NEW HANOVER COUNTY—Judy Justice is a newcomer to the Board of Education race for New Hanover County Schools. Justice is a registered Democrat.
Justice lives off South 41st Street off Muirfield Court and is a parent.
Below are Justice’s answers to Port City Daily’s questions:
Author’s note: Port City Daily checked in with Justice to confirm her answers, as provided this spring, still applied. Her answers have changed.
What do you see as the highest priority issue New Hanover County Schools face?
Lack of transparency and accountability by the district’s leadership because of poor oversite by the current school board. This has led to a district that is rife with cronyism, nepotism and a heavy handed top down leadership style. This has also resulted in huge inequities in the use of the general fund monies given to the schools by the County Commissioners. As a retired school administrator I know how to read a school budget, which I did and here is what I discovered. The central office leadership, which develops and presents the budget, has set up a system that has twice the number of leadership and co-curriculum positions across the county, when compared to similar sized districts in our state. Many of the administrators have highly inflated “salary differentials” while paying their secretaries at central office salaries 15 to 25 thousand dollars more than career teachers. This is happening because the school board passed rules 15 for our district to pay classified staff above the state mandated pay. Most other districts do not allow these inequities in pay. This insular leadership group has also led to many “cover ups” of improper behavior by certain connected staff over the years. Meanwhile if good teachers or other staff members speak out about the top-heavy uninformed decision making or excessive salaries they are punished and often their careers are destroyed. Moral is low and the leadership needs to be held accountable for this self-serving behavior.
Do you find the operating budget to be appropriate? Would you like to see it increased, decreased or stay the same?
Until we use the generous money that the current County Commissioners in a practical and equitable manner I do not believe that we need to ask for more funding. This is frustrating due to the cutbacks at the state level, our continuing population growth and the need to implementation of programs that will lead to increased student success. Once we get the current budget situation headed in the right direction then we can talk about asking for more funding.
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?
They would be brought before the board and be held accountable for their actions. Removal from their jobs and possibly some type of action involving loss of benefits or civil action would be appropriate. In fact, if criminal actions are possible I would have them charged and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. I taught with Mike Kelly during the 90’s while at Laney. I am absolutely appalled at what he has done. There needs to be an independent and thorough investigation. In order for that investigation to be conducted properly it should be separate from the influence of any past NHCS employees and their associates that may have been aware of some of what was going on. I will call for this type of investigation when I am elected if one is not already underway,
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?
No, no and no. At all three levels there is a wide imbalance between schools and the result is the failing school ratings. One of the main reasons that I am running is because I believe that the New Hanover County Schools to adopt economic integration as the standard across
the board at all three levels when redistricting takes place. Currently we have at least 8 of our county schools rated a D or F according to the state performance index. They are all high poverty schools. On the other hand, we have overcrowding at the majority of our schools while the underperforming schools have a lot of available space. Our current assignment plan is a failure, our system is experiencing continues growth and whoever is elected to the board will have an opportunity to shape a redistricting plan that will correct these using methods that work according to a vast amount of educational research. All education research and practical application has proven that this is the way to structure successful school districts. No school should have their student at more than 45% on free and reduced lunch or 25% of their students performing below grade level. Our county is small enough that this would be easy to do without a lot of extra transportation time. For example, this type of district has worked so well in Wake County over the last two decades that this school district has received much positive national attention. Overall the student performance scores went up 10% and minority student scores improved by 40%. At this time 91% of Wake County students score at or above grade level.
Do you support the NHCS board’s decision to delay school redistricting? Why or why not?
I only support the delay because the BOE has no real plans to redistrict the high schools
that includes economic integration across the board.
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?
At this point I see no strengths in having three members that have served on the board for over 24 years each. I so see a lot of weaknesses. They do not have children in their homes who attend nor can I see that they are aware of the needs of our student population in 2018. After attending meetings in person for the last year I am embarrassed by the lack of knowledge these three displays about what is currently going on daily in our schools and how out of touch they are with the actual education system and process, in all its complexity. Maybe they could come up with effective policy in the 1990’s but they have damaged several of our area schools with their antiqued notion of what successful education policy entails. We need people on the board with a fresh perspective who are knowledgeable about our community in 2018, what goes on professionally in our schools with students in this technology era and who are knowledgeable about education in this complex and changing world. This is what is needed in order to make good policy decisions for our students.
What strategy do you support in managing school overcrowding?
Redistricting could help but it is only a temporary fix for some of our schools. First, the schools and county need accurate studies (they are using three right now that all conflict) as to the future growth, where and when it will happen. If we don’t know where we are going we are not going to end up where we need to. Then because obviously we are growing and overcrowded in some schools we desperately need to start planning the next bond issue which should focus on adding a new middle and high school in the growing areas of the county The elementary schools need to have attendance zones that make the most effective use of our current facilities which would end the overcrowding in our elementary schools.
What are your thoughts on Charter schools?
They are not performing in this county in ways that serve our students. Originally charter schools were created as schools of innovation to try methods that were difficult to apply in the regular public-school setting. There was a cap on how many were allowed in our state and they had to follow the same guidelines for student acceptance and instruction and provide services for students with disabilities unless they received a waiver because of a specialized education program. Since 2010 the legislature has removed the cap and lessened restrictions on charter school programs. They have actually turned some of them over to for-profit operators. They are not providing the best educational practices for our public-school students so I am very disappointed in the current charter school system. The state needs to return the past, educationally sound system that was done away with over the last 8 years.
RiverLights is apparently receiving a new elementary school. Do you believe this is a fair prioritization of resources?
They are donating the land and that end of the county is growing rapidly. It has been suggested that the new school be a combination elementary and middle school. That seems like something that our county needs considering the overcrowding and growth currently in our county. I would need to study the situation more though in order to give a more solid opinion.
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