LIGHTNING VOTER GUIDE: School Board
The Henderson County School Board election includes eight candidates for four seats. With the retirement of Rick Wood and Mary Louise Corn, two seats are open.
Incumbents Blair Craven, the board chair, and Michael Absher are running for re-election. The candidates are:
• Michael Absher, 31, founder and CEO of Only Hope WNC, which helps homeless teenagers.
• Florence B. Allbaugh, 60, a schoolteacher with a master’s degree in education, is married with two grown children.
• Ervin Bazzle, 72, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the University of South Carolina School of Law who retired as a lieutenant colonel from the U.S. Army and Army Reserves and has been practicing law in Hendersonville since 1983.
• Robert M. Bridges, 74, a retired schoolteacher, counselor and administrator in the county schools for 30 years.
• Stacey Caskey, a National Board certified teacher with three master’s degrees, who with her husband, Brian, owns Biltmore Tutoring and has a daughter at West Henderson High School.
• Blair Craven, 41, a senior financial adviser with Merrill-Lynch. He and his wife, Andie, have three children in Henderson County schools.
• Walter Doughty, who has a background in education operations, school transportation management and child nutrition in Illinois and currently works in logistics for AdventHealth.
• Kathy G. Revis, 63, a former teacher and principal who retired as assistant superintendent in the Henderson County school system. She is currently an adjunct instructor at Gardner-Webb University. She and her husband, Ken Revis, have one son and have three grandchildren who are students in the county school system.
Why are you running for election to the Henderson County School Board?
Absher: I am running for re-election for the school board because I feel that we need to continue to have a strong advocate for staff, students, parents, and the community. Over the past four years of serving, we have been able to get social workers, new Edneyville school, new HHS and have been able to have a 10-year construction plan in place to update all the schools in the county. I also had the opportunity to be able to select the next superintendent, which is one of the most important things a school board member ever gets to do.
Allbaugh: I am running for office to address concerns/issues as a teacher, advocate and leader in education.
Bazzle: I believe the education of all children is one of the most important missions we have as parents and as a community. I decided to run for the Henderson County School Board because I have a strong desire to serve the public in the educational field. Even before Covid-19 impacted our lives and schools, I believed that I could join the returning members of the School Board and help to accomplish that mission. I have a working knowledge of our community based on over 30 years of experience in the economic, business, governmental, educational and nonprofit organizations in our community.
Bridges: After being afforded the opportunity to serve the Henderson County school system as a teacher, counselor and administrator in four county schools over a period of 30 years, I wish to give back to the community, by helping insure our students receive the best our educational system has to offer.
Caskey: I’m running for election to the Henderson County School Board because I truly believe that they need a teacher with over two decades’ experience in elementary school classrooms. I was selected from over 75,000 teachers to officially open the 1997 school year and bring my curriculum and grant-writing expertise to a board that needs a voice for our youngest learners and early education teachers. Voted “Teacher of the Year” in two different school systems, I have earned the support and respect of all my colleagues and feel that I would be an asset for the students in Henderson County.
Craven: I’m running for Henderson County School Board so that I can continue serving our wonderful community. As a graduate of our school system and a father of three children enrolled in HCPS, I think I bring a unique perspective not seen among the other candidates. During these unprecedented times we need leadership on the board that has a proven track record of helping our kids achieve their educational goals. I believe I have provided that leadership.
Doughty: After serving students and families with my fellow team members for over 30 years, I decided to move to WNC to complete the next chapter of life. With all my experience, success in education operations; pupil transportation and child nutrition, and the honor of being published by the Illinois Association of School Business Officials and School Bus Fleet, I felt it was my responsibility to give back to my community and the students served. They are not only our future today but, our tomorrows too.
Revis: I have been an educator for over 41 years. I have experience in K-12 public education as a teacher, assistant principal, elementary and high school principal and assistant superintendent (37 years). I am currently an adjunct professor in the Master’s in Executive Leadership program at Gardner-Webb University (9+ years) and also worked in early childhood education at WCCA (2+ years). I think having this broad experience would give me the ability to contribute in meaningful ways as a school board member. In addition, having 3 grandchildren who are students in the school system makes me keenly interested in the continued quality of education.
The School Board has spent a lot of time and study on how to reopen schools in the pandemic environment. What is your opinion on what the School Board has done? If you have other ideas, please share them.
Revis: I believe the School Board and district leaders have very methodically designed a plan to return our children to school in the safest manner possible. While it is extremely difficult for our teachers to provide a combination of face-to-face and virtual instruction, I appreciate their willingness to accommodate student and parent choices. The Board has spent numerous hours on this important matter and trust they will continue to keep their finger on the pulse of the metrics in our community as we move forward in transitioning our students back to school full-time.
Doughty: I believe the conscious effort of the administration and staff considered all elements to arrive at their decision. I believe our administration has the best interest of our students and staff in mind and support their decision. In my public education experience, the social function for students is essential for growth and development in becoming good citizens. It teaches differences and finding solutions to be amiable to one another and respect who both they and their fellow students are and can be.
