Separating themselves from the crowd is a foggy path for candidates running for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education District 6 seat, but the issues are clear.
What do candidates propose to do about over-tested and tired students who are struggling to make it through an extra 45 minutes of school added two years ago due to budget cuts? And in the midst of yet another school shooting just this week in Nevada, what does the next District 6 leader plan to do to ensure the safety of south Mecklenburg’s youngest and brightest?
Residents had a chance to hear directly from the candidates for District 6 Monday night, Oct. 21, at a debate hosted by the Providence Spring Elementary School parent-teacher group. Current Matthews Mayor Pro Tem Paul Bailey, local education advocate Bolyn McClung and former educator Doug Wrona are running for the seat, which covers Matthews, Mint Hill, south Charlotte and Pineville. All three candidates attended the debate. Current District 6 representative Amelia Stinson-Wesley is not seeking re-election.
More than 50 people attended the debate, including some local leaders, teachers and parents. Bill Anderson, executive director for MeckEd, a local education advocacy group, drilled candidates on issues from testing, school safety and the longer school day – all topics that came out as big concerns in a recent community survey.
It was the first chance for many residents to hear from Wrona, a former teacher who recently accepted a job with MetLife. Wrona has been seemingly absent from many south Mecklenburg candidate events, such as last week’s candidate forum hosted by the Mint Hill Women’s Club, and events hosted by the Ballantyne Breakfast Club advocacy group including a candidate meet-and-greet. Wrona says his absence is due to an overwhelming amount of outreach from the community after initially filing for the position.
“I’m a progressive and proud of it and just wanted there to be one of us on the ballot,” he said in an interview with South Charlotte Weekly after the debate. “I haven’t been going to a lot of events… That’s not my thing. I’m new at being a candidate.”
But Wrona says he can bring a teacher’s perspective to the CMS Board of Education table. He previously taught at McAlpine and Ballantyne elementary schools in south Charlotte. And when it comes to topics like testing, he says the purpose has been twisted.
“We need to remember what the purpose of testing is,” he said. “It was supposed to be a way for teachers to gain feedback – to help them provide lessons that their students need. Now, it’s being used for the judgment of teachers.”
Wrona added he’s for testing at both the beginning and end of the school year, an initiative CMS participated in this year to help better measure student growth.
Bailey, a 20-year commissioner in Matthews, agrees. He said the district should use tests in the beginning of the school year to help generate the growth factor at the end of school year. It’s clear students have been overloaded with testing, he said.
“The tests should be used for the benefit of teachers to move forward with their academic careers,” Bailey said.
McClung, a longtime education advocate and Pineville resident, agrees there is too much testing, and in many cases, too many federal, state and local tests on the same topics.
“We need to consolidate that,” McClung said, adding he’s in agreement with CMS Superintendent Heath Morrison. “We need to reduce the amount of testing.”
Other topics, such as school safety, had all three candidates in agreement that CMS is moving in the right direction. But there is always more that can be done to keep students safe, though McClung says discussing security with the public is in fact a security breach.
“There are a lot of scary people out there that don’t know they are scary. I don’t like security being discussed,” McClung said, adding new security measures should be kept secret. “Let CMS do their job – they are doing a good job, let them continue.”
For Bailey, working as a Matthews town commissioner for so long has given him the connections and networking skills needed that could benefit talks with leaders in Raleigh and beyond, he said. Many CMS issues stem from budget issues, like longer bell schedules. But while the longer bell schedule and staggered start times are difficult, using more money on transportation could be detrimental to other CMS programs and initiatives.
“I am going to work for what is best for the system, whether it is saving money, or whatever,” Bailey said. “The issue is we need money and we need someone who can step forward and have conversations.”
As a current CMS parent, Wrona said the longer school days are tough on his two daughters, who frequently come home tired even before doing homework. While the longer days give more teaching opportunity for teachers, many students are already checked out, Wrona said. He is advocating for alternatives such as year-round schools, which also would help battle the notion many students do not retain content during summer vacation.
All three candidates support the $290 million in education bonds that will go before residents on Election Day, Nov. 5, encouraging residents to “vote yes” even though the package may not favor District 6 projects. Search “2013 bond” at www.matthewsminthillweekly.com to find out more about the CMS bond package. Find your polling place at the Mecklenburg Board of Elections website, www.meckboe.org.