Monday, September 25, 2023

2022 Primary Election: Pat Bradford seeks spot on NHCS board

NEW HANOVER COUNTY ⁠— Republican Pat Bradford is a candidate for the New Hanover County Board of Education.

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.

Bradford’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.

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Port City Daily (PCD): What is your top priority and how would you address it?
Pat Bradford (PB): My top priority is to stop the hemorrhaging of our teachers and our teacher’s assistants, school bus drivers, cafeteria workers – the non-certified staff. To bring them to a living wage by adopting the recommendations in the March 1 payroll study report.

Then we must reset the curriculum. Critical race theory is the systematic, orchestrated, well-funded attack on our cultural values. It is unthinkable that this ideology is being taught in America. Teachers and parents report it is being taught in New Hanover County. The new school board must pass policies that eliminate CRT from all school curriculum.

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?
PB: Leadership begins at the top and the leadership that we have now is failing the students, the teachers, failing the parents/guardians. We need fresh leadership. Our school board leadership in their management of COVID-19, the shutting down the schools will go down in history as one of the worst decisions, ever. The repercussions of this really poor decision will be with us for decades. Graduates and athletes were robbed of what could have, should have been and scholarships were jeopardized. The loss of student learning is incalculable. The interruption of student learning will most severely be felt in the disadvantaged, who have fewer educational opportunities outside of school. Some students depend on the school for their nutrition, they rely on the free or discounted meals and when the schools closed, their nutrition was compromised. The transition to the distance learning platforms was not organized and frustrating even in the best of circumstances; there was confusion for the students, the teachers and the parents, and high stress all around. The gap in child care where the parent/guardian had to leave the home to work, will certainly impact those children more significantly. Those students who depend on mental health and other care from the schools were completely abandoned. We saw a rise in the dropout rate. We saw an increase in students joining gangs.

The unintended consequences of county wide mandating of masks and business closures by a non-elected board that was not made up of one virologist, or infectious disease medical doctor will be long debated.

An elected school board should stick to educating the children, and let the parents and guardians handle the health of their children, not making medical decisions for the children. Parents know what’s best for their children. They should have been given the choice to mask their children or not to mask and they alone should have made those choices. Thousands of parents in New Hanover County did make those choices by voting with their feet to remove their children from the public school system.

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?
PB: The January 2022 New Hanover County Board of Education School Climate Survey agrees with what I am hearing from teachers I speak with: the moral is horrible. Teachers are overworked, discouraged; they spend too much time doing reporting, are not respected, valued, or heard. There is real retribution when they do speak up. They are walking away from their classrooms at an alarming rate. The teacher’s aides and other non-certified staff are not paid a living wage or valued. TAs are also quitting at an alarming rate. The culture of the school district must change to one of respect, honor and value. My first plan of action will be triage — to stop the hemorrhaging of our teachers and our teacher’s assistants and other non-certified workers who are quitting, walking away from the schools and the students on a daily basis. (See also my response to question #1 please.)

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?
PB: Out of school suspensions for under 8-year-old children: I have been against out of school suspension for 4, 5, 6 and 7-year-olds except for guns, drugs and violence for over a year and I have spoken out against it repeatedly. I celebrate the recent board vote to end this practice for students eight years and younger except for drugs, guns or violence.

Seclusion Rooms: Just the thought of placing a child into a 6’ x 6’ or 6’ x 8’ locked, padded room with only a glass slit in the door, no water or bathroom is reprehensible to me. I understand that teachers and TAs are at their wits end, and really all those who work in the school system. There is no respect from the children and many of them are out of control. A former school board member, now a county commissioner said in an April 14 budget workshop, “There is no control over the kids, we’ve lost complete control of the students.”

When I hear different schools in the district present before the board how well they are doing in managing bad behavior with positive measures, I know that this is where we start. If it can work in a handful of schools, it can be implemented in all schools.

