Editor’s note: All candidates who responded to the Q&A have their answers printed here. UCW only edits for grammar.
At large school board candidates
Q1: The big issue for the next school board will be how it handles the $30 million shortfall currently predicted, with minimal impact on teachers. From your perspective, what are some things the board needs to consider to address this issue?
I am very proud of the athletic programs throughout the county. Sports events are a wonderful way to bring families and neighbors together in the spirit of team support. Although academics are first and foremost the priority for our students, school athletics are an important component that help create individual well roundedness. Extra curricular activities, in any area, are a vital supplement and in some cases a requirement for continued education after high school. At present, I have heard no talk about changes to our athletic programs. If we should need to institute an entrance fee at the high school level, and it is between that and not having the programs, then I would be in favor of that fee. As a parent of children in UCPS, I already pay entrance fees at the middle school level. It is my understanding that if a child cannot afford to participate in sports programs, athletic booster clubs have scholarship funds available. In the face of budget cuts and shortfalls, schools should be free to seek sponsors as needed. Contracts must be looked at carefully to ensure that any potential conflicts do not have negative effects on a schools ability to gain needed sponsorship.
Athletic programs are an essential asset to our school system and prior to making any quick decisions the athletic program should research all options and consider how their decision will affect our students and parents. Questions to consider … 1) Can our parents afford to pay an entrance fee considering that they may have multiple children playing multiple sports? 2) If a child is unable to play due to hardship, how will this affect them academically, emotionally and professionally? 3) Can we solicit additional funds from Bocox? If not, we may need to revisit our contract and seek other vendors? I would like to leave you with this … **According to the Study of Youth Sports at Michigan State University, “Kids who participate in organized sports do better in school, have better interpersonal skills, are more team oriented, and are generally healthier.” We can not afford to make rational decisions, which could potentially cost us the well being of our children!
Q2: In neighboring Mecklenburg County, we’ve seen economic conditions force changes on the athletic programs, with parents required to pay a $50 entrance fee for their child to play. Here in Union, Marvin Ridge High School had to turn down an offer from Under Armour to help support portions of their football program. With the funding cliff UCPS faces, what changes, if any, do you feel the athletic programs should undergo? Would you support an entrance fee to play?
Editor’s note: Union County Public Schools’ middle school athletic programs already charge fees for cheerleading and volleyball.
In today’s economy, I don’t know of many areas(business or household) that haven’t been impacted by cuts to their budget. Personally, my family has learned to adapt to a tighter budget while trying to perform our normal activities with much less financial resource. As parents of four children, when we plan to make an expenditure, we make a pros/cons list and ask ourselves is this something we really need to have or something we simply want. And though there are always wants, lately, we function on a needs only basis. We all must strive to live within our means! With continued cuts to the school system’s budget, the board will have to ask similar questions, and I know the administration is already very mindful of this. Many programs that serve our schools are funded federally or by the state and are ear-marked specifically, therefore cannot be cut or re-appropriated. On the same note, there are programs we can evaluate closely for their effectiveness or return on our investment. All areas that are not direct teacher/classroom need to be scrutinized by the board. In talking with people countywide, it is clear many have already seen the impact of cutbacks in their schools. In realizing it will get worse, we have a duty to ask tough questions, be open minded to creative thinking, and ask for input and support from parents, taxpayers, and local businesses. We must come together in our county, and work for the greater good of our children. That being said, teachers are our precious asset, and their ability to remain in the classroom must be our top priority!
While communicating and soliciting feedback from the parents and stakeholders, UCPS will need to prioritize and allocate funds according to the best interest of all students. Things to consider…. 1) How effective is this current program and will it continue to enhance our student’s education, 2) Quality versus quantity, 3) What approaches have worked for other public schools, 4) What are we required to fund and when is that funding due.
District 6 School Board Candidates
Q2: In neighboring Mecklenburg County, we’ve seen economic conditions force changes on the athletic programs, with parents required to pay a $50 entrance fee for their child to play. Here in Union, Marvin Ridge High School had to turn down an offer from Under Armour to fund portions of their football program, due to a conflict with a contract UCPS has with Bocox(sp), another company. With the funding cliff UCPS faces, what changes, if any, do you feel the athletic programs should undergo? Would you support an entrance fee to play?
Athletics are a big part of the middle and high school experience. Students and the community come together to cheer on their teams. The athletes learn teamwork and sportsmanship. The benefits extend beyond the playing fields and courts. Some studies and reports show that school athletic involvement reduces absences, increases GPAs, reduces drop-out rates, and produces graduates that are more likely to be involved in community service, register to vote, etc.
