A Pitt County school board member is running for the Board of Commissioners, citing a need for more financial support for teachers.
Betsy Flanagan, who holds the District 4 seat on the Board of Education, filed Monday as a Republican candidate for District C seat on the Board of Commissioners. She was among the first candidates to sign up on the first day of filing for the 2020 election, which will include races for local, state and national office. The filing period ends Dec. 20
District C, one of three super districts on the nine-seat board, encompasses Districts 4 and 5, the areas of western Pitt County, Winterville and portions of Greenville.
“The main issues are related to funding public education in Pitt County and the teachers’ supplement and all that the teachers went through with the budget process,” Flanagan said. “It’s important for our county commissioners to have a deeper understanding of the need for that county supplement, those additional dollars to help us plug that gap between what it takes to adequately fund our public schools and what the state gives us.”
During the fiscal year 2019-20 budgeting process, Pitt County schools sought additional funding from the county so it could increase the local teacher pay supplement to 7 percent. Education leaders said it would be the first of a multiple-year process to increase the local supplement to better compete with counties that offer larger supplements.
The commissioners approved a 3.5-cent overall tax increase, directing that two-tenths of a cent be added to the school system budget. However, the commissioners didn’t specify that it be used for the pay supplement.
Flanagan said the county increase was enough to fund a 6 percent teacher pay supplement for a quarter of the school year.
District C is currently held by veteran County Commissioner Beth Ward.
Several early filers included candidates for the Pitt County Board of Education. Don Rhodes, husband to Pitt County Clerk of Court Sara Beth Fulford Rhodes, filed as a candidate for District 4, the seat that Flanagan currently holds.
“I’m in it for the children and all the stakeholders,” Rhodes said. “I would like to see Pitt County continue to grow in the education field. I am a retired educator so I want to give back.”
Rhodes worked as a teacher, coach, assistant principal, principal and central office director in Camden, Edgecombe and Pitt County schools for more than 30 years.
Incumbent school board members Benjie Forrest of District 9, Worth Forbes of District 6 and Melinda Fagundus of District 8 filed for re-election, citing their desire to see ongoing improvements in student performance.
“We continue to make a priority of career, technical education,” said Forrest, who is seeking a fourth term. “Students and children learn all ways … I am very, very excited about continuing to keep that at the forefront, opportunities available for students.”
Forrest also wants to continue to advocate for increases in the local teacher pay supplement with a goal to increase it to 10 percent in the next four years.
Fagundus, who is seeking a second term, also wants to expand the career technical education.
“I think a lot of students aren’t aware what offerings are there for them, so I’m interested in getting that information out to students who aren’t ready to go to college or who aren’t interested in going to college but who could do a trade and do well at it.”
“We need strong people on the board to look at major issues that may come up such as redistricting,” said Forbes, who is seeking a third term. Forbes said he opposes changes to school attendance boundaries, saying individuals buy homes based on school districts and should expect to remain in that district.
School board members also have to monitor curriculum mandates from state and federal governments to ensure it doesn’t expose children to topics their families might not approve.
“We have to be sensitive to everyone but at the same time we can teach love, trust, good behavior and things of that sort without bringing up certain topics,” he said.
School board candidates are elected on a non-partisan basis so they do not participate in party primaries set for March.
Pitt County Register of Deeds Lisa Nichols, a Democrat, also filed for re-election at noon. She and other candidates participating in partisan elections could face primary challenges in addition to elections in November. Others who filed Monday include:
Melvin McLawhorn, a Democratic incumbent, filed for re-election to the Pitt County Board of Commissioners in District A. The seat encompasses Districts 1 and 2, which mainly consists of northern Pitt County and parts of Greenville.
Tom Coulson, a Republican incumbent, filed for re-election to the Pitt County Board of Commissioners in District B. It encompasses District 3 and 6 which mainly consists of eastern and southern Pitt County and includes Ayden and Grifton.
Pitt County District Court judges Galen Braddy and Wendy Hazelton, both Democrats, and William Brian DeSoto, a Republicans, all filed for re-election to their seats, and attorney Mario Perez, a Democrat, filed as a candidate for a newly created District Court judge seat.
Republican State Rep. Chris Humphrey announced he plans to seek a second term in House District 12 which encompasses all of Lenoir County a part of southern Pitt County.’
“It has been a great honor to serve the people of Lenoir and Pitt counties at the Legislature,” Humphrey said. “I’m proud of the work that has been done by this General Assembly and I hope to continue that work after the 2020 election. I will continue to work hard for eastern and rural North Carolina, and I hope to earn your vote for me, once again.”