NEW HANOVER COUNTY—Ed Higgins is a current Board of Education member for New Hanover County Schools. Higgins currently serves as chairman of the board.
He has served six terms over 24 years and is seeking re-election. Higgins is a registered Republican. Higgins lives off Carolina Beach Road on Appleton Way and is a parent of three.
Below are Higgin’s answers to Port City Daily’s questions.
What do you see as highest priority issue New Hanover County Schools face?
Probably addressing school safety.
Do you find the operating budget to be appropriate? Would you like to see it increased, decreased or stay the same?
Well I wasn’t sure about the percentage because I don’t have it right in front of me, we’re asking for about $6 million additional dollars this year primarily to address issues such as mental health counselors, addressing issues of being able to lock doors at the high schools, those kinds of things.
Author’s note: Port City Daily initially identified the “operating budget” in our candidate survey questions as the total budget. The question has been simplified in its published form.
Michael Earl Kelly has been charged with at least 14 counts of indecent liberties with a minor. He taught at Isaac Bear Early College since the school’s inception. If information becomes available that NHCS staff members were aware of any of Kelly’s abuses, how would you plan to hold those individuals accountable?
I hate to get into a discussion of personnel. All I can simply say is just as we fired Mr. Kelly for his abuses. The board would, in closed session, discuss what was the nature of the information and what action should be taken.
Author’s note: Since Port City Daily’s questionnaire was shared with candidates, Michael Earl Kelly has been charged with an additional 27 charges related to sex crimes against children.
Do you feel that New Hanover County elementary schools have a fair and just socioeconomic study body composition? Its middle schools? Its high schools?
I feel that the elementary, middle and high schools reflect the neighborhoods in which the students live.
Do you support the NHCS board’s decision to delay school redistricting? Why or why not?
I do support the delay in redistricting and the reason being that I have been through redistricting before. I just never felt comfortable the way we were proceeding. I felt that it would be better to try and do something right than to rush into doing something.
Furthermore, I’m not sure that, when all is said and done, that we would end up redistricting that many students because the discussion was senior privilege, junior privilege, sibling privilege, special programs. In the end, I’m not sure we would have actually moved more than a couple hundred students which would not have significantly reduced the overcrowding at Laney, which was obviously the initial motivating factor for even talking about redistricting the high schools.
What is your opinion of having a board comprised of multiple individuals having served 15 or more years? What are the strengths or weaknesses of having a majority veteran board?
Well the strength is institutional knowledge, as I suggested about redistricting. We have, in the past, taken it slow and calm and have been successful in our past redistrictings, especially in elementary and middle school students. We have not truly redistricted high schools in I don’t believe 10-15 years.
And along those same lines, connections with other boards, the county commissioners, the City Council — we have had the opportunity to build up those relationships that new board members may not have. We also have an understanding of the fact that the school board is different from, say, the county commissioners and the way we function and the way we operate and we have learned how to do that.
What strategy do you support in managing school overcrowding?
Simple answer is parental choice. We have said to parents and continue to say to parents if you, for example, have a child at Laney or Ashley and would like for them to go to a school that is less crowded, we are quite free in allowing you to attend Hoggard of New Hanover In order to alleviate that overcrowding. So I would say parental choice is my choice for relieving overcrowding.
We do have some long-range plans in how we can address overcrowding in potentially adding some mobile classrooms that actually would be economically better for two reasons. Number one, we have a demographer who has told us at least right now that our school enrollment is not going to grow very fast and may actually decrease because most of the people coming to New Hanover County are retirees and they’re not bringing a lot of kids with them. By postponing redistricting we do have an opportunity to look and see if that is in fact correct.
The other thing is we have a lot of mobile units that are not as old as I am, but they’re 40-50 years old that need to be replaced. So if we don’t need these mobile units at one of the high schools or one of the (middle schools) we can move them to where these really old units are so that students will have nicer facilities to be in without having to spend the amounts of money it would take to build brick and mortar additions. It’s more economical.
What are your thoughts on Charter schools?
I wish charter schools reflected the student enrollment in each of the counties. But my greatest concern about charter schools is that when they were created they were supposed to be incubators. To my knowledge that has not happened. None of the things that charter schools can do, for example, in really hard to fill positions, we have to hire certified teachers. I think certified teachers are important, but there are times that I think it would be nice to hire somebody that was qualified, but just did not have that teacher’s certificate. Let’s say, for example, a chemist from Corning, or an engineer from General Electric who’s good in math, who retires from GE and wants to come teach for us. Right now they’ve got to go back to school to get 18 hours in education in order to do that. Not everyone at the charter school would have to do that. There’s a percentage they can have of uncertified individuals teaching in their charter schools teaching that we cannot have. If we were trying to fill a foreign language instructor, we have a difficult time finding qualified Spanish instructors or any other foreign language, but if we could find somebody who otherwise would qualify, it would be nice to recruit them also.
RiverLights is apparently receiving a new elementary school. Do you believe this is a fair prioritization of resources?
Well, they’re not actually receiving a new elementary school. The deal was with RiverLights is that they would have to provide us land to build a school on. It is not just for RiverLights it’s for people in the southern part of the county which is also a growing part of this district.
It’s the north and the south that are growing. It’s not the central part of New Hanover County. So we have discussed how we can best use that land and that property. If we need a new middle school there’s been some discussion about seeing if we can buy some additional land from them to potentially put a middle school on.
We’re going to replace Mary C. Williams in the next bond issue and it may the case where that this land is adjacent to Mary C. Williams. And we would be able to build a larger elementary school than we would otherwise do as a result of that.
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