Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Current weather in Hendersonville, NC 53.3° Apr 25's Weather
Partly Cloudy
HI: 62.3 LOW: 51.4
Full Forecast (powered by Dark Sky)

Be There When Lightning Strikes

Politics

Set your text size: A A A

LIGHTNING RECOMMENDS: School Board

This School Board election season has brought a welcome change for voters who dutifully study the candidates and go to the polls. The 2016 election has issues that matter locally — and that the School Board can influence — and it has an abundance of smart, energetic candidates, both incumbents and challengers.

Although it may seem to be a parochial sideshow, the Hendersonville High School question goes beyond construction options or preserving for education use the most historic building still standing in the county school system. The ongoing debate over construction plans calls for strong guidance from the School Board. More than that, the community needs School Board members who have the backbone and the will to stand up to the Board of Commissioners, which brushed aside the School Board’s authority and voted to abandon the historic core building of HHS for some unspecified future (and potentially) incompatible use. The core issue is less about the facility the next generation of HHS kids will attend than it is about a duly elected body’s power under the law to make a decision the law empowers it to make.
In experience, the School Board boasts an embarrassment of riches. Longtime chairman Ervin W. Bazzle is seeking a sixth term. Mary Louise Corn is seeking a fourth term and Rick Wood is seeking a third term. Josh Houston is seeking a second term — and he’s declared publicly he intends to term-limit himself if he wins this time.
We think that voters have a rare opportunity to elect a School Board that would be a strong mix of old and new by re-electing Ervin Bazzle, Rick Wood and Josh Houston and giving challenger Blair Craven a seat.
Still loaded with experience, that board would have a new energetic member, in Craven, and would retain its strongest advocate for openness and transparency, in Houston.
Bazzle and Wood have been strong advocates for the combined renovation-new construction option for Hendersonville High School. A 1997 HHS graduate, Craven would add to that firepower and would bring a personal connection to HHS the School Board has lacked since Melissa Maurer retired two years ago. It would also give the board one more member with children currently in the school system.
Usually diplomatic in fielding questions, Craven did not hesitate to question the decision by the Board of Commissioners to override the recommendation it had requested.
“Why are we going to ask the School Board its opinion on that situation if we’re not going to take that recommendation?” he said during one forum. “They should have left this in the School Board’s hands. School boards are elected officials. They can make that decision, and I believe they made the right decision. … Now the School Board is going to have to clean up the mess it looks like over the next four to five years …”
It remains a moving target whether the Board of Commissioners will authorize the School Board to clean up the mess but having the steady leadership of Bazzle backed by the advocacy of Wood and Craven can’t hurt.
Since neither incumbent up for re-election to the Board of Commissioners drew an opponent, the School Board race is the only opportunity for voters to register their opinion on the commissioners’ override of the School Board’s recommendation on HHS.

* * * * *

In 2012 and again in 2014 we sounded the alarm over the county Republican Party’s back-channel efforts to elect Republican School Board members.
The county Republican Party has now shed its secretive single-shot strategy to elect hand-picked insiders. It’s gone all in. As we predicted in this space eight weeks ago, the party’s executive committee has endorsed four registered Republicans — three challengers plus incumbent Josh Houston, the beneficiary of the GOP’s first single-shot campaign four years ago.
We’ve seen no evidence that Republicans are better qualified to guide our schools and school policy based on the letter after their name. But even a blind hog roots an acorn now and then. Houston has proved to be a valuable member of the School Board based on his focus on openness and fiscal transparency alone. A banker who is married to a schoolteacher (at HHS), Houston low-key demeanor belies a terrier’s determination to nip the ankles of the bureaucracy.
Although incumbents and challengers universally swear allegiance to transparency now, a strong regard for openness was seldom on display before Houston took office.
The other three challengers aside from Craven bring unique backgrounds and points of view. None has a more impressive resume than Burt Harris, a retired U.S. Army general and a pediatric surgeon who serves as the West Henderson High School golf coach. On the other end of the chronological spectrum, Michael Absher, 27. A part-time school bus driver, Absher also founded a nonprofit that helps homeless teenager. Although well-meaning and thoughtful, Absher lacks the broad-based experience of his opponents. Jared Bellmund has devoted time to helping at his children’s schools and recruiting sponsors for school programs.
Going forward, though, a mix of experience and new blood would give the School Board the right leadership to pursue its current workload while ensuring that a watchdog remains on duty.