Union County’s recent school redistricting may be an issue that drives voters to the polls on Nov. 4, but it may not be a topic the new board will have to address anytime soon.
However, the population growth that spurred the current board’s controversial March vote to redistrict several thousand students is expected to be a key issue facing the new board.
So is funding for new and existing schools.
And, for at least one candidate, rebuilding trust is a priority. School board members unexpectedly voted March 4 to realign districts when the meeting’s agenda called for more discussion.
The vote to redistrict sparked a lawsuit from parents who accused the board of developing the plan in secret and approving it illegally. In late July, Judge Lucy Inman wrote in a 21-page opinion that “The court finds no basis to conclude that the approval of the reassignment plan was unconstitutional and/or arbitrary or capricious.”
Inman also wrote that the issue may best be settled at the polls.
Twelve candidates – including three incumbents – have filed for the five seats that will be open on Union County’s nine-member board of education. Two incumbents, Rick Pigg from District 4 and at-large member Sherry Hodges, did not file for re-election.
Pigg said in an email that he decided not to run again because “I feel I have given back to society on this issue. It’s now time to seek other opportunities to repay God’s blessings.”
Hodges filed to run for the Union County Board of County Commissioners, but was eliminated in the May primary. She declined to comment for this article.
Board Chairman Richard Yercheck and Vice Chairman Marce Savage are running for re-election. The Rev. Jim H. Bention Sr., who is currently serving as an interim board member, is running to fill the unexpired term of long-term member John Crowder, who died in March.
The complete list of those who filed to run for the board includes:
• District 1 (unexpired): Jim H. Bention Sr., Monroe; Sharon C. Harrell, Monroe.
• District 3: Gary Sides, Monroe; Richard A. Yercheck, Monroe.• District 4; Monica Earp Frank, Charlotte; Casey Carver, Monroe; Melissa Merrell, Matthews.
• District 6: Jason Marton, Waxhaw; Marce Savage, Waxhaw.
• At-Large: Leslie Boyd, Waxhaw; Sean Maher, Waxhaw; Dennis Rape, Monroe.
The seats currently held by Kevin Stewart (District 2) and John Collins (District 5), will be up for re-election in 2016, as will the at-large seats held by Christina Helms and Michael Guzman.
All end-of-term incumbents were asked what they expect to be the biggest challenges facing the new board.
“What ranks highest on my list,” Savage said in an email, “is that we need to have peace with the community and rebuild the trust and lines of communication.”
She and Yercheck said the county’s strong population growth would pose a challenge for the board.
“We need to effectively plan for growth and be ready with a ‘plan B’ and possibly ‘plan C,’ ” Savage said. “We need to be looking at building some new schools as well.”
“The state has given us a projection of 1,000 new students,” Yercheck said. “Last year, they underestimated by about 300 students. If they’ve underestimated again, we’ll have between 1,000 and 1,500 new kids.”
Two other key issues facing the board, Yercheck said, are “maintaining and rehabilitating the investment we’ve made in quite a few schools” and “being responsible to the 200,000-plus taxpayers in Union County.”
Pigg listed growth and funding as key issues, as well as providing “an excellent education to all the children in Union County….”
“One of the biggest challenges of the new board members will be to keep that ‘ship’ on course and work to build a system that works for all children in the county,” Pigg said.
In an email, Bention said, “The one and only issue from where I sit is letting everyone know the greatness of all Union County Public Schools. Whenever and wherever we go, whoever we speak with, whatever we say must all lead to the greatest of our whole system and not just some of our schools.”