Politics over education is hurting Carteret County students

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The following is from a Nov. 26 Facebook post by Katie Statler in response to the resignation of Carteret County Public Schools Superintendent Mat Bottoms. It has been reprinted with permission in its entirety.

I would love to sit down and talk with each one of you – unfortunately I don’t have the ability. I’ve thought on this for a long time, If I wanted to risk people being mad at me – but I owe it to our teachers, administration, and students to try and shed light onto what’s happening in Carteret County.

Our Superintendent “retiring” (in quotes- because to me, retiring is “my job here is done, and I am ready to be finished,” and that simply isn’t what’s happening) should raise a red flag for every citizen in this county.

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Mr. Bottoms has dedicated 39 years to education, and is an asset for this school system. Saying this is a big loss is an understatement. However, when you realize you’re not in the business of education, but politics, and you no longer are able to do your job – why continue to tread water? When Mr. Bottoms made the announcement that he was “retiring”, I received SIX copies of his email to staff within 5 minutes. I received 12 texts within 10 minutes.

What does that say to me? Teachers are worried, but scared to speak out. They trusted I would shed light and help them understand, and be their voice. And I will.

Before I really begin, I think politics has a place. I don’t think all politicians are bad. Politics absolutely has a place, I just firmly believe it’s not in education.

Some general background — Our County Commissioners control the money in the county. They work with the Board of Education (BOE) on budgeting and other decisions. In the 1980s, Carteret County was a very Democratic county. Most positions were held by Democrats – and quickly people realized that wasn’t benefiting Carteret County.

In 1992, the people voted to move the BOE to non-partisan. A cohesive board then worked together for 25 years, making our school system, without argument, one of the best in the state. In 2017, behind closed doors – with no announcement – and no vote – our County Commissioners decided to make the BOE a partisan board.

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In the two years following – we’ve seen politics take over the education system. When I announced I was running for BOE, I did all of “the right things”. I introduced myself to mayors, and people in positions within the county. I emailed our BOE members why I felt I was qualified to take the seat in district 2, currently held by Jake Godwin.

I went to a GOP (the Republican Party) meeting, and met the “top Republicans” in our county. I was nervous, not because I don’t know education, but because I don’t know politics.

You see, I’ve known for years I wanted to be on the BOE. I’ve attended every meeting since my son entered Kindergarten. I’ve spent YEARS researching education, reading articles, following bills through the house and senate. I have a degree in Family and Community Services. I’ve written to state officials concerning education, education operating budgets, [State Superintendent] Mark Johnson’s decision to implement [e-learning program] Istation and other issues. I have done my research. Next to teachers & administrators, I feel the most qualified to take a seat on the BOE and make educated decisions that will support the students and staff of our 18 schools.

After years of preparation, it took 2 days to realize I was getting into the business of politics and not education. I wanted to be an educational advocate, but I was going to have to be a politician.

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At the GOP meeting, I told them I would be running for district 2. I was told there was another person running, who they referred to as “Jake 2.0”. (With no offense to Mr. Godwin, what they were saying was they had someone that they could make the decisions for.)

They had picked a candidate who they could tell how to vote, and use their term to make gains for their party. The very people that were “supporting” this candidate, were then talking condescendingly about him right then – they had chosen someone to make their choices for them.

I still stood and said why I felt qualified to take the seat. After the meeting, a few gentlemen shook my hand, and a couple got my phone number.

The next day – I received a phone call. I was told that I was not the candidate that the main GOP would be supporting, however, if I was “willing to expose some things about two families’ children and grandchildren, we will financially back your campaign.”

I was shocked. I said “no thank you,” and that day I announced I would not be running for BOE. I will not name the families – out of respect, and human decency. I would not, and would never attack someone for my personal gains.

In the same meeting I got to hear which BOE members “weren’t Republican enough.” These are members that are willing to speak out, and advocate for our children. All 7 BOE members were talked negatively about in that room within those two hours by someone.

I was asked a couple questions about my political beliefs. NONE of them included a question about the schools, teachers, school safety, administrators, school calendar, or anything else that affects our education system.

Look at some of the BOE meeting agendas, and read over articles posted from the MaST debate this summer. When you open a school – you look at many factors – operating costs, teacher positions, student benefit/detriment, county impact. When you close a school – by law, you look at one factor – student impact. MaST Students, parents, and teachers spent hours, and endless tears, fighting to keep their school open. Read that again – “at risk” high school students, fighting and crying for their school.

Fortunately they succeeded, for now, to keep MaST open. That didn’t come free. It cost the parents thousands of dollars they willingly pooled for a lawsuit against our BOE. Improper proceedings, bullying AND more has cost tax payers over $19,000 in fees (BOE legal fees). Over $19,000.

One of the top reasons for closing MaST was teacher positions that would be lost – $19,000 is one of the TA Positions. It’s a TA Position. It’s 5,000 reams of paper. It’s part of the expenses of a plumber our school needs. It’s money that’s being wasted, because students weren’t put first this summer.

In looking at our school calendar, Chairman Travis Day said “The teachers have lots of workdays before school starts they don’t need.” I heard an audible “gasp” in the audience from the school personnel around me. The days before school starts are used, fully, by our teachers and administration. You won’t find one teacher that believes there are “too many” workdays prior to a new school year.

Our BOE has a chair and co-chair. How are they chosen? Who has sat on the board the longest or has the most experience? Go check the dates – I was told by numerous sources (including a BOE Member) that the two most qualified were not given the positions due to who they supported during elections. (again, politics into education).

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At the GOP Meeting, they bragged that they got to choose the chair/vice chair. The vice chair position was traded for votes on the premature MaST closure. Politics in Education. Politics over education.

Look into who is currently holding our local positions. The County Commissioners, The Board of Education, The College Board of Trustees. Look at names, family ties, and allegiances. Ask questions. Get involved. Get mad. Three of the BOE positions are up next term. Chairman Travis Day, District 2 Jake Godwin, and Melissa Ehlers all are up for re-elect[ion]. Don’t vote blindly. Don’t vote within a party. Vote for candidates wiling to speak out against wrongdoings, and speak out when it’s not the popular opinion.

Our BOE will be selecting the interim superintendent, as well as a new Superintendent. Pay attention, and be a voice. I will be challenging our BOE at the next meeting to vote for themselves, use their four years for good. Don’t be a puppet for someone. Pour into our students, teachers, and administration. Work for the betterment of our school system, and not for a political party. I’m truly sorry to the members of the BOE that are in the business of education. You’ve poured into this system, and only gotten pushback in return.

I know this was long, and if you made it – I simply end with politics don’t belong in education. We don’t need politicians telling us how to run our schools. It has never been a successful blueprint, and likely never will be. If we can’t get the politicians out of our education system, we are going to suffer. Our school system will suffer. We are sitting, not improving, and at some point I am afraid we will see backtracking.

The next BOE meeting is December 3rd at 6 pm. Public speaking is at 5:50 pm. If you have something to say, come sign up and speak. You’ve got 3 minutes. Write your commissioners. Do not let this get swept under a rug. Our school system is in trouble. Our teachers are scared, our administration is scared.

Katie Statler
Newport

The opinions expressed in letters to the editor should not be interpreted as those of The Eastern Beacon. Letters can be sent to [email protected]