In Union County, the most closely watched elections are the district and at-large races for Union County Board of Education, and the race for sheriff.
The three Republican candidates running for county commissioner – Stony Rushing, Jerry B. Simpson and Lance Simpson – are unopposed.
In the sheriff’s race, Democrat Sandra Edwards Peterson is challenging Republican Sheriff Eddie Cathey, who has been sheriff since 2002.
But the school board race takes center stage.
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There are 12 candidates seeking five seats on the Union County Board of Education. Redistricting is a primary focus.
The Union County Board of Education voted in March to change boundary lines for the county’s schools and reassign several thousand students. That stirred angry responses from groups of parents and court action, and motivated many candidates to run.
“I do believe redistricting has awakened many citizens in Union County and will push them to the polls,” said Kim Hillegas, president of Citizens for Adequate Public Schools, which fought to stop the redistricting. “Redistricting was merely one symptom of a much larger cancer on the board, and I hope and pray the citizens are ready to take action to remove the cancer.”
When asked for a comment about redistricting as an election issue, Dr. Mary Ellis, superintendent of Union County Public Schools, responded: “As superintendent, I work closely with the Board of Education to carry out their policies and ensure a quality education for every child. Upon the election of new Board members, I look forward to working with them in the same capacity.”
Twelve candidates, including three incumbents, are running for five open seats on the nine-member school board.
Here is a rundown of the candidates and brief statements from each. Statements have not been edited for grammar or spelling.
We need to adopt a flexible, long range plan to address the growth in UCPS and be sure it is backed up by clear and concise data. Redistricting every 2 to 3 years should not be the only answer in addressing long term growth. We must look at other options such as magnet schools, new construction and additions to current facilities. In addition, the process that is used to communicate and decide on redistricting must be greatly improved. I am committed to truly listening to all parents and stakeholders so that we can reach decisions that support the needs of all of our students while being fiscally responsible.
Age: 46 (will be 47 on Oct. 31)
I was not in favor of the most recent and most massive redistrict in the history of UCPS. I repeatedly spoke with, had written correspondence with as well as presented alternatives to the redistrict with every BOE member as well as the UCPS Superintendent Dr. Mary Ellis. I along with many others pleaded with the BOE to slow down, to not rush into this in the manner that they did and to accept the $3 Million for mobile class rooms offered by the County Commissioners. Doing so would have given proper time for a true long term plan to handle the continued growth to our area. I understand that many people do not feel as I did about the redistrict, however my goal was to delay any action until a better plan was in place with the hope that if a redistrict was indeed truly needed it would have impacted as few families as possible.
Age: 60 (will be 61 on Nov 3.)
I believe in community schools and the passion that they build among the children, parents, teachers and all other stakeholders. I believe that when a person buys a house in a certain school attendance district, it is the BOE’s responsibility to honor that taxpayer’s commitment by their own commitment of providing schooling for that child in that school cluster. I believe that the mismanagement of tax dollars has led to unnecessary spending in areas that have proven to yield very little educational benefits. So I will not rest until I have brought those children back to their community schools and put in place an administrative and legal team that will never make this mistake again.
District 1 (unexpired)
Jim H. Bention Sr.
At a glance it would (or could) appear that all were against this current rollout of Redistricting, that would be far from the truth, the reality is that it started a while back and it first effected the Schools on the Western side of the county.
I was at that 2008/2009 end of the school year Board Meeting at Porter Ridge High School speaking on behalf of Monroe HS when the plan at the time was to put back communities that had been moved from it’s Cluster, this rollout (2014) gave Monroe it’s communities back, while easing crowding from other Cluster's.
It is my endeavor to tell the story of District 1, but to also help others to see and understand the greatness of all our Schools, many have come to see that, but the work is far from over.
Sharon C. Harrell
Change is an inevitability and redistricting has brought about change. The School Board is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that all students have a safe and healthy learning environment. Growth in the county makes it a priority that the board must plan for future needs. With open communication, it is my hope that all participants will work together in the best interest of the students. Our children are our greatest asset and we must do what is necessary to help them reach their maximum potential. Differences of opinion occur in all situations, but nothing should upset the balance of making the best learning environments available to all students.
The redistricting proposal was a bad idea implemented in a terrible fashion. The vote was called without it even being on the agenda, two BOE members had no idea it was coming up for a vote and deals were made so certain neighborhoods would be left off in return for political support. Families are now split between clusters, transportation issues continue and some elementary children have to catch the bus before 6 am. Why do we redistrict our current residents to make room for the ones that will choose to move to our county in the future? We need new leadership on our Board of Education.
