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Published Media Questions & Answers 

Port City Daily April 18, 2020

 
PCD: What is your top priority and how would you address it?

PB: There are so many top concerns. I want to stop the hemorrhaging of our teachers and our teacher’s assistants, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers - the unclassified staff. To bring them to a living wage by adopting the recommendations in the March 1 payroll study report.

   Then we must reset the curriculum. Critical race theory is the systematic, orchestrated, well-funded, well-organized attack on the cultural values. It is unthinkable that this is happening in America. Teacher’s report it is being taught in New Hanover County. We must remove CRT from our school curriculum. When I began to study CRT, I had a lightbulb over my head moment, I realized that when I was in college being trained to be a teacher of children, I was taught CRT. And it turned me away from faith, from the nuclear family, I called the police pigs, I rejected capitalism. We must pass policies that eliminate CRT from the school curriculum.

 

PCD: Mask mandates. Canceled proms and sports. Virtual schooling: How would you describe the current and past leadership’s management of Covid-19? Moving toward an endemic phase, what is your stance on how the board should weigh public health into its decisions?

PB: I give then a big “F.” Leadership begins at the top and the leadership that we have now is failing the students, the teachers, failing the parents/guardians - failing all around. We need fresh leadership. Our school board leadership and their management of COVID-19, the shutting down the schools will go down in history as one of the worst decisions, ever. The repercussions of this really poor decision will be with us for decades. The loss of student learning is incalculable. The interruption of the student’ learning will most severely be felt in the disadvantaged, who have fewer educational opportunities outside of the school. Some students depend on the school for their nutrition, they rely on the free or discounted meals and when the school schools closed,  their nutrition was compromised. The transition to the distance learning platforms was not organized and frustrating even in the best of circumstances; there was confusion for the students the teachers and the parents, and high stress all around. The gap in child care were the parent/guardian had to leave the home and go to work, will certainly impact those children more significantly. Those students who depend on mental health and other healthcare from the schools were completely abandoned. We saw a rise in the dropout rate. We saw an increase in students joining gangs.

   The unintended consequences of county wide mandating of masks and business closures by a non-elected board, with not one virologist, or infectious disease medical doctor, will be long debated. As valued as they are in their individual education, professions and practices, we do not need PHDs, an eye doctor, an anesthesiologist and a veterinarian making medical decisions for the citizens. 

   An elected school board should stick to educating the children, and let the parents and guardians handle the health of their children. An elected school board should not be making medical decisions for the children. Parents know what’s best for their children they should have been given the choice to mask their children or not to mask and they alone should have made those choices. Thousands of parents in New Hanover County did make those choices by voting with their feet to remove their children from the public school system.

PCD: What is your opinion on the district’s current salaries and staff morale? What changes would you advocate for, if any, and how so?

PB: The January 2022 new Hanover County Board of education School Climate Survey, agrees with what I am hearing from teachers I speak with: the moral is horrible. Teachers are overworked, discouraged; they spend too much time doing reporting, are not respected, valued, or heard. There is real retribution when they do speak up. They are walking away from the classroom at an alarming rate. The teacher's aids and other unclassified workers are not paid a living wage or valued. TAs are also quitting at an alarming rate. The culture of the school district must change to one of respect, honor and value. My first plan of action will be triage — to stop the hemorrhaging of our teachers and our teacher’s assistants and other non-certified workers who are quitting, walking away from the schools and the students on a daily basis. (See also my response to question #1 please.)

 

 

PCD: Some community members have expressed a desire to see less invasive measures taken in a school setting. Where do you stand on suspensions and seclusion rooms?

PB: Out of school suspensions for under 8-year-old children: I have been against out of school suspension for 4, 5, 6 and 7-year-olds except for guns drugs and violence for over a year and I have spoken out against it repeatedly. I celebrate the recent board vote to end this practice for students eight years and younger except for drugs, guns or violence.

   Seclusion Rooms: The idea of placing a child into a 6’ x 6’ or 6’ x 8’ locked, padded room with only a slit in the door, no water no bathroom is reprehensible to me. I understand that teachers and TAs are at their wits end, and really all those who work in the school system. There is no respect from the children and many of them are out of control. A former school board member, now a county commissioner said an April a budget workshop, “There is no control over the kids, we’ve lost complete control of the students.”

