ELECTION 2024: Q&A for Stanly County School Board Candidates

Published 10:18 am Tuesday, February 13, 2024

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Editor’s Note: For coverage of the primary election, The Stanly News & Press sent questions to each group of candidates. We limited their responses to 200 words per answer. Answers appear as is, with the exception of editing for grammatical/spelling errors or length. This allows potential voters to see the candidates through their own words and gives equal opportunity for the candidates to respond. We gave candidates two weeks to email their answers back.

Board of Education

Meghan Almond
Rufus Lefler

1. Tell us a little about your background. Do you currently or have you ever had any children in the school system?

Meghan Almond

Meghan Almond: After moving to Stanly County in the early 1990s, I was enrolled into Stanfield Elementary School. I went on to graduate in 2002 from West Stanly High School and Stanly Community College in 2006.
I also married my high school sweetheart in 2006. We have since had three sons who are 14, 12 and 5.
My two older sons attended Stanfield Elementary and Oakboro Choice STEM School. In 2022 I withdrew them from the public school system to homeschool. My decision to homeschool was based on the direction our educational system is heading.
I want to teach my children how to think, not what to think. I want to teach them the basics of education that does NOT reflect common core and CRT.
When I pulled my children out they had learning loss from Covid and being pushed through the system. I feel I have an advantage in understanding what it takes to help other children to succeed. We need to back our teachers and give them better tools to do their job. Our teachers are restricted in so many ways because of administrative tasks that hinder true education. Let’s get back to the basics!

Rufus Lefler

Rufus Lefler: I’m originally from Lenoir, N.C., located in Caldwell County. I graduated from Lenoir’s public schools’ system, and then sought a chemistry degree from UNC. After UNC, I went to Bowman Gray School of Medicine. For my post-graduate training, I went to Memphis, TN for internal medicine.
When considering locations to put down roots, Stanly County with its close-knit ties and rural geographics seemed perfect. I moved here with my wife and son in 1981.
Living in Stanly County has been a blessing, I was able to have a successful career, given excellent office staff, skilled hospital workers and wonderful patients. I practiced for 36 years before retiring in 2017.
My wife (Maureen) of 45 years and I have two sons and six grandchildren. My sons attended Stanly County public schools and public universities. Maureen, who trained as a kindergarten teacher, subbed, volunteered and transported our own and neighborhood kids to school activities throughout our sons’ school years. We were active participants in in the PTAs during their tenure.
My family has been an active part of Central Methodist Church since arrival to Stanly County.
Also, I participate in the Optimist Club, Rotary Club, Meals On Wheels and the Community Care Clinic.

2. How would you handle the issue of redistricting? Do you support a one high school system like Montgomery County, a two high school system or the current four high school configuration?

Meghan Almond: We create problems for the parent, the child and the teachers when we start importing more kids into other schools. Transportation and maintenance issues. Logistical issues. Discipline issues – which we already see at other schools and on our busses. Student/Teacher ratios would necessarily continue to disadvantage teachers AND students. The answer to redistricting is tied directly to the budget and the prioritization of funds and the expectation of excellence in our schools. Piling children up into one school does nothing but create problems.
Montgomery County has a population of roughly 26,000. Stanly County’s population alone grew 1.7% in 2021 and 2022. So there are some who advocate for “Super Schools” to accommodate the County.
We need to understand how a Super School System affects our kids in terms of proficiency across the board. I believe in Community Schools. Community Schools not only make it easier on the parent, it also allows the Teacher Student Relationship to be strengthened, it allows for better control of the classrooms, and it gives teachers the ability to attend to students on a more personal level for those who are in need of more intensive instruction.

Rufus Lefler: Modifying overcrowded facilities or construction are priorities in a longterm facility plan given demographic and population changes in our county.
Thousands of new homes in our district have caused explosive growth. Redistricting is not an answer to our growth.
Kindergarten through third grade is most impacted given an unfunded North Carolina legislative mandate for smaller classes. Similar legislation if passed for fourth and fifth grades will exacerbate capacity problems.
I am supportive of existing infrastructure improvements and construction of new grade schools if needed. These overcrowded elementary schools are my top priority.
I would support two high schools offering more extracurricular activities, AP courses, CTE courses and 21st Century technology so all students would have equal opportunities.
However, construction requires funding. The Stanly County commissioners must approve any funding and put it on the ballot for a bond referendum for the voters to approve. This could take years to approve.
Regardless, whether it passes or not, we must acutely address elementary overcrowding issues.

