School teacher runs for top education job
Monroe resident and fifth grade teacher Rick Alexander announced his candidacy for state superintendent for the department of public instruction at the Republican Men’s Club meeting August 13.
Alexander, a 49-year-old teacher, previously ran for the Union County School Board and the Monroe City Council in years past and has been very outspoken about issues facing not only the school system but the county at large.
A teacher for 16 years, he currently teaches fourth and fifth grade special education in the Lancaster County School system in South Carolina.
The office of state superintendent administers the Department of Public Instruction with an annual budget of $7.15 billion, serving 1,476,000 students, 120,000 teachers and administrators, 2,425 schools, 99 charter schools and 115 local school districts. The superintendent, while an elected office, functions under the policy direction of the state Board of Education.
When asked about DPI’s impact on Union County public schools, Board of Education member David Scholl noted that over the past several years, the Department of Public Instruction has been tasked with more responsibilities. “They now have several large initiatives that they are working on, including No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, Common Core Curriculum, and more involvement and oversight with more charter schools.” Scholl said, “DPI ensures that all children in North Carolina are receiving the basic education our Constitution requires.”
Alexander spoke to the Union County Weekly about his campaign and the issues facing North Carolina’s public schools.
UCW: You’ve been very active in the local Republican Party for many years, what issues have motivated your candidacy for state superintendent?
RA: I made my decision to run for this position about two years ago, I had seen the current superintendent, Dr. [June] Atkinson just sit silent when the county education systems and the teachers were getting a bad end of the deal. Before the lottery, sales tax was paid by the district and held by the state and returned at the end of the year. The state kept the interest and the money came back to the County. After the lottery, the taxes were collected and they weren’t returned – they’d keep them. I never heard anything from Dr. Atkinson that said “hey wait a minute, you’re taking away from education”; she didn’t say anything. Two years ago one of Gov. Purdue’s first directives was to take back a ½ percent of every educator’s yearly salaries. Again, not a word was said by Dr. Atkinson. I think DPI needs to stand up for education and the teacher and that stop letting others blame the teachers as the sole factor for failing schools.
I think the position [state superintendent] is more of a bully pulpit type position, to be the advocate for education and the educational system.
UCW: You’ve mentioned on your website of your goal to reduce the DPI budget by 40 to 60 percent in the first two years, through the elimination unnecessary positions and outsourcing to the private sector. Would you expand on your plans?
RA: I believe in more local control. If a district needs a consultant then contract one. Testing development could be contracted as well. My thing with this testing is that the only reason why North Carolina has their test, South Carolina has their test and Texas has their test, is because before they did that, everybody was ranked 48 or 49th. So how can you compare North Carolina if you don’t take the same test?
Personally, I don’t believe that the federal government has any business being in education either, however as long as they are involved in education and they require tests to be reported to the federal government, then every test should be the same. Curriculum standards for reading, writing and mathematics are reported to the federal government, those are what Adequate Yearly Progress is based on, those what the school rating are based on, so as long as the federal government is involved, then lets use their tests – let everyone take the same tests.
Teacher certification, is another example, why can’t that function be contracted out, we can save a fortune in benefits. If we can get rid of all the positions by outsourcing them to the private sector that can be outsourced, we can cut their budget by 40 to 60 percent. It seems to me that there are very few things that need to be run by the ‘state’.
UCW: You have run for office a number of times in recent years, for the school board and Monroe Council. Running for a statewide office like superintendent is a much larger task, how will you manage a campaign while working as a full-time teacher?
RA: First of all, I was fortunate to go to a school, with people from all over the country, both in high school and junior college. Many of those people live in North Carolina, not only the ones I went to school with, but it is kind of like a fraternity that went to the school. Just going to the school gives me an open door and I have been working with some of those people, I have some people on the east coast and I have relatives in the mountains. The area here, the five or six county area here, I have several people that are working in this area and others who are waiting to work in this area. Through Republican channels, I’ve picked up a couple people by speaking in Cabarrus County and I know working full-time makes it difficult, however I have weekends, I’ve gone to meetings and spoke in the evenings, I have days off, holidays and vacations to use. Every free minute I will be campaigning, after all, my son’s grown – it’s just me and the dog.
If I win the primary in May, my last day of work is May 18, so I have from May 18 to the middle of August, when I’m not working. So I have 24/7 to work on the campaign and then in August, I will have to evaluate where I am in the campaign to decide how I will proceed during the remaining time until the election.
UCW: What do you want voters to know about Rick Alexander?
RA: I am a fiscal conservative, even though I have run for other offices I’m not a politician, I’m a citizen soldier per se fighting for what’s right. I’ve always been involved with the communities where I live. I believe that less government is the best government. I want to get in there, push to meet all my goals and then I want to go back to the classroom and do what I love which is teaching – without all the red tape.