Tuesday, April 16, 2024

New Hanover County Primaries 2024: Tim Merrick runs for board of education seat

Tim Merrick is running for NHC Board of Education. (Courtesy photo)

NEW HANOVER COUNTY — 2024 is a presidential election year but also one that impacts numerous local boards — such as county commissioners and education districts in the tri-county region.

READ MORE: Here is who filed for the 2024 elections

Democratic candidate Tim Merrick, a retired chiropractor and executive leadership consultant, is running for one of three seats on the New Hanover County Board of Education. In the primary election, Merrick is running against three other Democrats — Jerry Jones Jr., former school board member Judy Justice, and Cynthia Munoz. The primary will take place March 5.

Merrick has not served a local office before; however, he was a representative to the Department of Public Information of the United Nations in New York City. He also sought candidacy in the New York State Senate and was elected City Democratic Chair in Plattsburgh, NY.

His stances on issues are discussed below. All answers are included in full; responses are edited only for grammar, spelling and clarity.

Port City Daily has compiled candidate questionnaires so voters can read up on contenders’ stances before heading to the polls. The paywall is dropped on profiles to help voters make informed decisions ahead of casting their ballots.

Voters will choose which candidates from their registered party they want to move forward in the formal election — or those who are registered unaffiliated can choose which party’s primary they want to vote in. After the March 5 primaries, Election Day will be Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2024; a valid photo ID will be needed to cast a ballot in both. 

Anyone not registered to vote can partake in same-day registration, available throughout the early voting period, Feb. 15 – Mar. 2. Check here to see if your registration is active at your current address.

Early voting in New Hanover County takes place at various locations: Northeast Regional Library (1241 Military Cutoff Rd.) in the David E Paynter Room, Carolina Beach Town Hall (1121 N. Lake Park Blvd.) in the police training room, CFCC Health Sciences Building (415 N. 2nd St.) and NHC Senior Resource Center (2222 S. College Rd.)

Early voting stops are open Feb. 15-16, 19-23, 26-29 and March 1, 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., noon to 5 p.m. on Feb. 24-25, and 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. on March 2. 

Below is a breakdown of dates to expect ahead of the primary election:

  • Jan. 19, 2024: County boards of elections begin mailing absentee ballots to eligible voters who submitted an absentee ballot request form.
  • Feb. 9, 2024: Voter registration deadline (5 p.m.).*
  • Feb. 15, 2024: In-person early voting begins.
  • Feb. 27, 2024: Absentee ballot request deadline (5 p.m.).*
  • March 2, 2024: In-person early voting ends (3 p.m.).
  • March 5, 2024: Primary Election Day.
  • March 5, 2024: Absentee ballot return deadline (7:30 p.m.).*

Merrick’s questionnaire is below; all candidate’s opinions and statements are not a reflection of Port City Daily. 

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Port City Daily (PCD): Why do you want to run for the school board? 

Tim Merrick (TM): Our children are our future. The demands they will face from environmental challenges to our socio-political divide will require a thoughtful and honest education that addresses the realities of our world, while supporting the challenges they are already experiencing. Our education system was created to lift each child up and to strengthen our communities. We must make that vision a reality for every child whether gifted or exceptional. 

PCD: What is the current board of education getting right? Wrong?

TM: They are ensuring we have legal representation, even if there are significant issues with the law firm they have contracted. They have listened to the concerns of a parent in at least one instance, even if their book-banning actions stemming from that caused them to ignore the needs and concerns of thousands of other parents and educators. 

They have given voice to students at their meetings, even if they have been strict about what they were allowed to voice, and now want to silence those voices again.
Their decision to disband the EDI committee was short-sighted at best. There needs to be accountability around ensuring every child has the same opportunities. That isn’t a political stance. It is a recognition that the prevailing system has led to literacy gaps and failure of some students to get the help they need. As a disabled person myself, and the parent of children with learning disabilities I’m particularly concerned that we reach every child. 

PCD: If elected, what is the top issue you want to tackle? 

TM: Straight up, we are facing two crises: proper funding and good governance. The state legislature is actively defunding public education. We are the worst state in the union at education spending. On top of that, the legislature just lifted the caps to allow ultra wealthy families to receive tax-payer money to send their children to private schools. 

With this crisis looming, we need to tackle our budget in several ways. While we have no say over the legislature, we should be actively advocating for funding, rather than recommending awards to the very legislators who are voting to defund our schools.

At the county level we need to hold our county commissioners accountable to recommending funds from the endowment reach our schools at a structural level. 
But we also must review our spending! Our district is spending $12.7 million more in administrative costs than comparable districts. This is important because it also speaks to the micromanagement of our teachers that has hobbled their capacity to teach to the needs of their students. In short, we need staff in the schools more

PCD: In December, the board voted to dissolve the equity, diversity and inclusion committee. Do you agree with this decision, and what is your plan, outside of reestablishing or opposing the committee, to promote inclusivity and ensure every child has the resources they need to succeed?

