Calcutt, Sampson For School Board

  • Oct 18, 2022

There’s a good reason you’re feeling oversaturated by the Moore County Board of Education election. That’s because the 2022 campaign began Dec. 7, 2020, the night three staunch conservatives — David Hensley, Robert Levy and Philip Holmes — got sworn in and began turning the nonpartisan board into a partisan battlefield of every national cultural wedge issue.

Critical Race Theory, book banning, claims of “woke” educators, unsupported allegations of staff improprieties — the Board of Education has experienced an unseemly level of disharmony and disaffectedness. It would be embarrassing, except that similar behavior has been commonplace among school boards nationwide.

Morale within school ranks has suffered. Administrators can’t fill the jobs on the books, much less fill ambitious desires to hire more teachers. Academic performance has continued to struggle, as a result of the pandemic. Construction needs are accumulating to update more schools, but the board changes its mind almost monthly.

Moore County needs stability. It needs leadership. It needs critical and independent thinking. It needs focus on what matters, not what doesn’t.

Of the three seats up for election, two are “at-large,” meaning those board members are meant to represent the entire county, not just a particular district. Current members Libby Carter and Ed Dennison, who had deep experience from years of service on the board, are not seeking re-election.

Running to replace them: retired Army Special Forces officer Ken Benway; retired special education teacher Pauline Bruno; longtime Moore County educator Robin Calcutt; and Rollie Sampson, also an educator, counselor and veteran who previously served as the school district’s liaison for military families. The top two vote-getters win.

Benway and Bruno

After our sit-down interviews with all four, we genuinely believe each has the best intentions for Moore County children, although they have different world views and how to achieve results.

Benway has exceptional military experience, and we appreciate his “get ‘er done” spirit. But his strident political rhetoric this campaign season has covered up for a generally weak knowledge of the complex issues that go into public schools. He has called school children “trophies” like they’re a spoil of war. That gives us shivers. His world view sees education as battlefield objectives to be conquered.

Bruno, with whom Benway is running as a “slate” endorsed by the local Republican Party and MAGA conservatives, has the better background as an educator. When she says she’d be a “grizzly bear” for the kids, we believe it. She could be an effective advocate. But she talks too generically about what’s wrong with our schools. Yes, improvements must occur, but her stridency blinds her to what is right. And her leading role last year in the fight against “CRT in our schools” was a total red herring.

Calcutt and Sampson

Robin Calcutt is clearly the top school board candidate. She has been a Moore County student, teacher, parent, principal and grandparent. She is a professor now at St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, where she leads the teacher training program.

Calcutt knows public education. She is calm, rational, engaging and has a demonstrated ability as an independent thinker. She’s not going to kick and scream when she doesn’t get her way. She knows what children need, what teachers need and is able to work collaboratively.

Similarly, Rollie Sampson offers a depth of experience for voters. As a veteran, a military spouse and the district’s former coordinator for military families, she has brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars of federal money to support military-connected families and programs.

As a trained and licensed counselor, she understands the complex mental health crisis common among some students these days.

Sampson will never leave you to guess what she’s thinking; she is a demonstrated passionate advocate for schools unafraid to hold others accountable.

Calcutt and Sampson are not “rubber stamps” for anything. They know all is not well with schools. The difference is they start from a more informed, objective, non-partisan perspective and they’re not blind to the challenges our schools face. We endorse Robin Calcutt and Rollie Sampson for the two Moore County Board of Education at-large seats.

Thompson for School Board

  • Oct 22, 2022

Were one to take an inventory of Moore County’s greatest assets, the list would include FirstHealth of the Carolinas, Pinehurst Resort, Sandhills Community College, First Bank and Moore County Schools.

Choose any metric; regionally, our school district ranks either first or near the top in academic performance, athletic achievement and extracurricular opportunity. It is the reason active-duty military families, given the chance to live anywhere in this region, have chosen Moore County for their school-age children over Cumberland, Lee, Harnett or Hoke counties.

That success is no accident; it has been carefully cultivated over more than 20 years. Don’t take our word for it; ask any business leader, commander or person responsible for hiring and recruitment.

Our school district is not without challenges, not the least of which is still trying to regain ground lost from the pandemic. We have staffing issues, funding dilemmas and tough choices ahead on capital investment.

