While Monika Johnson-Hostler and Matt Scruggs won’t decide the school bond measure, the issue does provide stark contrast between two political newcomers vying Oct. 8 for the District 2 Wake County school board seat vacated by John Tedesco.
Advocates argue the $940 million in projects to be funded largely by the proposed $810 million bond issue are long overdue. Johnson-Hostler, a Southeast Raleigh Democrat, backs the bonds. Scruggs, a Fuquay-Varina Republican, does not.
“That’s going to be a huge increase in our taxes. As a conservative, I do not agree with tax increases. I don’t like them,” Scruggs said at a candidate forum in Fuquay-Varina. “There are better ways.”
The proposed 5.53-cent increase would add $82.95 to the annual tax of a home valued at $150,000.
The issue strikes at the heart of the race as Garner – home to more than half of the schools in District 2 – would see more than $180 million in projects. Garner High School and Vandora Springs Elementary would be heavily renovated and a new high school and elementary school would be built, among other projects.
“The reality is that in order to get our children a quality education, ... we are going to have to pay for it. Every child has to have a seat to receive a quality education,” Johnson-Hostler said at the forum.
The Garner Town Council supports the bonds, and Mayor Ronnie Williams has endorsed Johnson-Hostler. But Scruggs says residents don’t buy it.
“From all the doors I’ve knocked on in Garner, they don’t support the bond, either. They understand my point: that there’s different ways to (fund school upgrades and ease crowding),” Scruggs said.
Johnson-Hostler said she’s encountered support for the bond districtwide.
“People wanted to know how much,” she conceded. “But people really kept saying we’ve got to pay for education one way or the other.”
Johnson-Hostler said she wants to do what she can to ensure that the county invests in schools, particularly teachers. She thinks it is important that schools possess diversity in areas like socioeconomic status. She also strongly advocates advancing technology in the classroom.
When Johnson-Hostler came home from school as a child in Thomasville, her parents would ask how her day was and what she learned. But at her house, “fine” and “nothing” proved unacceptable answers, she said.
“It was our daily ritual, one that I’m doing with my daughter,” said Johnson-Hostler, whose husband teaches high school.
Johnson-Hostler, 38, works as executive director of the N.C. Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and has lobbied legislators at state and national levels about the issue.
The advocate said her abilities in her work would translate to the school board.
“I know how to get people into a room, I know how to listen to what they are saying, and I know how to synthesize those thoughts and bring them back to the board,” she said.
Scruggs: Fiscal conservative
Even though Scruggs’ two daughters haven’t turned 3 yet, he wants to get involved in shaping their education now.
The CarQuest Auto Parts commercial sales manager says his business skills will help him manage costs and find funds. Scruggs grew up in Belmont as the son of two teachers. He’s working on his undergraduate degree after he said a medical condition forced him earlier to withdraw from college. He served as a GOP precinct chair in Fuquay-Varina before entering the school board race.
He is an advocate of neighborhood schools, saying lots of money is wasted on busing kids to distant schools rather than improving nearby ones.
“Both sides need to drop the political agendas and do what’s best for the kids,” Scruggs said. “This is the 16th largest district in the country. Wake County should be leading the way in this state.”
He likes merit-based teacher pay, but doesn’t find testing a fair metric to determine merit. He also criticized the school system’s security measures. Scruggs is an active Second Amendment advocate and favors allowing educators with permits to bring guns to school. He suggested, however, a sheriff’s deputy at all 105 elementary school as a compromise.