Mecklenburg instituted the fee for middle school sports. Almost all middle school sports in UCPS are already on a “play-to-pay” basis. My daughter played volleyball for Cuthbertson Middle School this year. We had to join the booster club, and then pay another fee for the volleyball season. While we were able to afford these fees, I can easily see where other families may not. Students from such families are effectively shut out from participation in school athletics, regardless of their talents. I am opposed on principle to a permanent, system-wide “pay-to-play” program.
The question is now how we can continue to provide the current level of support for our athletic programs. I looked at the Finance Office’s statements for the Individual School Funds to get a ballpark figure for the expenditures on athletics. The most recent documents on the website are for 2008-2009, and about $1.2 million were spent for athletics that year. Cuthbertson did not have any disbursements that year (since it was not yet open), so we’ll add another $150,000 and estimate that $1.35 million were spent on school athletics for 2009-2010.
Let’s put that $1.35 million in perspective. The budget for 2009-2010 was $362 million. Athletics represented less than 0.037 percent of the UCPS budget (this is in line with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools). In contrast, UCPS budgeted $1.9 million for travel and various workshops. Another $200,000 was budgeted for “membership dues and fees”.
Assuming athletics are the same percentage of this year’s budget ($347 million), about $1.29 million will be available, a decrease of $60,000. This amounts to roughly $6,000 per high school. Next year’s decrease will be about $12,000 per high school. This doesn’t take into account any reallocation of funds. Perhaps some of $1.9 million allocated for travel and workshops, or the $200,000 allocated for membership dues, can be reallocated to athletics. If not, each school will need to decide what cuts to make in their athletics budget. They can also raise funds to the best of their ability via the Booster Clubs.
Once again, we see that the next few years will require the Board to make difficult choices from unpopular alternatives. District 6 needs an independent representative who can look at the problems without the baggage of prior employment in the schools or other formal ties to the system.
It’s clear we’re facing a financial crisis. The school’s first priority is academics, no question, but right after that comes activities and team participation. Students need to learn social interaction. School sports used to mean paying only with sweat. These days, sports can also mean paying a fee. Fees are now becoming more common nation wide for programs that require public school students to pay if they want to play sports and/or participate in other activities. Currently, more than 33 states have adopted pay-to-play programs. Involvement in extra-curricular activities plays a major role in college admission and that is key for many students.
But what about those who already are struggling – those who already have qualified for reduced lunch prices. What cost – if any – should they pay? And here’s the harder question: Who determines that? I never want a student not to be able to participate. I don’t want fees to be a barrier. I would like to see the booster clubs offer financial assistance so that students wouldn’t have to worry about whether or not they can play.
Major league organizations have groups that provide grants to youth athletics. NFL Play 60. NBA Cares. MLB has RBI. Everyone has programs. I would like to see UCPS apply for grants from each organization to help our athletic programs be it for uniforms, physicals, or refurbishing fields.
First, I’m very disappointed to learn that an offer from Under Armour to fund portions of the football program for Marvin Ridge High School, an excellent program, or any other school for that matter, had to be turned down. I certainly hope the current contract and partnership in place is a win-win. There are several contract relationships, like this, I have heard about over the last four years, unfortunately, approval or information about these contracts rarely; if ever make it to the boardroom.
Research and studies “indicate that participation in certain extracurricular activities (athletics and fine arts) significantly reduces a student’s likelihood of dropping out …” (McNeal 1995). As a sports fan and a mother of three student-athletes I know the value of having athletic programs. At the middle school level UCPS only offers basketball and cheerleading for 7th and 8th graders as a school sport. While I understand the philosophy behind this, I feel offering more opportunities includes more children therefore giving schools and parents more leverage when it comes to student achievement. However, I am not naïve to the fact that having more cost more. It is my belief there would be a measurable return for having more opportunities.
To be quite honest I’m not sure what changes, if any, athletic programs should undergo. However, given another opportunity to serve the citizens of Union County, and in the event the time comes to make a decision on this issue, I will be in support of whatever initiative that will have the less financial impact on parents while including the maximum number of students possible. Supporting an entrance fee would be very difficult for me, because entrance fee’s as a requirement automatically excludes some children and I am not, and never will be, a proponent of any initiative that unlevels the playing field. (No pun intended.)
Kimberly Morrison Hansley
Union County Commissioner Candidates
Q6: The last two county boards have faced accusations of unethical behavior. Do you believe commissioners should recuse themselves from a vote? If so, under what circumstances?
Yes I do believe commissioners should recuse themselves from a vote whenever there is a conflict of interest involved. These conflicts should be constituted by personal connections, and personal gains. If a commissioner knows he/she will benefit from a vote or if any member of the board knows of personal conflicts of another board member those issues should be addressed before a vote takes place, allowing an opportunity for the commissioner to recuse him/her self.
