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Young Democrats hear from school board hopefuls

Posted on January 10, 2022

Updated on January 15, 2022

EducationTop newsElection

dherrera@johnstoniannews.com | 919-284-2295

Mercier

Mercier

Lee

Lee

Mercier

Mercier

Lee

Lee

Johnston school board elections are nonpartisan affairs, but most candidates have a party affiliation.

Last week, the Young Democrats of Johnston County heard from fellow Democrats and school board hopefuls Stuart Lee and Rick Mercier.

“We have real challenges and struggles in Johnston County public schools and not just recently,” Mercier said. “There’s been a decline in achievement, mismanagement of budget funds, and systemic underfunding of schools at a state level.”

Lee said he was running to counter what he saw as growing intolerance of gay, lesbian and transgender students. “I know one individual who’s running and I have seen how they targeted schools specifically because there may be an LGBTQ+ population of students at that school,” he said.

“That terrified me,” Lee said. “These are students whose parents are taxpaying citizens. They are our neighbors, they are our friends, they are our next teachers, our next business leaders, our next entrepreneurs, our next solution innovators. The fact that someone would specifically target and bully them in the school themselves really concerns me.”

Mercier echoed those sentiments. “There are people who want to turn our classrooms into battlegrounds to wage culture wars,” he said. “They figured out that an easy way in is through school boards, and that’s why I think some of them try to get on our school board. I think from what your hearing from Stuart and me is they don’t reflect the community at large.”

Lee encouraged compassionate Johnstonians to counter intolerance by volunteering in the county’s schools. “Take a few moments to put your foot right back in the door and know what it’s like to be in that building, to talk to those teachers, to talk to those students, to hear about their needs and their views of what needs to happen in their school district,” he said.

Lee and Mercier supported diversity training for teachers and students.

“Anyone who says that we do not need really good diversity training for our teachers, administrators and our school board should also be required to participate in diversity training,” Lee said. “Anyone who says that shouldn’t happen is completely blind to what is going on in the world around them.”

Mercier agreed. “We need to stand up for academic freedom and for our educators to get all the professional development they need to reach and connect with kids of all different backgrounds,” he said. “Bottom line, every kid needs to have a fair shot at a great education.”

While the state largely funds North Carolina’s public schools, counties are responsible for building schools, and on that score, Johnston is coming up short, Mercier said. “There are a lot of needs for school constructions, school expansion, school renovation,” he said. “This is primarily the responsibility of the county government, and they have not kept up.

“We have a lot of needs, and we are way behind, and the county government has dropped the ball.”

Mercier and Lee acknowledged the need to pay teachers and support staff more.

“Teacher supplements are a big part of it,” Mercier said. “More funding from the commissioners would enable better teacher supplements.”

Some people who want to teach in Johnston can’t afford to do so, Mercier said. “A lot of teachers want to be in Johnston County public schools, and it’s not just about the money, but money matters, and we know that.

“It’s about money and creating the right environment where professionals are valued and want to stay here.”

Lee said the school board should reach out to community leaders to address such issues as violence and racially motivated bullying in the schools. “When it comes to activities such as gangs in schools, it’s not just schools,” he said. “School board members should be able to bring this up to a more holistic group of individuals and say this is a whole community issue.”

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