Lined up side by side and holding signs that read ‘Yes’ on one side and ‘No’ on the other, the 13 Durham school board candidates waited, as community members and students walked to the podium and asked the candidates to commit to certain education requests made by the community, particularly the Latino community.
The event hosted by Durham Congregations, Associations and Neighborhoods (CAN), brought about 300 community members and a few elected officials to Nehemiah Christian Center in downtown Durham Sunday night.
Incumbent Omega Curtis Parker, and challengers Thomas Poole, Mike Lee, Sendolo Diaminah, DeWarren Langley, Jimmy Doster, Terrence Scarborough, Donald Hughes, Deborah Bryson, Steven Gatlin, Lisa Stella and Matt Sears, held up ‘Yes’ to each question.
Current board members who attended the event, Heidi Carter, Natalie Beyer, and Parker also answered the same questions and a few extra ones. Beyer, who is running unopposed, and Carter, were the only two who couldn’t answer ‘yes’ to every question.
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Among the questions asked:
• Would the candidates commit to expanding the Universal Free Breakfast program, a program where all students including students whose parents are middle class, can eat breakfast for free?
• Would the candidates set up a meeting with Durham CAN leaders and the new superintendent within 60 days of his/her hiring?
• Would the candidates hire an additional interpreter?
• Would the candidates work for more transparency and training on the budget?
Ivan Parra, the lead organizer for Durham CAN, said the communication between the district and the fast-growing growing Latino community needs to improve. Interpreters are few and about 24 percent of the nearly 34,000 students at Durham Public schools are of Latino decent.
“We hope that they will pay attention, and we hope that it will become a reality,” Parra said.
Parra said Durham CAN had a good relationship with the previous superintendent and hope to have a good relationship with the new superintendent.
In explaining her answers, Beyer acknowledged that an interpreter was needed but said she could not commit to setting aside money for an extra family facilitator for Spanish-speaking families in the school. A family facilitator is a bilingual person who helps connect the administration with the parents and helps the parents get involved.
A few in the crowd whispered as if surprised to see a ‘No’ card.
“I want to be clear that I believe the needs for interpreters and for more support for Latino students are deep and profound but I don’t want to falsely let you believe that those items are already in the budget, presented to us for the first time on Thursday evening,” Beyer said. “We have a long list of competing priorities to be considered over the coming weeks.”
“If we put these things in we will need to remove other things.”
Carter echoed her sentiments. She said that other groups have also laid out their priorities to the board. She proposed alternatives, that were already in the budget that could suffice for the issues brought at the event. Such options include more counselors, alternatives to suspensions and mental health support.
“All of these things cost money,” Carter said. “What we’re going to need to do is listen to what you all presented to us as your priority need, and listen to are other stakeholders across this community as to what their priority needs are, and we’re going to have to try and make a wise decision.”