Craven: As the current chairman of the board, I have been at the center of all of our decisions for how we operate our schools amid this pandemic. Although no option right now is perfect, I believe we have acted in the best interest of students, staff and parents. This pandemic has changed, in an instant, how we deliver quality educational opportunities to all children. The current situation is constantly fluid and we have stepped up to make solid decisions where there are no good answers. Since this pandemic has started I instituted bi-monthly meetings. I made this change from monthly meetings so that we could stay on top everything that is before us. If reelected, I will continue this practice so that the board is always aware of the current environment.
Caskey: We all know that the best place for children to learn is at school. In July, when Covid infections were above what medical professionals considered safe to return, our board wisely let our administrators guide their decision to open with robust virtual instruction. Two weeks ago, with numbers down, the board moved to a hybrid version of a return to the classroom. I would have preferred some input from our teachers, who are basically making two sets of lesson plans for each class each day. I also hope that the schools maintain the safety protocols to keep our teachers and students safe during the pandemic.
Bridges: Our school board has taken the appropriate actions to re-open the schools. There is no way to please everyone, although we would all like to do so; however, with the ever changing problem of Covid-19, our board has gone above and beyond to implement the gradual opening for in-person instruction and virtual learning.
Bazzle: I believe that the School Board has made the best decision it could make given the information and advice from the health professionals, and guidance from the state of North Carolina. I feel that any decision must be guided by our responsibility to keep children, teachers, administrative officials and employees of the school system safe. Parents, employers, nonprofits, churches and schools must work together to make sure we safely and effectively educate our children.
Allbaugh: I believe students learn better in a classroom situation. This is especially true for younger children K-2. The situation is urgent and important. The facts are, we have children who can unintentionally attend school who may be asymptomatic, and parents may not know. This can easily transfer to teachers or others in the family who are susceptible to Covid-19. Should this occur, everyone in contact with the child, teacher etc. would then become affected. Having experienced this with flu, this is very detrimental to the children, peers, teachers, and all who are in contact with this child. Illness can spread quickly.
Absher: Since currently I’m on the board, I feel that researching and asking options from staff and the health community is very important since I am not a health official we have to listen to the state and health department on what their expectations are whether we agree with them or not. I personally think we have done the best as possible since we have never been through this before. I might not personally agree with everything, but I feel our job is to the system. I have a lot of ideas, especially with making virtual better and will advocate for in-person learning as much as possible.
What is your position on football and other sports next year (winter-spring 2021)? Do you think fans should be allowed in stadiums and gyms?
Bridges: Sports and athletics are an integral part of our social school system. With proper CDC guidelines as prescribed by the state and government being strictly followed, I am in favor of allowing fans to attend sporting and cultural events.
Caskey: School-organized sports give students self-confidence, school spirit, and are twice as likely to keep kids out of trouble. If we are all following a safe return now, we will reap the benefits next year and be able to have football, volleyball, and other school sports with fans in the stands cheering them on. The more we encourage safe behavior now, the better chance we have to return to all the things that make school great for our kids and their families.
Craven: I truly hope that our kids will get to enjoy playing sports this year. I know how important sports were to me in school and the invaluable lessons that they provided me. Without sports, a lot of our kids will not get a chance to learn those lessons that I believe are so important in life. I do believe the football will be played this year. I feel like we can do a good job of spacing out or fans at our football stadiums to abide by social distancing measure, but within our gymnasiums this is a bigger challenge
Doughty: I believe fans should be allowed in the stadiums and gyms as well as all student participant activities and functions. Our students need support from parents, family, and friends. Our community needs to appreciate the talents our students display in and out of the classroom. As a society, we have become responsible citizens in how to follow modified guidelines for public events and places and how to best practice social distancing.
Revis: I think it is important that students be able to return to athletics as soon as safely possible. It is essential to make sure the board is following all the return-to-activity protocols in accordance with state, county and N.C. High School Athletic Association guidelines. At this particular time, I do not think stadiums and gyms can re-open for the usual fan base this fall, but could probably safely allow the players’ immediate family to attend events, as long as all safety protocols and guidelines are met.
Absher: With the current situation I feel if others have been able to do it safely, and the students are already practicing then I do not see why we could not do it. I know with everything going on it currently is out of our hands, but as soon as the state says yes, of course let us do it even if that means no spectators. These youth depend on sports as an outlet and it is very important for them to feel normal as much as possible.
Allbaugh: Regarding sports, social distancing, use of masks and healthy protocol is essential.
Bazzle: My family has been active in local sports since we moved here in 1983, and I have coached at the youth level in all the major sports. Participation in sports help children develop physically and mentally. However, the health of the children, and those involved in coaching, must be the primary focus. Until the virus is reduced to the level that it does not pose a threat to our students and coaches, participation should be limited. Participation in sports, and attendance of fans in stadiums and gyms, must be in accordance with the advice of health officials.
With no taxing power, School Boards in North Carolina are limited in how much they can influence teacher pay. Given that, what is the best way the School Board can support teachers?
