Each of the five candidates under review for the open seat on the Scotland County Board of Education voiced their support of the board’s current direction during the board’s Monday meeting.
The applicants, Charlie Fipps, Jeff Shelley, Stacy Stewart, Emma McNeil-Stone, and Jamie Sutherland, spoke about their background and motivation for seeking the seat left vacant by the death of James Underwood.
“I know there are many issues that challenge this board, and I truly feel that you are doing a good job,” Sutherland said. “I very much would like to be a part of the process that addresses those challenges. You will find me to be open and honest, one who listens to all sides of the issues.”
Sutherland, a resident of Laurinburg, is employed as a physical therapist.
Following their personal statements, sitting board members asked each applicant for their views on the strengths and weaknesses of the school board and their opinions on the school funding mandate, which mandates the minimum level of county funding to the schools each year.
All of the candidates spoke in support of the school floor with the exception of Shelley, who said that he would need to research the law personally before venturing a definite opinion.
“We need every penny we can get,” McNeil-Stone said. “Scotland County is my home. I’m a taxpayer here; I feel the crunch just like everyone else when it comes time to pay taxes. However, I believe that even under the extraordinary economic conditions that we are facing in Scotland County, we still must provide a quality education for our children.”
A retired elementary school principal, McNeil-Stone also said that increased support of elementary schools will be among her priorities as a board member if she is selected.
“I believe that we must have a very firm and solid foundation, and that firm and solid foundation is our elementary schools,” she said. “We must put more money there. In order for Johnny to be able to read, we must put more resources in our elementary schools.”
Fipps, who has served on the school board on two separate occasions in the past, most recently from 1998-2006, stressed the importance of public education in the face of diminished support in children’s homes.
“If you look at the economic situation of the country, the need for public schools is the greatest it’s ever been,” Fipps said. “One of the things that the school has got to do is they’ve got to stress the parent relationship of the schools to the children.”
Shelley, a Laurel Hill native and business owner, said that he wishes to give back to his community while ensuring that children are adequately educated for a job market increasingly oriented toward service and skilled trades.
“I think education is the only way that people are going to be able to get jobs; it’s more important than it’s ever been in the history of our world,” said Shelley.
Stewart is a Gibson resident who has taught at Scotland High School. She is currently employed by Hoke County Schools as executive director of federal programs and school improvement for that school system.
“I have come to realize that a need for all children, regardless of their ethnicity, socioeconomic status, learning disability, or English language development level, lies with the board of education members to not interfere with the day to day operations of the school system, but to govern effectively,” Stewart said. “I have no hidden agenda; I only desire to give back to the community that gave me my start in education.”
Each sitting board member commended the five applicants for their demonstrated passion for education.
“I think all of you did well,” said board member Darwin Williams. “I know each and everyone of you and I’m extremely proud of you. Your answers were very different, but you all touched on what was important: the Scotland County schools and the kids that reside here. That’s what we all share. I wish we had five seats. All of you are worthy.”
The board will announce its appointment during its February meeting. The term will expire in 2014.
In other business, the board approved a change in its calendar policy allowing for extension of the school year to 185 class days.
In his report, Assistant Superintendent of Auxiliary Services Larry Johnson presented a brief NComputing marketing video featuring the one-to-one computing system in place at Covington Street Elementary School. Next month, he will present the findings of the committee recently assembled to evaluate school safety procedures.
“We’ve put together a committee of three principals and myself, and we’re bringing in law enforcement from the sheriff’s department and the Laurinburg Police Department just to review some of the strategies that we use in safety,” Johnson said.