Experience touted, dismissed by District 1 candidates.
By David Leone
WAKE FOREST — In his opening statement, Tom Benton touted his lifetime experience as an educator and principal for why voters should re-elect him to the Wake County Board of Education.
But that experience, his District 1 opponent, Don McIntyre said, has led to an entrenchment of ideology that isn’t helpful in fixing what ails the school system.
“I want to put families first. I feel that the school board, at this time, has a lot of pet projects that don’t take into consideration, the needs, really, of the school students,” McIntyre said. “The assignment policy allows children to be bussed sometimes, three hours a day. I believe we can do better than that.”
Stick with the tried and true, Benton countered.
“When people are making proposals, all of them do it with the best of intentions. They always have something good in mind. What often happens is people come to the board with a lack of experience and they can’t see the unintended consequences,” he said.
“For example, the choice plan — what we ended up with is multiple buses going to the same neighborhoods.”
The two men faced off in a candidates’ forum hosted by the Wake Forest Area Chamber of Commerce Tuesday at town hall, each answering four questions posed by moderator Kat Woods, followed by two from the audience.
With few exceptions, the division established in the first question: “What sets you apart from the other candidate?” followed through in each man’s other answers. Democrat Benton of Zebulon pushed for bond issue solutions to spending, while his Republican opponent, Wake Forest’s McIntyre, said it’s time to look for alternative models within the system.
McIntyre favors smaller schools, more charter schools, more magnet and vocational schools and vouchers to allow students to attend private schools.
Benton is strongly opposed to “siphoning off” monies from the system and insisted that schools which have more than 60 percent of its students on free or reduced lunches are proven to fail nationwide. McIntyre’s opposition to busing children all over the county for socioeconomic reasons was clear — he brought it up multiple times.
“Some of the schools being torn down and rebuilt in the same place are part of the problem,” he said. “To achieve the socioeconomic status that we want, we need to build smaller schools.”
But both men criticized the state legislature for monkeying with school spending. Acknowledging they were working with limited funds, McIntyre said he still opposed the legislature’s measures that affect teacher pay.
Along with his answer to a question about solving the national negative perception of the board, Benton criticized the legislature for failing to acknowledge teachers’ and students’ funding needs.
“We’ve got to understand that our teachers are due respect, they’re due the resources to carry out their programs and they’re due raises,” Benton said, later adding, “We have some people saying that spending on education is the highest it’s ever been. Well, the number of students is the highest it’s ever been.”
Focus on the schools that exist or try alternative options for individual students? Does having decades of experience make school board members more reliable or does that make them inflexible in tough economic times?
However voters answer these questions will no doubt decide which candidate they’ll cast a ballot for during the Board of Education election on Oct. 8.
District 1 represents voters in Wake Forest, Rolesville and Eastern Wake County.
For full answers, Tuesday’s forum was taped and will be replayed on Wake Forest Community Cable Channel 10.