Big issues unite Cary school board hopefuls

akenney@newsobserver.com September 10, 2013 

— The two candidates competing to represent part of western Wake on the Wake County Board of Education took questions for 90 minutes Monday evening but never turned their guns on one another or muttered the words “my opponent” before a crowd of about 70.

Instead, Bill Fletcher and Nancy Caggia, both Republicans, touted agreeable educational goals, such as academic rigor, improved literacy and a careful approach to discipline.

The League of Women Voters forum, held at Covenant Christian Church, seemed to reflect both similar philosophies and a cooling of rhetoric in District 9, once represented by the headline-grabbing Debra Goldman.

Fletcher, a recent appointee, previously served 12 years on the school board. He described the current state of the schools as a “crisis” and repeatedly spotlighted improved literacy as a solution.

“The focus has to be on the relevance of the curriculum that we’re teaching,” Fletcher said. “Help young people make the connection between what we’re asking them to learn … with what the career options are.”

Caggia, a first-time candidate and longtime schools volunteer, pointed more often to technology-enhanced curricula as an answer, though she joined Fletcher in calls for bipartisan talks and education that engages.

“We need to start figuring out how we’re going to do a classroom without walls,” she said, saying schools should be adaptable enough to handle both “acceleration and remediation.”

Curriculum, bonds

The most controversial issues of the moment caused little heat: Fletcher and Caggia alike support implementation of the Common Core State Standards Curriculum and the proposed $810 million in school bonds, they said.

So far, the biggest differences between the candidates have emerged in their resumes and fundraising reports. In Fletcher’s latest campaign finance report, he reported raising $11,125 with $7,895 on hand at the end of August. According to Caggia’s latest campaign finance report, she reported raising $5,243 with $2,700 on hand.

And while Fletcher has a long history on the board, Caggia claims 14 straight years of volunteer work and observation across all levels of local education. She also has the Wake County GOP endorsement in the nonpartisan contest.

The candidates also answered a string of questions by student advocates. Asked whether they would meet directly with students, they offered qualified answers.

Fletcher said that meetings with students “identified by someone with an agenda” didn’t represent a “broad-based understanding” of the county, and he suggested student advisory councils as an alternative.

Caggia pointed students to board and committee memberships, though both candidates said they were open to suggestions.

The competitors took a soft approach to suspensions, moving away from the former “zero tolerance” policy.

“We can’t expect the teacher to be the policeman in the classroom,” Caggia said. “Once a child does get in trouble, we need to make it equitable,” including chances for “mitigation,” she said.

Fletcher said that many trouble students are “acting out to get some attention for some need that’s not being met.”

On school funding, Fletcher offered a proposal with a number. A tax increase of a penny, he said, could raise enough money to give teachers $100 extra per month.

“We have to build community around those objectives, and go not just with school board members and staff, but go with the community to the county commission,” he said.

Caggia said the school system needed to “come up with our strategic goals” before going for additional funding from the county and state.

Kenney: 919-460-2608; Twitter: @KenneyNC

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