TM: I wish there was a good metric to show if we are meeting every child’s needs. Short of that, we need structures like Title IX that protect against gender discrimination. We need an office of diversity that is empowered to ensure equal treatment and opportunities, with fidelity. The school board exists as a check on the superintendent. The board just ceded that responsibility when they disbanded the EDI committee. Not only do we need to have that committee, but it can’t be about checking boxes. It must work with fidelity to ensure the school is performing its duties. It is curious at best that the chair of the EDI committee ran her campaign on dissolving it.

PCD: A 2023 space needs study concluded NHCS needs significant capital projects and repairs to accommodate its current student population. However, other analyses by the county show the district could better distribute students across its facilities, indicating a redistricting is needed, and the student population is expected to level off and decrease in the future. Where do you stand on addressing potential growth and the district’s capital needs? What projects do you think the district should prioritize?

TM: First, about redistricting, there is concern throughout the county on what that will mean and how it will be accomplished. Students of history will recall the difficulties 15 years ago when the neighborhood schools were instituted. It is concerning to me that the board gave the consultants who were empowered to come up with a plan, the message that race was not an important consideration in redistricting. Regardless of anyone’s feelings in this regard, it is very short-sighted to believe that race is not an issue in Wilmington, North Carolina. Our history is stained with injustice and we must not look the other way when we make major decisions like this. If we are to solve the issue we face in public education, we must all work together to find a solution.

Next, there is near universal agreement that New Hanover High School building is in terrible shape and a facelift would be a poor use of our limited funds. It seems inevitable that we will either have to have a bond to fund it or work a lot harder to advocate with the state. However, whenever we build, it is also an opportunity to work into the redistricting calculus.

PCD: Since the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the school district has been grappling with a return to more rigid, and in some views inadequate, processes highlighted by pandemic flexibility. These issues — calendar law, budget cycle, allotment funding — often stem from the state level. What is your view on these topics, do you think they should be changed and how would you plan to do so?

TM: I recently heard from the tourism board their concerns about how calendar law or the lack thereof would affect tourism and dollars into the area. And while I am certainly sensitive to local businesses and the taxes we collect as a county, my biggest concern is a quality education for our children. With the fiscal constraints we face, our decisions must prioritize our kids. 

That our tax-payer money follows children to schools outside of the public domain might sound fair to some at face-value. However, it has very real negative impacts on public education. Public education is the biggest part of our state budgets, it’s the great American dream and something that has made America great. Lawmakers are giving our tax dollars to the wealthy to educate their children in private schools. Taking money away from public schools is to give up on the American dream. Something I’m not willing to do.

PCD: Do you think the district is adequately staffed? What positions would you like to see prioritized and/or deprioritized, especially in light of the district having to make significant cuts to next year’s budget? What should the board do to create a better working environment for its employees?

TM: As I said before our budget needs to be spent on student-facing staff. Teachers have repeatedly stressed the need for more aides, counselors and psychologists to deal with the mental health issues they are seeing. The superintendent’s office has been accused of spending more time and resources on optics than on supporting our teachers.

PCD: Many districts, including NHCS, have been experiencing issues with student discipline. NHCS is also unique in its struggle with discriminatory discipline practices against Black students per a federal sanction. Do you think changes should be made to the way the district disciplines students, and if so, how?

TM: This is a historic and long-standing issue and despite years of federal sanctions, there has been little change. It is a reflection of the mindset of this board and their dis-banding of the EDI committee. We don’t solve issues we don’t acknowledge to exist. We have to be honest about the way our schools are funded. We have to understand that some of our schools, and some of our students need more help than others. That is the definition of equity. We need to put more resources into schools that are struggling, and continue to work with the community to build bridges.

PCD: Since the last board election, the topic of parental rights has influenced discussions, including over curriculum, library materials, surveys and medical care. Where do you think the balance lies between parent and school staff responsibility over a student’s education, particularly in these areas?

TM: Let’s look at the book-banning episode. It is a good way to understand what parent’s rights are and what they aren’t. I believe in parents having a say in their children’s education. The parent in question was granted the right to have her child receive alternate materials to study. I am saddened by her fears about the book in question, but I support her right. What I object to is that one parent’s right to decide what hundreds or thousands of other students can read. This was not an educational decision. It was a political one and it has no place on our board or in our schools.

PCD: The board has discussed different ways to hold each other accountable, such as a code of ethics policy, and ways to make the board more efficient, such as adding agenda review meetings. Do you think the board should be doing more to promote civil and efficient discussion? If so, what actions would you propose to accomplish this?

TM: It is appropriate for the board to have certain codes of conduct. When the local Mom’s for Liberty chair would not stop talking and had to be ushered out by law enforcement, it was important to have policies for public input in order to maintain decorum. I fear that these policies can overreach. It lands that some new policy recommendations may be more about consolidating power and censuring descent, which is not good governance. It is also reflected in silencing student voices and in what some teachers have pointed to as intimidation from the administration.
Freedom of speech is essential to our nation and our democracy. But just like in the parent’s rights issue, one person’s freedom cannot be allowed to deny another’s rights.

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Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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