NEW HANOVER COUNTY—Bill Rivenbark is a new candidate for the Board of Education race for New Hanover County Schools. Rivenbark is a registered Republican.
Rivenbark lives off Masonboro Loop Road on Captains Lane and is a parent. During the primary this spring, Rivenbark earned the most votes, securing a spot on the ballot.
Below are Rivenbark’s answers to Port City Daily’s questions.
Author’s note: Port City Daily checked in with Rivenbark to confirm his answers, as provided this spring, still applied. He did not immediately respond, therefore, his answers remain the same.
What do you see as the highest priority issue New Hanover County Schools face?
While there are a number of extremely important issues facing our schools, including lack of thoughtful short-term and long-term planning which leads to overcrowding, underfunding and insufficient resource allocation, I still think safety in our schools has to be addressed quickly and thoroughly. Obviously, insufficient resources which result in students and teachers not having full access to the tools they need to compete and learn is less than ideal, but keeping our students, faculty and staff safe must be paramount priority. The solution to ensuring school safety won’t be simple, but it’s far better to be proactive in our efforts by identifying problems before they happen than to be reacting to the unthinkable and planning in hindsight.
Do you find the operating budget to be appropriate? Would you like to see it increased, decreased or stay the same?
As a candidate vying for a seat rather than re-election, I am not privy to the intimate details of the NHCS’ budget, therefore am not in the position to render an opinion on this question. However, should I be successful in my campaign, I will be vigilant in insisting current spending be examined carefully to ensure we are getting highest and best use of our tax dollars and bond funds while still doing our best for students and teachers. I don’t always feel like elected officials who have served extended terms, like some of my opponents, take the same position, but often become entrenched in what’s easiest to continue.
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?
The safety of our children and their protection from all facets of threats is paramount. It is hard to imagine a staff member would choose to protect a predatory teacher over a child, much less for more than 20 years. If this is found to be the case, I would be in favor of immediate dismissal and would support cooperating fully with law enforcement officials to ensure those who enabled such criminal activity against our children to be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
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?
Socioeconomic composition doesn’t necessarily define “fair and just” in a school, but I do feel like we have some schools at each grade level that are more diverse than others certainly. How to resolve this disparity in diversity without eliminating the advantages of neighborhood schools of which I’m a huge proponent, is the question that has plagued this and many other school systems for years. I feel like continuing down the path of magnet schools by offering extraordinary curriculum in the less populated schools gives parents and students the option to choose a program that is best for them is a feasible position. My concern is that many of the magnet programs have been established in theory, but not optimally resourced to allow them to reach their full potential for current and potential students. As a result, we haven’t experienced the full effect of how this may impact others willingness to choose a non-neighborhood school that best suits their needs.
Do you support the NHCS board’s decision to delay school redistricting? Why or why not?
I do not. I think redistricting should be done now but phased in (i.e. current high school students can choose to remain in their school if they provide their own transportation but rising high school students should be assigned to the school according to the new district plan) to minimize disruption for students and parents. In my opinion, the delay is merely a political move to help mitigate damage for those running for re-election currently who don’t want to own the fallout of their 20-plus years of poor planning.
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?
I think there is value in a board where members are experienced, however I’m also a fan of term limits at all levels of government. Complacency, apathy and a “pack mentality,” whereby long-term elected officials forget who they work for, what job they are being paid to perform and why they are in the position, are all risks of stagnant representative bodies. Unfortunately, our school board has suffered from just such symptoms in recent years and this has shown in their lack of effectiveness to lead our system through many of the challenges of the last 20 years.
What strategy do you support in managing school overcrowding?
It’s unfortunate that the lack of effective long-term planning by our seasoned school board has once again put us into this position. Wilmington has been predictably growing at a rapid-fire pace since the opening of I-40. Growth rates and birth rates are easily attainable data that should have been considered and plans made accordingly, but it wasn’t. Going forward we have to take this information into serious consideration and make solid plans to add schools to keep pace with the population explosion in our area. In the short-term, some redistricting, consideration of alternative programs or schedules and thinking outside of the box for solutions are a must if we are going to address these problems created by our current long-term board majority.
What are your thoughts on Charter schools?
No one has the market cornered on good ideas and I don’t think any one school or method of instruction can meet all the needs of every student. I think the more options parents have to find the best environment and school for their student, the better the result will be for everyone. Therefore, I support charter schools as well as alternative high schools such as Sea-Tech, where we can offer options for those that are better suited in a non-traditional model.
RiverLights is apparently receiving a new elementary school. Do you believe this is a fair prioritization of resources?
I am not aware that this is the case but do know that the River Lights developer has designated land for NHC schools to use as they determine best. The River Lights community is a formidable one that will impact that area in many ways. I have not seen any data that details the number of elementary school children expected to locate in that development when fully developed, but am very aware that the elementary schools in the immediately surrounding area such as Bellamy are already well beyond the number of students in attendance that they were intended to serve, so the option of having donated land on which to expand our schools seems to be advantageous.
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Johanna Ferebee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @j__ferebee on Twitter