All of this makes it critical we elect smart, empathetic and creative leaders to our Board of Education. In the District 3 race this year between current Board Chairwoman Pam Thompson and challenger Shannon Davis, that choice cannot be more stark.

Shannon Davis

Davis, who lives in Carthage, is a curious choice for the Board of Education. She never attended public schools. Instead, she went to Calvary Christian School in Southern Pines, dropping out when she became pregnant as a teenager. She later achieved her adult high school diploma. She has home-schooled all three of her children, so she has no experience with public schools as a parent, either.

Davis said she was “approached” to run for the board, though she’s not specific on that. She then attended several meetings during the height of the COVID pandemic, using her time during meeting public comment periods to pray and oppose mask mandates and virtual learning.

Davis proudly calls herself a “Christian Constitutional Conservative,” though how that influences hiring sufficient teachers, choosing school construction priorities and setting a calendar is lost on us.

Davis is a genuinely warm and caring person, and she feels a calling to public office, for which we laud her. And while she says the school board should ensure teachers should be free from “onerous burdens” and be given broader latitude, she lacks an understanding of the “why” in public education simply because she’s never experienced it. This is not who we need leading Moore County Schools.

Pam Thompson

Thompson, who lives in Robbins, is completing a second term on the board. She first served from 2006-10 before being appointed to the Sandhills Community College Board of Trustees. She then replaced the retiring Charles Lambert in 2018.

Thompson has spent the past year as chairwoman of the board, a posting that has been full of challenges on an overly politicized board that has been openly combative at times to its staff, audience and each other.

And yet, Thompson has led with respect and dignity, oftentimes letting board members blather on long after making their points. Her grace has, at times, been weaponized against her, but she has attempted to rise above the barking and berating. If anything, she should have been tougher. When she has pushed back, it’s often been quietly and in private.

The District 3 seat represents northern Moore schools, and they’ve had no greater ally than Thompson. During her term, the board oversaw a $16 million expansion of North Moore High School and is pursuing gym renovations at its older elementary schools.

She also led a smooth, successful search for a new superintendent earlier this year, a process always fraught with politics.

Thompson is a demonstrated independent thinker, an empathetic listener and a creative problem solver. She is exactly who Moore County needs to help lead one of its greatest assets, and we endorse her for the Board of Education District 3 seat.

Commissioner Candidates Talk Growth, Services in Forum

Commissioners Candidate Forum
From left, League of Women Voters of North Carolina President Jo Nicholas moderated candidates for Moore County Board of Commissioners during a forum at Pinehurst Village Hall: Ariadne DeGarr, John Misiaszek, Nick Picerno, Phil Vandercook and Jim Von Canon. Mary Kate Murphy

While two seats on the Moore County Board of Commissioners will pass to new representatives without contest in the general election, five candidates are competing for a place at the table when the county plans for its next phase of population growth.

They all discussed how they would approach that issue during a Tuesday evening forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Moore County and Moore County NAACP.

Ariadne DeGarr is challenging Nick Picerno for the District 2 seat vacated with the death of Louis Gregory earlier this year. The sitting commissioners appointed Picerno, who previously served two terms as a commissioner, to serve temporarily. The winner in November will serve for two years before the seat is up for re-election again.

“I continue to get a little nervous that we have potentially four commissioners turning over at this time, so there would be a big gap as far as experience,” said Picerno. “My plea to you is please re-elect me for two years and let my experience work for you.”

Another three candidates are vying to replace retiring Commissioner Catherine Graham in the District 1 seat: John Misiaszek, Phil Vandercook and Jim Von Canon. Misiaszek and Vandercook each submitted more than 2,900 valid signatures for a place on the ballot as unaffiliated candidates to challenge Von Canon, who won a three-way Republican primary this spring.

Jo Nicholas, president of the League of Women Voters of North Carolina and a Moore County resident, moderated Tuesday’s forum — in which topics like growth, infrastructure and industry prevailed.

Both DeGarr and Misiaszek said that as commissioners they would take a reserved approach to residential growth. DeGarr is in favor of prioritizing the infrastructure and services to support a larger population, as well as finding a revenue-generating industry other than golf tourism. Misiaszek characterized residential growth as “nearly a given” that needs to be offset by industrial and commercial development to boost the county’s property tax base.

