LUMBERTON — Candidates for the at-large seats on the Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education say that the financial condition of the school system is a big concern to residents throughout the county.
“The budget is what we hear about,” said incumbent board member Jerry Long. “Mostly we hear about our having to rif teacher assistants last year.”
Three incumbent board members and two challengers are seeking to fill the three at-large seats up for election Tuesday. In addition to Long, the at-large candidates include: JoAnn Chavis-Lowery, the board’s current chairman; incumbent John Campbell; Robert L. Davis; and Randy Lawson. Voters will mark just one candidate for election.
The Tuesday election serves as the General Election as the school board is non-partisan. Winners will be sworn in during July.
Board members have been criticized by many for their decision to lay off teacher assistants in an effort to come up with a workable budget for the current school year.
“As board members we did what we thought was right,” Long said. “No one on the board wanted to vote to lay off teacher assistants. But we had to make decisions.”
Long said that the board waited until it had no other choice but to lay off the teacher assistants.
“We (board members) turned down a recommendation from the superintendent two years in a row calling for the layoff of 75 teacher assistants each year,” said Long, who worked as an educator in the school district for about 40 years. “We said each year, ‘let’s keep them employed another year.’”
Lowery said the education budget certainly has been on the minds of Robesonians she has spoken with during her re-election campaign.
“I tell people that what they need to do is get out and vote for people that will go to Raleigh and support the schools,” she said.
Campbell, a board member for 16 years, said the difficult issues surrounding the budget is why it is important for voters on Tuesday to select experienced leaders to sit on the board.
“This is a time when experience matters a lot,” he said. “Public education in North Carolina is under attack. We, in Robeson County, get pneumonia when others just get a cold because we don’t have the tax base and rainy day funds to supplement state and federal funding.”
Campbell said he believes the budget crisis facing the school district is going to get worse before it gets better.
“We are going to have to be creative and think outside the box,” he said. “We are going to have to come up with other ways to supplement any future cuts.”
Davis also said that budget shortfall, cuts, and the affect of losing teacher assistants were concerns he heard while on the campaign trail. He suggested the creation of a partnership between the board, businesses and citizens could generate revenue to help supplement school funding.
“Before we ask the citizens to give, board members should set the example,” Davis said. “I recommend that board members don’t except a stipend for 90 days after they take office.”
Davis said the money saved could be put toward funding an all-inclusive workshop for certified teachers. The workshop could address classroom procedures and classroom management.
Lawson said Friday that when he is questioned about the budget and possible layoff of teacher assistants in the future, he can only ask for people to go to the polls on Tuesday and vote for him.
“If elected, I can be a voice for the students and faculty of the Robeson County schools,” he said.
In addition to the race for at-large seats, seats are being contested in District 4 and District 5.
In District 4, Mitchell “Boscoe” Locklear, the director of housing for the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina and a member of the school board from 1996 to 2004, is trying to regain a seat on the board. He is being challenged by Alton Hagans, a retired educator of 30 years.
District 5 has three candidates. They are: Gary C. Strickland Jr., a bank loan officer and active school volunteer; Larry Brooks, who retired as principal of Pembroke Elementary School after 32 years of experience in education; and Royal Travis Bryant, the current associate vice chancellor for campus safety and emergency operations at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Incumbent board member Loistine DeFreece is running unopposed in District 1, and incumbent Steve Martin is running unopposed in District 7.
Incumbent board members Randall S. Jones, District 5, and Robert Deese, District 4, are not seeking re-election.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or email@example.com