10/25/06 — Thomas, incumbent Smith will battle for school board seat

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Thomas, incumbent Smith will battle for school board seat

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on October 25, 2006 1:51 PM

In the only contested race for a seat on the Wayne County Board of Education, former teacher and coach Dave Thomas is challenging incumbent Lehman Smith for the District 1 seat on the board.

Smith is seeking a third term on the board.

District 1 encompasses most of the northern part of Wayne County, where burgeoning development is rapidly leading to overcrowded classrooms. Both candidates said that facility needs are at the top of their priorities.

Smith said he believes his experience in dealing with school issues for the past nine years make him the best candidate for the job. Appointed to the seat in the late 1990s, he has been re-elected twice. Smith said he would like to be part of the resolution of the county's school-building dilemma. The school board and the county Board of Commissioners have been jousting for months over how best to pay for new school construction that most officials agree is needed.

Thomas said his more than 30 years working in the Wayne school system makes him the best candidate for the seat. He said he understands how crucial teachers are to the development of young people and how important good facilities and management-level support are for teachers.

Both candidates said they would work to support any bond referendum that might be approved to pay for renovations and new schools. County officials have said they would like to have such a referendum on the ballot next spring.

"I don't think we anticipated the growth and we've been having to play catch up," Smith said, adding that he would work to see that the financial burden placed on taxpayers by the school-building project would be minimal. Good schools are important, he said, but many taxpayers are already strapped.

Both candidates said that they are not only concerned about education in District 1 but about the county schools as a whole.

Goldsboro High School was warned earlier this year by Judge Howard Manning to improve its test scores or face possible closure. Manning is overseeing the improvement of nearly 20 high schools across the state that have not met standards set for student improvement.

Smith said believes school officials in the central attendance area that includes Goldsboro High have been working in the right direction to ensure the continued viability of Goldsboro High and its feeder schools. The school board must continue to work to give students in the central attendance area the staff and facilities necessary, he said.

"I want to see every child I can become a productive citizen or have the opportunity to. That's what can make this county grow," Smith said.

Thomas said facilities are important, but that maintaining a staff of good, caring teachers is the most crucial part of the school board's job. Wayne has to be able to attract and keep good teachers if its students are to succeed, he said.

"Teachers are important no matter what kind of facility, whether it's old or new. Facilities can help the education process, but they don't guarantee a better education. If you have a good teacher in a new facility, though, that's a great education," Thomas said.

Smith said that since he has been serving on the school board, he has worked tirelessly to help improve education in the county.

"If I can't give it 100 percent, then I don't do it justice. I want to work for the schools. When I do that, I put aside all other things and make it my main focus. It's almost like tunnel vision," Smith said.

Thomas also said that if elected he would work hard to improve the educational opportunities, not only of students in District 1, but in all parts of the county, adding that voters who know him can count on his character and work ethic to make the best decisions.