NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Veronica McLaurin-Brown is a Democratic candidate in the New Hanover County Board of Education race.
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.
McLaurin-Brown’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?
VMB: Whenever a child arrives at their school, they should open a door, and enter a school of excellence. As a member of the Board of Education, I will focus on making all our schools successful. I will fight for the resources that are needed to maximize each child’s opportunity to become a life-long learner and an engaged citizen. Each school must have the leadership, educators, support staff, programs, materials, and supplies they need to provide an excellent education. Funding decisions will be based on data and feedback from our educators. Some schools may need more counselors while others may need more teacher aides. I will review Board policies to ensure that they promote excellence for all the students and staff in our schools.
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?
VMB: The safety of our students and staff is my greatest concern. I will support the recommendations of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the NCDHHS (North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services), and the New Hanover County Health Department. They have the expertise, the data, and the research to recommend the safest practices and procedures to keep everyone safe in our schools.
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?
VMB: Staff morale is low. Staff salaries are low. Many of the teachers work a second or third job to pay their bills. Our staff feels undervalued, overworked, and disrespected. As part of the Board, I will work to increase staff salaries and benefits at the County and State levels. For example, if the General Assembly had fully funded the Leandro plan this year, New Hanover County Schools could have potentially received over $163 million in each of the next two years for Children with Disabilities, Limited English Proficiency programs, Assistant Principals, Teacher Assistants, and much more. Also, there is a long history of mistrust and retaliation throughout the school system. I will work on rebuilding that trust by speaking the truth, demanding transparency and accountability, and meeting with and listening to our employees.
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?
VMB: Children go to school to learn. Suspensions and the use of seclusion rooms remove them from our positive learning environments. Children who make mistakes or who need to calm down need the time and support of our teachers, counselors, and social workers. Sometimes that might mean working outside of the classroom with another adult. Suspending children out-of-school (except for the most serious offenses) or placing them in involuntary confinement is harmful to them. I am proud to have led the effort to change a Board policy to end out-of-school suspensions for 4, 5, 6, and 7-year-olds, except for guns, drugs, or a violent assault. This year the Behavior Leadership Foundations Professional Learning Community model that was implemented in eleven elementary schools reduced the number of out-of-school suspensions by over 90% percent in the first five months of schools compared to the total number of suspensions from the 2018- 2019 school year. I will fight for the implementation of a similar program for next year to end the use of seclusion rooms and reduce the use of restraint for the safety and mental health of our students and staff.
PCD: Do you think community members, parents and staff members have a platform to be adequately heard? How can the district improve?
VMB: The New Hanover County Board of Education has one of the longest Call to the Audience sessions in the region. As a Board member, I will fight to keep it at its one-hour length. Additional opportunities must be provided to all our stakeholders. I will work for adding listening sessions for the Board among the schools (for teachers) and throughout the county (for parents and community members.) As a former principal and administrator in the NHCS, feedback was the engine of improvement. A system must be put in place where employees and parents know their questions will be answered, their concerns will be heard, and their ideas will be reviewed.
PCD: What needs to be done to make schools safer?
VMB: The Title IX survey showed that many students do not feel safe in our schools. The Staff Climate survey showed that teachers had concerns about student mental health and student behavior. As a member of the Board, I will review our safety and student behavior policies. I will work for more upstream solutions that help our students learn the skills that they need to be successful in a classroom setting and in life. Investing in more school counselors, social workers, and community health workers to support our children and their families is a good start. More support must also be available for our staff to ensure their physical and mental health. Students and staff need a system they can trust where they can communicate their needs and concerns without the fear of embarrassment or retaliation.
PCD: How comfortable are you with the way the district uses local funds?
VMB: The Board of Education needs to establish its vision and priorities before it passes a budget. Our school board did not do that this year. As a Board member, I will make it a priority to know the source of our funding, how we can access more funding, and how we can spend our funds effectively. It seems like new programs and additional administrators are being funded before we take care of our current employees. Also, more transparency is needed for the public to better understand the budget and the budget process.
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