PCD: Do you think community members, parents and staff members have a platform to be adequately heard? How can the district improve?
PB: No, they are not being heard. The free exercise of the right to speech and debate and assembly in a public forum is precious. I have witnessed repeatedly the damage it does when there’s not freedom to speak in the life of a child, to tell their story. I have seen firsthand the dysfunction in the divisiveness and the lack of transparency and honesty on the current board. I first went to the board meetings over the masks and I saw immediately that parents were being cut out of choices for their children their voices, and the teacher’s voices weren’t being heard.

The closed-door sessions every meeting are very concerning. It is way out of the norm for local government boards.

I do not support the lottery system to be able to speak at school board meetings for two minutes. This board is afraid of the public, they are afraid of parents, they don’t want one-on-one discussions with us. We need a series of town hall style meetings – public forums, the parent’s voices must be heard.

PCD: What needs to be done to make schools safer?
PB: It is unthinkable that NHC school board fails to background check those working with our children, nor is fingerprinting done.

Background checks and fingerprinting must be immediately instituted for every single person who works on the school property, no exceptions. The talk about future fingerprinting implementation may just be for all new hires, that is unacceptable.

The sexual abuse of the last twenty years by school staff MUST NEVER be allowed to happen again. There must be a known, strict culture of ZERO tolerance for abuse.

Additional school resource officers are needed in the schools. There are a few schools that don’t have a SRO yet. There needs to be two in every school. The monitoring of halls and grounds must increase. I am looking forward to hearing the New Hanover County manager’s plan to use $350 million of the New Hanover hospital sale proceeds to address gun violence in the school system and community.

PCD: How comfortable are you with the way the district uses local funds? 
PB: I am not comfortable, the school board is not doing their job of overseeing the budget. I have studied the budget and I have questions including pay increases were voted on for the general office staff in early 2022 and the average percentage of increase was quite high, while the percentage for teacher’s assistants and non-certified workers was an average of just 2.5 percent. County Commissioners said at the April 14 budget workshop, that the school board could choose to allocate local funds to increase the pay to the teacher’s assistants and they expressed concern over the rising deficiency in the number of teacher’s assistants. I echo that deep concern.

The school district lost a high number of students in 2020, 2021, and now 2022. Reports of the loss range between 2,000 and 3,000 students who have dropped out, or moved to private schools, or moved to charter schools, or home school. This deeply cuts into the local funding for public schools. The county funds the school system yearly with $3,434 per enrolled student, plus pays the school district’s debt service.

County commissioners expressed their concerns over the issue of declining enrollment at their April 14 budget workshop. They did indicate the school district would receive less funding. I am concerned, how will that deficit in funding be made up?

PCD: Is there an additional issue or issues you think need(s) to be addressed during your term, should you win?
PB: Yes, a laundry list. I have a long-term reputation in New Hanover County as an advocate for, and resource to children and their parents/guardians. In 2006, after training and fingerprinting, when I was sworn as a Guardian ad Litem for the NHC’s Fifth District Court, the court determined that I was qualified to stand up for the rights of children, to shepherd them through troubling times. This began for me a 17-year journey serving children, the unsheltered, the poor and all those without a voice in this county, regardless of culture or socioeconomic status. We need a change in leadership. The academic success of our students is critical. School board members should listen to, respect, and uphold the rights of students, parents, and teachers. The school district should provide students with the building blocks they need for the rest of their lives. Our schools should be safe places for education; reading, writing and math, plus excellence, not indoctrination. Reading and math proficiency must rise, and the dropout rate shrink.

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Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands
Alexandria Sands is a journalist covering New Hanover County and education. Before Port City Daily, she reported for the award-winning State Port Pilot in Southport. She graduated from UNC Charlotte and wrote for several Charlotte publications while there. When not writing, Williams is most likely in the gym, reading or spending time with her Golden Pyrenees. Reach her at or on Twitter @alexsands_

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