3. Why do you think you are the most qualified candidate for the position?

Meghan Almond: For decades, we have had board after board with all the titles and degrees one would expect from the “experts.”
During COVID, these Board Members, for all their “expertise,” oversaw the worst response in this county, recommended by other so called experts which led to the learning loss our children are struggling with today. For all of their so called technical knowledge, our schools, having some of the oldest schools in the region in terms of structure, suffered from neglect and a complete lack of prioritization, criteria and responsible expenditures that you would expect a professional and engaged Board to have. And now we’re faced with a possible tax increase to pay for a system that in one board member’s words “Is crumbling.”
Don’t you think it’s time for responsible citizens whose children have been affected by these schools to do what the so called “qualified” boards haven’t? My hope is that I have expressed myself plainly and that you see we need an overhaul of our education system. I need your vote to make that happen!

Rufus Lefler: I have always been an advocate for the public schools as my career was made possible through a merit based public school system. Having worked hard in the public school system, I was able to obtain my goal of being a physician. My family has participated in and supported elementary, middle and high schools across Stanly County. I have no secret or hidden agenda to support one area of our district more than the others.
As a board member, I have visited the schools, I have seen and heard from teachers, parents and students; with this knowledge I am actively working to implement a long-term plan of how to improve Stanly County Schools. I have the passion and time to work for all our schools. We have endured the challenges of Covid, and now we are working to make up for lost learning.

4. What do you think are the biggest issues impacting students and parents within the school system? Why is that?

Meghan Almond: Parental Voices – Transparency-Communication between board and parent. The People deserve a Board that is able to communicate to the taxpayer and parent what mechanisms and systems they’re paying for and what it means, listening to input from the citizen with regard to what they’d like to see in their school system, and adjusting and allocating their hard earned tax money responsibly to something that will produce the results they want to see in their schools.
Transportation – Over the last few years our bus drivers are becoming fewer and fewer. Are they leavingbecause of pay? Is it because they are treated with disrespect? There are children missing school because parents can’t work and make drop off/pick up times. Reliable, punctual and convenient transportation and the staff to maintain it is paramount.
Overcrowding – At this time, we have multiple schools that exceed allowable capacity in the school and this translates to degraded Teacher Student relationships, less discipline, and ultimately safety of our schools. Again, what is the product and result we want for our children? With foresight and planning, we can ensure that children are safe and have a safe environment that is conducive to better learning.

Rufus Lefler: We have a multiplicity of issues related to inadequate staffing and overcrowding of learners.
(1) Some of our schools are fully staffed with certified teachers while others are not. If a long-term substitute must take over a class, there is risk for learning loss. Stanly County teachers step up and teach larger classes to try to decrease such loss; while acknowledging their determination to teach children this intervention is an unsustainable solution.
(2) Similarly, we lack bus drivers. Lack of transportation impacts learning and puts a burden on parents. We know each student needs to get to school, and we are working on solutions.
(3) Exacerbated by Covid, school-aged children have seen a decade long increase in levels of depression and anxiety. Given a lack of counselors and psychologists, teachers have been thrust into a psychologically supportive role. It requires collaboration between parents and schools to address students’ mental health.
(4) Learning loss occurred during Covid, while improving we are not yet at pre-covid levels. Even with a smaller class size, but especially in larger classes (~25 students) it is difficult to meet each students’ unique needs. While one-on-one teaching is available, we are having difficulties filling these positions.

5. If you could change one thing within the school system right now, what would it be and why?

Meghan Almond: Reforming a system by way of understanding the budget and identifying where tax revenue is being spent. If the taxpayer doesn’t understand how their money is being spent, then how can we justify tax increases? How can we justify allowing community schools to rot in favor of a system that’s not only crumbling, but a system that isn’t conducive to better learning for students? How can the board justify a hefty $30,000/year pay increase to a superintendent instead of teachers and essential staff? Shouldn’t our staff come first? This Board had the audacity to chastise parents for voicing their displeasure over allowing schools to fall in disrepair, and a transportation failure that affects them and their children. And the Board completely ignores the parent.
We cannot just throw money away, create problems for our schools, and then demand more money to fix what the Board has allowed to break. It’s time we have a better accounting of the money tax payers pay. Fix the Budget today, and you can fix and improve our children’s education system tomorrow.

Rufus Lefler: Stanly County schools have dedicated teachers and excellent staff; to retain this workforce, the School Board would benefit from increased funding at both a state and a county level. We will not have an excellent school system without adequate staffing. While our school personnel are very loyal, it is understandable that they might elect to drive 15-20 minutes to work in Cabarrus or Union counties for several thousand more dollars a year in salary. Such a situation results in loss of veteran personnel.
Stanly County may never match Union or Cabarrus County salaries but can surely do better. All our staff must be treated as professionals and recognized for educating “our” children. Parents experienced the challenges of teaching during Covid. Admittedly some students did great in this situation; however, the majority suffered, and nearly everyone, gained first-hand experience in how difficult it is to teach one student, much less 20 to 25.
The shortage of teachers, teacher assistants, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, maintenance workers, custodians, secretaries, and nurses will continue until salaries are competitive with surrounding counties. A combination of state and local support will be required to alleviate this crisis.