Overcrowding, maintenance and cleanliness, opinions on the school bond, and more

Candidates running for the Alamance-Burlington Board of Education gathered at the Paramount Theater in Burlington on Tuesday, Oct. 23, for the fourth and final public forum hosted by the Times-News.

Incumbents Tony Rose and Allison Gant faced off against Bridgette Yaeger, Ryan Bowden, Wayne Beam and Linda Kinney. Yvette Gaboury could not be there because of a scheduling conflict.

[Watch the full forum at this link or in the video below.]

Here are some of the highlights:

How do you plan to vote on the education bonds currently on the ballot and why?

Bridgette Yaeger was the only candidate to say she does not support the school system’s bond.

“This is not going to be popular, but I do not support the ABSS bond,” she said. “I absolutely know our schools need this money. I have been on the joint facilities task force. I have been in these schools. I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that ABSS does not have a facilities maintenance plan. There is no school system that can operate successfully without one. I believe this bond was brought to the public too soon because until you develop this plan, then you are just taking money for the same results.”

What are your thoughts about the school system’s redistricting plan?

Beam: “Well, as I stated earlier, I think there are some inequities in several of our schools, many of our schools. Look at all of the former Burlington City Schools and some of our county schools that are close to town, like Haw River and some of those. The population of low socioeconomic students is extremely high, which affects what Ryan was talking about when kids don’t have dads. Now, that’s not true for everybody that attends those schools, but if you look at research it tells you that home environment, the ability to have someone there and not working two jobs, or both parents, makes a tremendous difference in a child’s learning. We have gotten away from the concept: Folks, the education of children is not entirely the job of the schools. It is the job of a parent or a grandparent. You have a responsibility to teach your children, to help them be prepared for school, to teach them character education traits, and when that doesn’t happen,” we have to redistrict.

How would you address parents asking for their students to transfer schools?

Bowden: "This is one that actually affects me as a father. My oldest daughter … has a severe medical condition, and she is on a medical transfer to E.M. Holt, and we had to go through this very same transfer process several years ago, so for anybody to say that we shouldn’t allow transfers just because a school is overcrowded is not great. That should not be the case. We should look at each individual student, accordingly, and consider their needs based on their presentation.”

The Board of Education has been criticized for making decisions behind closed doors. If elected, will you push for transparency?

Rose: “I would say that transparency is extremely important and it is a tenet that I am most attentive to as a board member, and I understand the need for the public to know as much as possible. As a member of the public, I want that myself, and I appreciate that. I will say that, as a board member, we swear an oath to uphold the laws of the state, and those closed sessions that we go into are governed by that state law. … When we go into closed session, we are only allowed to talk about the things that are related to what we said [in the open meeting] we were going to talk about. We also have our attorney in there, during every single one of our closed sessions, and they monitor us and … help guide us through that. So, I can say I’ve been on the board eight years and we do not talk about things in closed session that are inappropriate. We don’t vote on things in closed session that we shouldn’t vote on. … It’s something that, until you serve, you don’t really understand. You only have this perspective from the public, and when I got on the board it was something that I was very sensitive to.”

Teachers spend a large amount of their own money to fund classroom supplies. What should the district do to help fix this issue?

Kinney: “I’ll tell you what I think about the teacher supplement. I don’t think that our district is very comparable to other districts. If we were comparable, we would not lose teachers; we would retain teachers and get good teachers. The thing about the supplies: I would go back to [the fact that] my daughter is a first-time teacher this year. I know there’s the [Classroom Closet], but there are minimal things they can get. The first-time teacher, they really need to outfit their room. They get [some] supplies from the school, but to be successful, you’ve got to come out of pocket to get it done with.”

School shootings have become a huge concern. What should the school system do to increase safety for all 23,000 students?

Gant: “Tony mentioned the new ID system. We recently got a grant to help with more [school resource officers], which I firmly believe should be in every school. It is a process of working with our law enforcement across the county to ensure that every school has a plan, which they do, but a lot of times you don’t hear about the plan because we don’t want the general public to know in case someone is not having a great day, let’s just say. So making sure that our school safety plans are complete and that they are accurate and that our law enforcement and that our school district are working together. Recently, we had an active shooter drill with the staff at [Eastern Alamance High School] and we are planning more of those across the district so that our teachers will know how to react should we have a very tragic situation unfold in our schools.”

Reporter Jessica Williams can be reached at jessica.williams@thetimesnews.com or at 336-506-3046. Follow her on Twitter at @jessicawtn.