“The development of at least one, probably two, industrial parks in Moore County would enable us to be in a position to take advantage of the ancillary companies that will develop from those industrial developments taking place in Chatham and Randolph counties,” said Misiaszek.

“We need that industrial development to balance the residential development that’s taking place here in Moore County.”

All five candidates agreed that expanded water and sewer service — and bringing new water sources online — are among the county’s most pressing infrastructure needs. Planning them will involve Moore County’s municipalities, both in the interest of minimizing sprawl and laying the groundwork for a viable affordable housing market for working-class residents.

“We need to work with municipalities and get them to lower their footprint,” said Von Canon. “They need to be able to buy houses that they can afford transportation, medical care and food as well. That needs to be near the city. We need zoning similar to RM-5 because that way you can have a house on an eighth of an acre.”

DeGarr suggested that the county should do more, possibly exploring rural engagement and investment programs through the N.C. Department of Commerce, to protect the areas where lower-income and minority residents have historically lived from gentrification.

“I keep hearing this mention of preserving our history, which strikes a note with me because I’m not sure whose historic districts those are, but there’s a lot of them that are not being preserved,” she said.

“I would suggest that even though it’s not part of the purview of the county commissioners, that we … partner with lower-income communities and help them improve their circumstances rather than preying upon them and their land.”

Vandercook said that growth should be considered with the needs of the county’s existing residents, business owners, and farmers as well as the environment in mind. To that end, he said discussions should involve as many parties as possible.

“Even within the municipalities they come up with a long-term plan and how they project growth,” he said. “The one thing I don’t see is how they plan on communicating with the community next to them, and how does that fit in with the county? So I’d like to see a continuation of that roundtable discussion.”

Picerno described the process behind the county’s most recent land use plan, which was adopted in 2013 when he was the commissioners’ chairman as fitting that description. The county is now working to update that plan.

“We had probably a cross-section of everyone that’s in this room: we had Democrats, Republicans, farmers, business owners and everyone from all areas of our county to come and serve,” he said. “It took us a bunch of meetings, a lot of fussing and fighting, but at the end we came up with a great plan to keep the rural integrity of Moore County.”

He went on to say that infrastructure planning will to some extent determine where and how much growth comes to Moore County.

“I’m going to tell you, from just personal experience, the more rules and regulations we put in place it will help slow that growth,” said Picerno. “Unfortunately, sometimes government is the problem, not the solution.”

Vandercook also said that he would support working with other counties to come up with regional infrastructure solutions. He predicted that a significant industrial presence, or even more individuals trading in their traditional vehicles for electric cars, could place an unprecedented drain on the county’s power supply.

Misiaszek predicted that changes in Moore County’s rural nature may be inevitable, and that it might be most economical to consolidate the various municipal water distribution and sewer systems into a single county system at some point.

“Another thing that I think we’re probably heading toward is solar energy,” he said. “Actually North Carolina ranks No. 4 in the country right now with solar. We should facilitate that here in Moore County.”

Von Canon said that he isn’t convinced that Moore County can’t flourish in a continued pattern of primarily residential growth.

“I don’t know that we’ve got to bring industry in here to survive. We’ve got a pretty good, pleasant place to live,” he said. “Industry would be nice but we’re going to continue to move on without it if we have to. Right now I think that we need to just be fiscally responsible.”

As a veteran who spent significant time in the enlisted and officer ranks during his 30-year service career, and supported stabilization efforts downrange, Vandercook said that he’s already familiar with how an organization like the county works.

“We were part of restoring security, restoring resources such as water, power, and sewer. We also helped facilitate building schools, giving opportunity to everyone, including young girls and women,” he said. “All those skills directly translate to what a county commissioner must do. I don’t need any coaching on the components of managing a complex staff, a large budget or expensive assets.”

DeGarr said that she’s running to serve Moore County residents who might not see their demographics or life experiences represented on the Board of Commissioners. If elected, she said that she would take a similar approach to evaluating candidates for the county’s various appointed boards.

“I don’t think the people that sit on the board for the Department of Social Services should never have had a social service rendered to them. It seems counterintuitive to me,” she said. “I feel like we should find people that maybe have had those services in the past, know what that experience is like, and could help figure out better ways to render these services to their neighbors.”

Early voting is underway through Nov. 5 at the Moore County Agricultural Center in Carthage and Pinehurst Community Center. Precincts will open countywide on Election Day, Nov. 8.