Funding, achievement challenge schools

Newton-Conover City Schools Board of Education candidates say securing funding and improving student achievement are major issues facing the system heading into 2012.

Four candidates are vying for three seats on the school board. Jim Stockner faces no opposition for the open Newton seat, while current board member Mark Murphy and Chairman Scott Loudermelt face challenger Jeanne Jarrett in the race for two open Conover seats.

Jarrett, the assistant Catawba County finance director, is running for her first public-office position. She said the school board and system administration face a tough task to obtain funding and use the money wisely.

"It will be difficult to work to utilize the funding in the best ways, to spread it around to the most-needed areas," Jarrett said. "It's still very important to try to retain quality teachers and top technology and try to, if possible, hire back more teacher assistants or supporting staff. That's a tall order with limited funding but would be a goal."

Jim Stockner said funding is the biggest obstacle all school systems currently face.

"We're being told next year it's going to be worse from the state and the federal level as well," said Stockner, who is completing his second term on the school board.

Stockner said he is also concerned about funding for programs and preparation for occupation of the system's new middle school, which is scheduled to open in fall 2012.

"I don't see much action there right now," he said, "and it kind of bothers me that we don't seem to be moving much in that direction."

Maintaining a positive course in student achievement is another major issue, Loudermelt said.

"We need to continue to maintain an upward trajectory in the face of tough budget times," he said. "That'll be a big challenge for us, continuing the momentum we have and doing more with less. We need to continue to maintain and attract quality teachers and staff, and we must continue closing achievement gaps."

Loudermelt has served two terms on the school board, acting as chairman since 2009.

Murphy has served on the school board for six years.

"The issue is three-fold," Murphy said. "It all bases around budget. I think it is important that we continue to be good stewards of our system's finances. We have in the past, and I think we need to continue that. In connection with this, I think we need to continue to explore the consolidation of the three school systems in Catawba County as it relates to the best use of our finances. Probably most paramount is we have to make sure the education of our children is not affected by our finances."