Richard A. Yercheck
The first step in addressing the overcrowding issues was to fill the 3,500 empty seats via redistricting and to lift the cap on three schools. The next step is to implement the Community Construction Equity Plan which will address repairs, renovations and additions including possible expansions or new schools in the future. The CCEP includes parent advisory from all 53 schools so that specific needs from all schools can be addressed. In addition, the Board of Education and the Board of County Commissioners have developed a working group of Parents and local community leaders to consider the needs of UCPS and how best to fund the current and future needs. Lastly, my oldest daughter was redistricted from Piedmont Middle to Monroe Middle and my wife and I choose to move our youngest daughter from Queens Grant Charter to Rocky River Elementary. My family is 100 percent committed to UCPS and all the good things to come.
I realize the negative impacts that redistricting can have on our students, families, and our communities. The Board of Education should never cease planning for future county growth and exploring solutions to accommodate that growth. Redistricting is not the answer and as a member of the Board it would be a priority to make all efforts to avoid redistricting in the future. Should there come a time when the school system is faced with surpassing core capacities, the Board of Education should be available to all stakeholders and should seek their input. Decisions made should be based on a collaborative effort by all stakeholders and the Board should be transparent, open, and honest when making those decisions. Union County's growth is a testament to the excellence of our school system, and the Board should always be one step ahead in anticipating and managing that growth.
Monica Earp Frank
Let’s start with Communication. I feel that we all need to communicate with each other so we can understand what issues are at hand.
I am going to listen to key issues and do my best to communicate with all involved.
I am strongly opposed to redistricting, especially in the manner that 5,800 students were reassigned this year. Parents were led to believe that we could speak with the Board of Education and work with UCPS to find solutions to overcrowding in 3 local schools. Between January and March of 2014, parents and communities pulled together to research core capacity, transportation costs, increased mileage, emotional and academic effects to students, siblings being separated into different clusters. I spoke at the Public Hearings and urged the Board of Education to consider other alternatives so that our children could stay in their neighborhood schools. Going forward, I want to ensure that there is full transparency and truly include our stakeholders so that decisions are fair and objective, not predetermined.
Union County continues to grow, and this growth, along with decisions made by past and present boards, led us to the place we found ourselves last school year – overcrowded and capped schools and ultimately redistricting. I believe that redistricting, at some level, had to occur to address these issues. But I also believe that the current and previous boards did not do all they could have done to properly address these issues in a proactive, strategic and fully transparent manner.
I am not running for the Board of Education because of redistricting though. I am running for the Board of Education to ensure that we are more actively engaged in long-term strategic planning for growth, for how we will educate our students and for how we will retain and develop our teachers. I am running for the Board to bring strong, committed and present leadership to District 6 and Union County so that we can work towards becoming proactive instead of reactive.
I did not agree with the way that redistricting was handled and that is why I did vote against it. I believe that we should have waited and looked at every viable option and that includes bringing in an independent group that could look and draw the new proposed redistricting lines. My fear is that we will have to revisit this again in the next few years. We are already close to being overcrowded at some schools, and I would like for the board to explore the controlled choice assignment plan that Winston-Salem Forsyth Schools uses in their school district. Parental input is extremely vital and must taken seriously since it affects their children. Open communication and the community being able to work with the school board for student assignment is key for us to have a successful and well supported school district.
Candidates for Sheriff
It is my sincere desire to continue serving as Union County's duly-elected Sheriff. The Sheriff's Office has accomplished many notable achievements during my tenure as Sheriff, and I wish to continue my service to the citizens of this county by providing them a professional, accountable organization that contributes to a positive and secure quality of life in Union County. We have already instituted a number of technological advances, implemented professional development expectations for our staff, and have emphasized customer service to our supervisors and managers. The Office has made great strides during my tenure, and I seek to continue to build upon the accomplishments of my predecessors in providing our citizens with the highest quality law enforcement services possible.
Sandra Edwards Peterson
One of the major topics relevant to this election is accountability. The Sheriff and the deputies need to be accountable to the citizens of Union County. If a person calls for some type of service, then they should know that the officer will show up and handle the call in a professional manner. I would like to see a citizen’s board in the Sheriff’s Office, which could help review policies and procedures, and give advice to the Sheriff and the staff. I would welcome volunteers in the Sheriff’s Office and Animal Control. Union County is one of only a few counties left in N.C. with a gas chamber, and I know that it is time it was removed, and I plan on listening to the citizens and removing it from operation.