teachers are stressed. Our parents are stressed because of some of these state mandates. I think we do a good job of taking care of our teachers. Just last year we gave them a half percent raise from within our current operating budget, which was not a special request. We need to find more ways to do more. One of the things we need to be concerned about is a deteriorating fund balance. That information is available on ncreportcards.org, enrollment numbers and cost.

Last year, we used $820,000 of our fund balance. This year we have projected using another $786,000 of our fund balance, which leaves us with $51,000 in fund balance.

Brevard Academy enrollment and home schooling numbers have risen, which has impacted enrollment at the schools. What changes does the school board need to make to address this?

Scruggs: They need a strategic vision for our school system. We need to look at maybe a different delivery of services. In the year 2018 it is predicted there will be 1.2 million U.S. jobs that will be unfilled due to a lack of qualified workers. I referred earlier to STEM schools. There are over 5,000 STEM schools in the U.S. They are the heart of high tech and skills jobs in the economy. One of the things we hear about in the community is the lack of jobs in Transylvania County. If we have a school system providing the students training, then we’ll have jobs come here in the fields of engineering and biotech and nursing and health related careers.

Griffin: I’ve been around a lot of those other educational opportunities. Sometimes people don’t trust public schools. I taught at the public schools, and as I mentioned earlier both my daughters went through public schools here and now teach at public schools. Oftentimes people wonder, “Is it safe to go to public school?” The entire time I taught I thought it was safe. But that’s something we have to work on. People are afraid something is going to happen at these public schools. We must make sure that we ensure prevention and safety for all the students. Personally, I think there’s no better education than a public education. You have a great selection of courses and a varied staff, and I see lots of opportunities in our public schools that are not found anywhere else.

Pogue: I’m aware of many people who do homeschooling and private schools and, typically, the reason is because they are afraid of what they are going to be exposed to. Safety is key and how to make our schools’ environments that are conducive to learning. Our children and our society are facing things that we never faced growing up. The things that they are facing are really serious. We need to provide environments where children feel safe and limiting what negative things they have exposure to, like substance abuse and bullying.

Rogers: I dare say that we have the safest schools in the state. Our schools are safer now than they have ever been. We have an SRO in every school. Just last year we increased the security at BES, changed the entrance at BMS, and access doors have been installed at every school. Your kids are safe in Transylvania County Schools. The other challenge we face is providing a challenging education to all students.

What would do you to fix the continually deteriorating infrastructure at many of the schools in the county?

Pogue: I think we have to assess what the issues are and what the highest priorities are. There are things that are coming up that are unexpected, but breaking down what our schools consists of, what our needs are now and budgeting those items now. Projecting ahead and seeing what needs to be replaced is important. The more we can plan ahead, the better.

Rogers: In January of this past year the Board of Education began discussion about taking out a $18-20 million bond for our schools. This is in itself made me look at enrollment numbers — two years from now, six years from, 20 years from now. We need a comprehensive study to see what courses we can offer a smaller range of students. We must have structure. The comprehensive study would allow us to have a vision for our schools and what needs of the students are and enables us to plan accordingly for the school system.

Scruggs: I also support the facilities study. We need it. We haven’t had one in many years. Buildings are expensive to maintain. I do believe that we need to accurately identify what the building needs are. Much like our homes, these school buildings are going to be expensive to maintain.

Griffin: Over the 12 years that I was the athletic director I realized there was one thing we really didn’t do enough of and that’s preventive maintenance. It’s just like with your home. If you don’t take care of it, things begin to deteriorate. There are many reasons that happens in the school system and one of those reasons is staffing. Certain issues gets moved to the top when you don’t have the staff to handle other ones. Then, in five, seven, 10 years down the road you’re dealing with those issues that have resurfaced and are now worse off. I say preventive maintenance can solve these problems and having enough staff can help with that, as well.

 
 

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