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home : news : news December 3, 2020

10/23/2020 11:36:00 AM
School Board Election Update

Wayne Howard
News Journalist

Perhaps the most important election on your ballot this Fall won't be the choice for President, US Senate, Governor or other statewide races. The back-of-the-ballot races include those for Lincoln County Commissioner, Lincolnton City Council, and the Lincoln County Board of Education.

We have called 2020 "the lost year." High school graduations were handled far differently than normal. The Lincoln County School Board eventually voted to follow the graduation events of last Spring with a traditional graduation which was supposed to be held the weekend of July 31-August 1. Of course, the pandemic had worsened by then, so the decision was made to put it off until December. There's valid reason to believe it won't be possible then; top medical officials expect that the worst months of the pandemic may be December and January.

The election for Lincoln County Board of Education involves choices for four of the seven members on the board. Three incumbents are seeking re-election. School Board chair Cathy Davis is running for one of three seats on the County Commission. Heather Rhyne,  Mark Mullen, and Kirk Herbertson are all involved in three candidate races for the seat they now hold. While they are multi-candidate races, the candidate who gets the most votes will be elected, whether or not they get a majority.

When the board voted in late September, Rhyne, Mullen, Davis and Wulfhorst voted in favor of going to Plan A--face-to-face classroom instruction--for grades K-5. Herbertson and Joan Avery voted against the change.

There have been some cases of COVID-19 in the schools, both elementary and others (who are still on Plan B, going to school Monday-Tuesday or Thursday-Friday and doing remote learning other days). One of those cases involved a teacher's assistant at Love Memorial School who came to work sick, resulting in multiple staff and students having to quarantine.

More recently, a student who is being taught under Plan C (totally remote learning) came to a Lincolnton High School jayvee basketball practice while still asymptomatic and not testing with a fever and when he tested positive, it forced another multiple person quarantine because of the exposure.

We posed the question to all the candidates for School Board about how they voted or would have voted on the move to Plan A. You can read the responses from the ones who responded in our article

The truth is: there are no good answers. Most people agree that were the virus not a concern, students learn much better in classroom settings. Some of those who were supposed to be getting schooled via remote learning haven't been. A little-noticed part of the School Board meeting Oct. 13th was when chair Cathy Davis asked Principal of the Year Tracy Eley (Battleground School) how many kids she had in remote learning. Ely said she had 80. "Of those, how many are actively participating?" Davis asked. The reply was "only 40."

Obviously, having the students return to the classroom is dangerous during the pandemic. They might not get the disease and if they do, they might survive it without serious problems. But they could spread it to other family members, and teachers, teachers' assistants, etc. are also at risk.

On the other hand, not being in school doesn't necessarily mean those kids are staying home and not mingling with others. This reporter has seen multiple couples at the grocery store with their children, none of them wearing a mask.

There is solid evidence that the remote learning and Plan B are truthfully not working. At the end of the first grading period for this school year, over 4,700 students were considered to be failing. That compares to about 1,300 last year after the first nine weeks.

We're not making any proposals for changes or defending what has been done. As we've said, there are no good answers. Those elected to the Board of Education will not doubt have to choose between bad answers and some they would consider worse.

The new board will, as one of its first duties, have to decide on a new Superintendent. Dr. Aaron Allen is serving as the Interim Superintendent and is one of the candidates for the job.

The School Board election is always important. The schools are the biggest chunk of the total County Budget, and in local funds, they get the second most behind the Sheriff's Office.

This year, the election is even more important. If you haven't already voted, read our articles about the candidates; listen to what they have to say in the videos we asked them to produce (attached to this article), learn enough to make an informed decision when you go to the polls...and be sure to vote.

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For one of the two At-Large seats on the Board of Education (the one up for election this year; Tony Jenkins holds the other and his term lasts until 2022), the candidates are Heather Rhyne, a former vice-chair; Ann Marie Cesena, wife of County Commissioner Bud Cesena; and Debra Williams.  Stephanie Mullen's name will appear on your ballot, but she has withdrawn from the race. She has announced her support for Ann Cesena. Cesena has also been endorsed by former Supt. Dr. Lory Morrow.  Williams is the only African-American candidate.  There has never been a black or Hispanic member on the Board of Education, although black & Hispanic students represent 22% of the total.  

To view the videos supplied by these candidates, click on the candidate's name:

Ann Marie Cesena
Heather Rhyne
Debra Williams

The only head-to-head race is the one for the District 1 seat representing western Lincoln County currently held by Cathy Davis.  The candidates are Myra Heavner, a business woman, and Jon Propst, a Lincolnton Police officer.  Propst ran for Sheriff in 2018 but lost in the Primary Election in a multi-candidate race. 

To view the videos supplied by these candidates, click on the candidate's name:

Jon Propst
Myra Heavner

For the District 3 seat, the candidates are incumbent Kirk Herbertson, Christina Sutton and Jason Beckley.

To view the videos supplied by these candidates, click on the candidate's name:

Kirk Herbertson
Christina Sutton
Jason Beckley

For the District 4 seat, the candidates are incumbent Mark Mullen, Robin Bryant and Matt Beam.

To view the videos supplied by these candidates, click on the candidate's name:

Mark Mullen
Robin Bryant
Matt Beam

While the Board of Education election is nominally non-partisan, the political parties usually endorse candidates from their party.  Stephanie Mullen's decision to withdraw came after Republicn Party leadership decided on endorsing certain candidates.  In a Facebook post, she wrote: "As a lifelong Republican, I can disagree but at the same time respect the decision that was made to financially support one candidate.  I will be back in two years and run for the school board with the support of my family, friends, and the Republican Party. I will spend the next two years campaigning and getting to know folks."  A Republican Party 'who to vote for' post listed all of the registered GOP candidates including Mullen, but, of course, did not list any of the registered Democrats running in the so-called non-partisan race.  Since the race is technically non-partisan, party affiliations will not be listed on the ballot when you vote.

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