School board candidates favor sales tax increase
As the election draws closer, all three candidates for the Stanly County Board of Education have voiced their support for a quarter-cent sales tax increase voters will see on their ballot. The candidates have all voiced their concerns about — and hopes for — Stanly County schools.
Joanne Neel Hesley (D-Albemarle) is a candidate for an at-large seat on the board.
She grew up in Stanly County and graduated from local schools, also sending three of her children to Stanly schools. Her grandchildren also go to county schools.
“I support that quarter-cent sales tax 100 percent,” Hesley said via email. “As a community, we have got to realize that a good education system isn’t cheap. In order to bring our own county up to the state average in per pupil spending, we are going to have to get creative.
“Dr. James is currently working on several grants that will help improve our system,” she added. “It is important to the community to support the future of our county. What better way to support it (than) with the sales tax? It’s a minimal amount that really won’t affect our pockets that much. With this tax, even people that come into Stanly County from other areas will be contributing, as well.”
Anthony Williams Graves (R-Albemarle) is also a candidate for the at-large seat.
“The school system desperately needs the additional funds the one-quarter cent sales tax would provide,” Graves said. “I support the new sales tax because it is the most equitable way of raising much-needed funds.”
Jeff Chance (R-Locust), the candidate for the District 1 seat, is also on board with the tax increase.
“I certainly support the quarter-cent sales tax. Unfortunately education isn’t a free commodity,” he said, adding that he is glad to see the school system seeking additional funding. He noted that Superintendent Jeff James has been actively applying for grants, including reoccurring grants, to help with costs.
Each candidate has a vision for the future of Stanly schools.
“I hope to continue to help Stanly County Schools move in a positive direction by helping to promote high expectations for schools, teachers and students,” Hesley said. “We need to continue to look at the quality of our schools and make improvements as needed. It’s important to continue to work on effective communication with families so that we not only convey the system’s goals and direction but that we listen to parents and families as well.”
Graves wants to see more educational opportunities for students and clarity for residents on what is going on in their district.
“(I want to) expand accountability throughout Stanly County Schools, ensure equity and access to college-prep and career-oriented course offerings and programs across all county schools, and implement systems to provide residents and other interested parties with total transparency into the operations and performance of our school system — including the central office and school board,” Graves said.
Chance is focused on making sure students have current technology that will allow them to learn and remain academically competitive.
“From a technological standpoint, my goal is to make sure students succeed in whatever path they choose to take, whether it’s vocational or technical,” he said.
“Technology is one of the areas I’m most excited about as far as being able to provide the technology the students need, and to provide a broad expanse of educational resources we’ve been unable to provide in the past, whether from a logistics standpoint, financial standpoint or even a space standpoint,” he added.
He also wants to avoid closing any county schools in the future.
Resident concerns, priorities
Hesley said that she has heard worries about “the quality of our schools and economic development” in the county, adding that each needs to be bettered to improve the other. She also said schools need to be efficient.
“Again, we must start ‘thinking outside the box’ and looking for solutions to our current issues,” Hesley said.
“Dr. James has brought many new ideas and I believe he’s got the ball rolling on some positive changes with new programs such as iReady, Letter Land, and an increased emphasis on local CTE programs,” she added. “I am hearing a lot of concern about lack of course offerings (AP courses, honors courses, CTE courses, etc.) at some high schools and making our schools more equitable. I realize that every school can’t (and shouldn’t be) exactly the same, but our students do deserve equal quality.”
Teachers also need more support, she said, and they and other school employees need to have the ability to voice their thoughts without worrying about “political consequences.”
“Our teachers deserve more,” Hesley said. “As a retired teacher, I also know the importance of hiring and keeping quality teachers in our system. We have got many great teachers and administrators and we need to keep them here.
“Teacher supplements (as well as coaching supplements) are always one of the last things that are looked at during budget time,” she added. “I will push for increased supplements so that we can be more in line with our surrounding counties. This will only be possible when we can improve our economy — and again there’s where that two-way street comes in to play again.”
Graves says he wants to see residents more actively involved in assisting their schools.
“My priority would be to make sure Stanly County Schools does a better job communicating their progress, while inviting more community members, business leaders, parents and other stakeholders to participate in the improvement process through the creation of new task forces and advisory groups to help scale our ability to address the real challenges facing our school system,” Graves said.
Chance said the people he has spoken to have had a variety of concerns, including whether schools will be closed and the state’s “off-again on-again changing class sizes,” adjusting the pupil-per-teacher limits.
Residents also want to know that funding is handled responsibly.
“I want to make sure tax dollars are used in the efficient and judicious way they deserve,” Chance said.
Board’s current direction
“I have met with Dr. James several times recently and understand that changes that are made are being made in the best interest of the students,” Hesley said. “Safety is one of the top priorities and making sure students are safe and feel safe has to be in place in order for learning to continue at an optimal level. Change can sometimes be uncomfortable, but it’s important to know that Dr. James and the administration are making changes in order to promote higher standards for Stanly County Schools.”
Graves said that he, too, is happy to see the direction the schools and school board are going in.
“I have been extremely pleased with the progress Dr. James and the current school board have achieved,” he said. “They are on the right track and I am optimistic for the future.”
Chance said that he is pleased with the plan to update school technology and introduce additional academic opportunities.
“The baccalaureate program is certainly something I’m in favor of,” he said.
“Looking into tutoring programs and things I think are very important, as well, so you can provide students with as well-rounded of an education as you can so that they can certainly succeed in whichever path they choose to take.”
After graduating from Appalachian State University, Hesley taught in Stanly schools from 1988 to 2014, retiring in 2017 from Union County Public Schools. She currently works as a substitute teacher within Stanly.
“Stanly County is a great place to live and I just want to help make it better in any way I can,” she said. “I feel that my experience as a teacher will be beneficial to the system and I want to do my part to give back to the community by serving on the board.”
Graves maintains a Facebook page, Graves for School Board, where he makes text, photo and video posts with updates.
Chance served two previous four-year terms as a school board member. He looks forward to touring the schools and meeting with administration after the election.
Hesley and Graves are scheduled to speak during the Stanly County candidates’ forum at 9:10 p.m. Oct. 23 at the Stanly County Commons in Albemarle. Several other candidates for other races are scheduled to speak beginning at 5:50 p.m.
For a schedule of speakers, visit the Stanly County Chamber of Commerce events section at stanlychamber.org. To submit a question for a candidate, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Early voting will be from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays, from Oct. 17 to Nov. 3 in the DSS auditorium of Stanly County Commons. The Commons is at 1000 N. First St., Albemarle.
Polling locations will be open on Election Day, Nov. 6, from 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. To learn more about polling locations or voting, visit votestanlycounty.com or call the Stanly County Board of Elections office at 704-986-3647.
Imari Scarbrough is a freelance contributor for The Stanly News and Press.