2022 primary election: Nelson Beaulieu is running for a second term on the NHCS board
NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Nelson Beaulieu, a Democrat, is seeking his second term on the New Hanover County School Board. Beaulieu served as vice-chairman of the school board in 2021.
Port City Daily sent out a questionnaire to every candidate running for local office in the tri-county area. The paywall is dropped on profiles to help voters make informed decisions before voting.
As a reminder, the early voting period runs from April 28 to May 14. The voter registration deadline is April 22. Voters can register on the same day throughout the two-week early voting period (check if your registration is active at your current address).
Primary election day is May 17.
Beaulieu’s positions on school board issues are discussed below. Port City Daily has included all responses in full. Responses are edited for grammar, spelling, and clarity only.
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Port City Daily (PCD): What is your top priority and how would you respond to it?
NB: My top priority for the next term is the health and safety of our students. As adults, it can be hard to see how much damage these past two very unconventional school years have done to our children. Even when we returned, there were countless interruptions with enforced quarantines and continued mitigations. The impact on emotional well-being has been enormous. As Covid becomes rampant, it’s easy for adults to adjust our budget priorities. We cannot forget that our students will live with this for a long time. Although covid is rampant, they are still living with an educational pandemic. I will work with your county and state funding partners to ensure a permanent increase in mental and emotional health support for our students.
PCD: hidden mandates. Balls and sports cancelled. Virtual School: How would you describe the current and past management of Covid-19 leadership? Towards an endemic phase, what is your position on how the council should weigh public health in its decisions?
NB: I would say that all the mistakes we made were made for the right reasons. My biggest regret during my term was not insisting that the children go back to school earlier. I sincerely believed I was doing the right thing by first maintaining full virtual learning through the 2020-21 school year and then maintaining a staggered schedule in place. I didn’t want anyone to get hurt or sick. However, I did not fully appreciate how much damage was done to our students. I overestimated the risks posed by the virus and underestimated the very real risks of keeping children out of school for so long. I don’t disagree with science. However, public health experts can sometimes take a singular view of a larger issue. I think LEAs and other government agencies need to assess the appropriate levels of risk and potential harm that could result from prolonged virtual teaching. The American Academy of Pediatrics has declared a national mental health emergency. I think we’ve waited too long to put our kids back on full time.
PCD: What is your opinion of current district salaries and staff morale? What changes would you advocate, if any, and how?
NB: Salaries and morale are too low. 86% of the district’s operating budget is related to salaries and benefits. Our teachers receive the highest supplement in the state of North Carolina. Our county funding partners put taxpayer dollars behind our school system. As we move forward into this budget season, I am 1000% committed to doing everything we can as a board to secure the necessary raises for the rest of NHCS staff. But let’s be honest, it won’t be enough. For years, government employees haven’t received raises that even keep pace with inflation…it’s always 1% or 2%. As a result, we are at a crisis point. The state must do something important and solve this long overdue problem, otherwise we will have an increased shortage of personnel. I will work with LEAs across the state and our local state delegation to ensure this need is highlighted and addressed. I think solutions to the morale problem need to be staff led and directed. To that end, I think the district needs to conduct stay interviews (as opposed to exit interviews) to tell district leaders what’s going right, what’s wrong, and how they think we could better handle the situation.
PCD: Some community members have expressed a desire to see less invasive measures taken in school settings. What about suspensions and isolation rooms?
NB: I fully support the idea of ending both where possible in our school system. The direction of the Board of Directors on these two issues was in that direction during my first term. I expect this to continue…as it should.
PCD: Do you think community members, parents and staff have a platform to be heard adequately? How can the neighborhood improve?
NB: I think community members, parents and staff have a platform to be heard adequately, but I think we can ALWAYS improve communication with our stakeholders. The board recently voted to hold a public meeting three times a year to increase the board’s opportunity to get input and dialogue with the community. Since my time on the board, we have created platforms like ethix 360 so that students, parents and staff can report issues (anonymously if they wish) to our administration. For me, it is the student voice that is of most concern. I think it’s important that the board add a student member to some degree so that we can better access what I believe to be our most important perspective.
PCD: What should be done to make schools safer?
NB: I think adding and improving the mental and emotional supports we provide to our students is the single most important thing we can do to improve safety. However, from a structural point of view, our schools are already safe. They’re not perfect, but absolutely, schools in New Hanover County are safe right now. Before I came to the board, a study was commissioned that listed areas where we could improve safety in our schools. We have already implemented many of the proposed changes and plan to continue implementation as more funding becomes available. The Board is informed annually in camera of the updates. I will not discuss these details in public, but voters should know that this is a high priority for our school system.
PCD: Are you comfortable with how the district uses local funds?
NB: I think it’s always a good idea to take stock of where you are and ask yourself “how can we do better?” Every year when we prepare the budget, we try to do just that. Over the past year, we commissioned a salary study to determine where the greatest needs lay. This study will inform our decision-making as we move forward. I’m comfortable with our use of local funds so far, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas where we can make adjustments.
PCD: Are there one or more additional issues that you think need to be addressed during your tenure, if you win?
NB: I would like to see continued and strengthened partnerships between NHCS and business and industry in the region to better tailor our CTE programs to the needs of our students and the wider community. A four-year degree is great, but high school shouldn’t just be college prep. In today’s economy, well-paying and rewarding careers can be obtained through certifications and pathways other than college. We must do more to maximize these opportunities for our students. SEATECH is great, but I would like to see us strengthen and invest in our traditional high school CTE programs as well.
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