Bazzle: We need to continue to advocate for higher pay for teachers to our legislators, and support those legislators who are willing to increase the pay for our teachers. We need to work to increase local pay supplements for our teachers and administrators. We also need to develop public support for assistance to our teachers to meet their housing needs, satisfy their educational loans and fund their continuing educational needs. We need to publicly thank our educators and demonstrate our community’s appreciation for our teachers and education professionals on a daily basis.
Albaugh: no answer
Absher: I feel as a board member we must be able to advocate to our state and federal leaders to get help in this area rather they agree or not. We must be the voice of education is these areas. I know over the past four years we have sent plenty of letters to the county and state. But if reelected I would like to also send letters federally to advocate for teachers and education.
Revis: I believe School Boards must advocate to state leaders and politicians to continue to keep teachers’ salaries at the forefront of the state budget. I also believe we must continue to advocate with our local County Commissioners to continue to increase local teaching and staff supplements in order to stay competitive with surrounding school systems.
Doughty: We have gained a greater appreciation for our educators and the job they perform in creating lifelong learners and developing good citizens by changes in instructional learning. Our veteran teachers and new recruits need to know Henderson County values their commitment to the personal sacrifices in establishing foundations for learning and creating benchmarks their students find attainable. Their colleagues and administration needs to have keen sense of the individual and offer accolades and a listening ear and shoulder of support, one professional to another. We should grow all professionals of our learning environment into becoming new leaders.
Craven: There are really only two ways that a local school board can affect teacher pay. Those ways are to speak up on behalf of teachers to our state legislatures and to increase the local supplement. Our current local supplement is 8.5% for certified staff. These dollars are funded through local tax dollars and are always a point of discussion during our annual budget review.
Caskey: I am in strong support of increasing the Henderson County supplement for our teachers. Our beautiful county is one of the most expensive to reside in and if we wish to attract excellent teachers, they have to be able to afford housing here. With the current salary being offered to new teachers, we know that we are losing quality instructors to neighboring states, like South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia, where teachers receive more for their hard work. As pointed out at a recent meeting, our teachers are essential workers; let’s make sure we treat them with the respect of essential workers.
Bridges: With the state budget providing a large amount to public instruction, it is important for our local school system to encourage and support local governments to pay our educators for their professionalism and even supplement their state salaries. Secondly, we hope to see SROs being provided to the schools, continued efforts to ensure one-way entry and identification, increased camera use, and support for the Report It, Don’t Ignore It, and Say Something programs.
What other priorities do you have for Henderson County public schools if you are elected?
Caskey: Our school board has yet to prioritize pre-kindergarten for our youngest learners. Smart Start is a wonderful program but receives inadequate funding. Many folks can’t afford private options and doing so really takes a bite out of their monthly budget. Four-year-olds are like sponges and learn more in those early years than at any other time. We see the benefits when they outperform their classmates in every subject by grade three. Let’s set the standard for education in North Carolina instead of trying to play catch-up with other counties who have offered pre-kindergarten to all students.
Doughty: I desire to support and appreciate the efforts our staff and administration regarding recommendations brought to the school board; our staff needs to know we trust their work and experience. Secondly, decisions are not always popular; therefore, being a liaison to the community in teaching the decision’s purpose and value is a priority. Being an agent to governing officials, locally and statewide, in the need for reform, fiscally and resources improvements, needed for our community. Another important priority is to be a voice for the community at large in the growth and development goals for Henderson County.
Absher: Other priorities that I like to see happen is more feedback (from staff, students, parents, and the community). I also like to see more social workers and nurses in more schools at all possible. I also feel as we are supposed to be fiscally responsible we need to look at programs that aren’t working and reevaluate these areas to use money more responsibly, if we do this we might not need to ask for an increase, besides salary and benefits. I also like to see our school buildings to be safer and updated, there is a lot of items on the repair list that has been there over five years.
Bazzle: A. Meeting the health, welfare and economic needs of our teachers, staff and our support staff. B. Increasing our efforts to recruit and retain teachers and educators that reflect our changing demographics and develop programs to assist young teachers in satisfying educational debt and finding affordable housing. C. Meeting the growing needs of our students in all academic settings to include giving emphasis to Pre-K level education, and proving equal access to learning tools and equipment. D. Expanding Apprenticeship programs to all fields to include education, business, industry and manufacturing.
Bridges: No answer.
Craven: My first priority for the next four years is to see our school system through this current pandemic. I would also like to increase the diversity of our staff. We are starting this process through targeted recruiting and retainment of qualified, diverse staff. I would also continue our efforts to make our schools safer through capital projects and procedural changes. We have a 10-year capital improvement plan that we need to continue to pursue. Finally I look forward to working with our newly hired superintendent, Dr. John Bryant, to make Henderson County Public Schools the very best public school system in the state.
Revis: Partnering with other agencies to increase the availability of high quality early childhood education programs in our community; addressing the equity gaps among our diverse student populations; recruiting and retaining high quality teachers.
Allbaugh: My priorities are the same as my goals. Diversity & Inclusion, Respect for Educators, Improved Teacher Salaries. Currently, teacher salaries have been frozen. Teachers who have recently acquired their master’s degrees no longer receive the master’s pay. Additionally, we need to expand our Career Technical Education Program. Because not all student are seeking to pursue higher education.