NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Nelson Beaulieu, a Democrat, is running for his second term on the New Hanover County Board of Education. Beaulieu served as vice chair of the school board in 2021.
Port City Daily has sent a questionnaire to every candidate running in local elections in the tri-county region. The paywall is dropped on profiles to help voters make informed decisions ahead of casting their ballots.
As a reminder, the early voting period runs from Apr. 28 to May 14. The voter registration deadline is Apr. 22. Voters may partake in same-day registration throughout the two-week early voting period (check if your registration is active at your current address).
Primary Election Day is May 17. Voters will choose which candidates from their registered party they want to move forward in the formal election. Those who are registered as unaffiliated can choose which party’s primary they want to vote in.
Beaulieu’s stances on issues are discussed below. All answers are included in full and the candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily. Responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity.
Port City Daily (PCD): What is your top priority and how would you address it?
NB: My top priority for the next term is the health and safety of our students. As adults it can be hard to see just how much damage these past two very unconventional school years have done to our kids. Even when we went back there were countless interruptions with forced quarantines, and continued mitigation measures. The impact on emotional wellbeing has been enormous. As Covid is becoming endemic it’s easy for adults to adjust our budgeting priorities. We can’t forget that our students will be living with this for a long time. While covid may be endemic, they are still living with an educational pandemic. I will work with your county and state funding partners to guarantee a permanent increase to mental and emotional health support for our students.
PCD: Mask mandates. Canceled proms and sports. Virtual schooling: How would you describe the current and past leadership’s management of Covid-19? Moving toward an endemic phase, what is your stance on how the board should weigh public health into its decisions?
NB: I would say any mistakes we’ve made were made for the right reasons. My biggest regret during my time in office was not pushing to get the kids back to school sooner. I genuinely believed I was doing the right thing first by maintaining full virtual learning well into the 2020-21 school year, and then by keeping a staggered schedule in place. I didn’t want anyone to get hurt or sick. However, I didn’t fully appreciate just how much damage was being done to our students. I overestimated the risks the virus posed and underestimated the very real risks of keeping kids out of school for so long. I don’t disagree with science. However public health experts can sometimes take a singular view to a broader problem. I think LEA’s and other governmental bodies must assess appropriate levels of risk and the potential damage that could result from prolonged virtual instruction. The American Academy of Pediatrics has declared a mental health national emergency. I think we waited too long to put our kids back full time.
PCD: What is your opinion on the district’s current salaries and staff morale? What changes would you advocate for, if any, and how so?
NB: Salaries and morale are both too low. 86% of the district’s operational budget is tied up in salaries and benefits. Our teachers receive the highest supplement in the state of North Carolina. Our county funding partners put taxpayer money behind our school system. As we move through this budgeting season I’m 1000% committed to doing everything we can as a board to get needed increases to the rest of NHCS staff. But we need to be honest, it won’t be nearly enough. For years state employees have not received raises that even keep up with inflation….it’s always 1 or 2 percent. As a result we are at a crisis point. The state needs to do something big and address this long overdue problem or we will have increased staff shortages. I will work with LEA’s from across the state and our local state delegation to make sure this need is highlighted and addressed. I think solutions to the morale problem need to be staff led and staff driven. To that end I think the district needs to conduct stay interviews (as opposed to exit interviews) to tell district leadership what is going well, what is going poorly, and how THEY think we might best address the situation.
PCD: Some community members have expressed a desire to see less invasive measures taken in a school setting. Where do you stand on suspensions and seclusion rooms?
NB: I am in full support of ending both to the greatest extent possible in our school system. The boards direction on both of these issues has been toward that end during my first term. I expect that will continue…as it should.
PCD: Do you think community members, parents and staff members have a platform to be adequately heard? How can the district improve?
NB: I do think community members, parents, and staff members have a platform to be adequately heard, but I think we can ALWAYS improve communication with our stakeholders. The board recently voted to have a town hall event three times a year to increase the opportunities the board has for community feedback and dialogue. Since my time on the board we have created platforms like ethix 360 so that students, parents and staff can report problems (anonymously if they so choose) to our administration. For me it is the student voice that is of the most concern. I think it is important for the board to add a student member in some capacity so that we can better access what I believe is our most important perspective.
PCD: What needs to be done to make schools safer?
NB: I think adding to and improving the mental, and emotional supports we provide our students is the single most important thing we can to improve safety. However, from a hard structure standpoint, our schools are already safe. They are not perfect, but absolutely, the schools in New Hanover County are safe right now. Before I came on the board a study was commissioned that outlined a list of areas where we could improve safety in our schools. We have already implemented several of the proposed changes and plan to continue implementation as more funds become available. The board is briefed each year in closed session on updates. I won’t discuss those specifics in public but voters should know that this is a big focus of our school system.
PCD: How comfortable are you with the way the district uses local funds?
NB: I think it’s always a good idea to take stock of where you are and ask, “how can we do better?” Every year when we prepare the budget we try and do just that. This past year we commissioned a salary study to see where are greatest area of need was. This study will inform our decision making as we move forward. I’m comfortable with our use of local funds thus far but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas where we can make adjustments.
PCD: Is there an additional issue or issues you think need(s) to be addressed during your term, should you win?
NB: I would love to see continued and strengthened partnerships between NHCS and area businesses and industry to better tailor our CTE programs to the needs of our students and broader community. A four year degree is a nice thing, but high school shouldn’t just be college prep. In today’s economy good paying, rewarding careers can be had via certifications and other avenues besides college. We need to do more to maximize those opportunities for our students. SEATECH is great but I’d like to see us strengthen and invest in CTE programs at our traditional high schools as well.
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