Ethics by one definition are “the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.” By definition then, the “rules” may apply differently depending on the “particular group, culture, etc.” in control at the time. Any elected official, or any of their immediate family for that matter, who find they are in a conflict of interest with regard to county business, and who would stand to gain financially or otherwise from a board decision should definitely withdraw from the decision making. I believe it was former Speaker of the House Tom Foley who created the slippery slope when he said “the nature of the evidence is irrelevant, it’s the seriousness of the charge.” Wasting endless dollars and time on accusations of ethics violations simply to gain political advantage is in itself unethical.
There are situations where it would be prudent for a commissioner to recuse themselves from a vote. The primary circumstance for this to occur would be in the event that a commissioner stands to gain financially from the result of the vote.
I open this response with a question: what candidate is going to answer “No” to this question, especially during a campaign? Of course commissioners should recuse themselves from a vote if a conflict of interest arises, but a more constructive and relevant question addressing this issue would be, “How is it possible for conflicts of interest to arise in the first place?” I believe the answer to this question is two-headed: a general disregard for the taxpayer within our government, as well as voter negligence in dealing with this disregard.
In Union County, this disregard is evident in such issues as corporate welfare/Economic Development/Partnership for Progress and county water/sewer capacity. The county has scattered its sticks in the wind when it comes to water and sewer capacity, without any justification for this through the number of homes being serviced with the added lines. Commissioners hold votes (and have sometimes recused themselves from voting) to give money and perks to companies they or family or friends have ties to. Instead of telling themselves, “This stuff just happens”, voters should be asking themselves, “How is it possible for this to happen?” My response to this question would be that when people are elected who have connections to special interests, you can expect little else, and these connections can be discovered by the voter taking an interest in who and what they are voting for. I and my fellow Libertarian candidates Stephen Burr and Tom Hohman have no connections to any special interests and so will never have any potential for conflicts of interest with any future votes the Board of Commissioners may cast.
However, people cannot simply rely on the word of politicians when dealing with issues where the potential for conflicts of interest exist. Voters must instead focus on the validity of the issues themselves, as well as what future possibilities for conflicts of interest exist among the candidates from which they may choose. For example, why is the county even considering giving away taxpayer money to companies? Is corporate welfare what you as a taxpayer would call a legitimate function of government? I do not believe for one second that taxpayers are thinking when they pay their taxes “Please take my money and give it away to whatever company you think would be a good one to give it to”. Taxpayers intend on their money going to pay for schools, sheriff, fire and social services, and do not intend on their money being used to fill up a trough for companies to line up at. Additionally, how was/is it possible for water and sewer capacity to be allocated without a certain set-in-stone number of homes/properties where construction had at least already begun which would have been receiving the services? Why do water tap fees and other fees related to new construction and increased population not cover the actual costs to the county for providing services? These are among the questions conscientious county voters must ask themselves if there exists a true desire to bring accountability to government and to prevent the need for commissioners to “recuse” themselves in the future.
Yes, I certainly do! Anytime there is a possibility of a conflict of interest by association or affiliation one must recuse themselves. Not just because of a financial gain, but equally important the increase of influence/power. I promise to go beyond what our state statutes require to insure there is no appearance of unethical behavior.
In business, information is power. Whoever gets better information sooner has an advantage over those who receive the news later. Members of the Union County Commission, and those who work in County offices, gain just such an informational edge by writing ordinances, awarding contracts and providing corporate welfare. That is what separates The Good Ole Boys at the Union County Partnership for Progress and their ilk from the rest of us.
Adam Galinsky, a professor of organizational behavior at Northwestern University’s business school states “Power makes people feel both psychologically invincible and psychologically invisible.” “Power”, he adds, “focuses people on their own internal goals—blinding them, in the process, to how others may view them.”
As for myself and my fellow Libertarian Board of Commissioner candidates Brandon Derr and Stephen Burr, we have no special interest connections and have not taken, nor will accept any special interest money so the potential for conflicts of interest with any future votes we may cast will not arise.
I think the latest fiasco with Perfect Fit illustrates the point. When it became clear that the company was not negotiating in good faith with the county board, they should have voted to eliminate any insentive plans that had previously been approved. However, in the latest meeting, the vote was three to two in favor. Two of the pro votes are members of the Union County Partnership for Progress, the group that represented Perfect Fit and argued in support of the tax breaks and grant money. Those commissioners should have abstained from voting, at the very least. One of the Republican candidates is also a member of UCPP. When the contract with UCPP comes up for renewal in 2012, if that person is elected, he too should recuse himself from voting.