   When I hear different schools in the district present before the board how well they are doing in managing bad behavior with positive measures, I know that this is where we start. If it can work in one school it can be implemented in all schools.

PCD: Do you think community members, parents and staff members have a platform to be adequately heard? How can the district improve?

PB: No, they are not being heard. The free exercise of the right to speech and debate and assembly in a public forum is guaranteed by our United States Constitution. I have witnessed repeatedly the damage it does when there’s not freedom to speak in the life of a child, to tell their story. I have seen firsthand the dysfunction in the divisiveness and the lack of transparency and honesty on the current board. I first went to the board meetings over the masks and I saw immediately that parents were being cut out of choices for their children their voices, and the teacher’s voices weren’t being heard.

   The closed-door sessions every meeting are very concerning, that is not normal for local government boards. It’s a red flag on the field.

   I do not support the lottery system to be able to speak, the practice having to go on-line at 8 a.m. the day before to request to speak for two highly controlled minutes of “Call to Audience.” This board is afraid of the public, they are afraid of parents, they don’t want one-on-one conversation. We need town hall style meetings - public forums, the parent’s voices must be heard. And then the school board takes their concerns, their issues and one by one, we work to improve. I am a problem solver; one by one we’ll go through these problems and fix them.

PCD: What needs to be done to make schools safer?

PB: It is unthinkable that NHC school board fails to background check those working with our children. There is no fingerprinting. The talk about future fingerprinting implementation may just be for all new hires, that is unacceptable.

   Background checks and fingerprinting must be immediately instituted for every single person who works on the school property, all of them, period. The sexual abuse of the last twenty years by school staff MUST NEVER be allowed to happen again.

Students must be encouraged to report abuse and protected when they do. There must be a known, strict culture of ZERO tolerance for abuse.  

   I support additional school resource officers, there are a few schools that don’t have SROs yet. There needs to be two in every single school house. Monitoring of halls and grounds must increase.

   I am looking forward to hearing the plan to spend part of the hospital proceeds, $350 million to make the schools safer.

PCD: How comfortable are you with the way the district uses local funds?

PB: I am not comfortable. I don’t believe the school board is doing their job of overseeing the budget. I have studied the budget and I have questions: including, pay increases were voted on for the general office staff in early 2022 and the average percentage of increase was quite high, while the percentage for teacher’s assistants and non-certified workers was an average of just 2.5 percent. County Commissioners said at the April 14 budget workshop, that the school board could choose to allocate from the ADM local funds to increase the pay to the teacher’s assistants and they expressed concern over the huge deficiency in the number of teacher’s assistants. I echo that deep concern.

   The school district lost a high number of students in 2020, 2021, and now 2022. Reports of the loss range between 2,000 and 3,000 students, who have dropped out, moved to private schools, moved to charter schools, or home school. This deeply cuts into the local funding for public schools. The county gives the school system $3,434 per student, based on the ADM rate (the average daily member), the number of students the schools report once per year, 30 days into the school year.

Using the low number, multiplying the ADM rate by just the 2,000 students lost, that’s well over $6.8 million in lost local funds from the county commissioners. How will that deficit be made up? If the loss of students is higher, this could result in $10-13,000,000 in lost revenue.

   County commissioners express their concern over these issue of enrollment at their April 14 budget workshop. Their records show there were just 24,583 students enrolled in public schools as of February 2022.  They did indicate the school district would receive less funding.

 PCD: Is there an additional issue or issues you think need(s) to be addressed during your term, should you win?

PB: Yes, I have a long-term reputation in New Hanover County as an advocate for and resource to children and their parents/guardian. In 2006, after training and fingerprinting, I was sworn as a Guardian ad Litem for the NHC’s Fifth District Court. The court determined that I was qualified to stand up for the rights of children, to shepherd them through troubling times. This began my 17-year journey serving children, the unsheltered, the poor and all those without a voice in this county, regardless of culture or socioeconomic status. This school board is highly dysfunctional and divisive. I have seen first-hand what happens when children are not put first, when an agenda is more important. We need a change in leadership. The academic success of our students is critical. School board members should listen to, respect, and uphold the rights of students, parents, and teachers. The school district should provide students with the building blocks they need for the rest of their lives. Our schools should be safe places for education; reading, writing and math, plus excellence, not indoctrination. Reading and math proficiency must rise, and the dropout rate shrink.

INTEGRITY