Meet the candidates running for school board in New Hanover Co.

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - Eight candidates are vying for four seats on the New Hanover County School Board in the upcoming election, Nov. 6. Here’s a breakdown of the candidates and their goals.

Janice Cavenaugh (R) was first elected to the school board in 1987 and has served on the board for 25 years. She is a real estate appraiser in Wilmington, and campaigned with Don Hayes to keep neighborhood schools. Cavenaugh took heat in April for her motion to postpone high school redistricting indefinitely, despite severe overcrowding in New Hanover County schools. A fellow school board member publicly accused her of delaying the difficult decision because of the upcoming election. Ed Higgins, the current chair of the New Hanover County School Board, campaigned with fellow long-time Republican board members Cavenaugh and Hayes in the spring, but did not get enough votes to advance to the general election.

Don Hayes (R) has served on the New Hanover County School Board since 1994, and has served as chairman of the school board on and off since 2004. He is a Vietnam veteran, and a former teacher and assistant principal. He campaigned with fellow Republican incumbents Janice Cavenaugh and Ed Higgins on keeping neighborhood schools. Higgins, the current board chair, lost his reelection bid when he failed to get enough votes in the primary to advance. Hayes and some of his fellow long-time board members have received criticism for their communication style, specifically that they are not transparent with the public or with newer members of the board.

Bruce Shell (R) just completed his first term on the New Hanover County School Board. He is a Republican and the former county manager. Shell campaigned separately from the 2 other Republican incumbents up for reelection, who campaigned as a team. Shell has said he thinks long-time board needs to be more transparent with the public, and has expressed disappointment over their unwillingness to communicate about their decisions on school board business. Shell requested agenda review meetings before school board meetings to help all school members get up to speed on big issues, but said the 4 long-serving members refused to attend. Shell informally campaigned with political newcomer Bill Rivenbark, who was the top vote getter in the Republican primary.

Bill Rivenbark (R) is a political newcomer, but received more votes than any incumbent during the Republican primary for New Hanover County School Board. He informally campaigned with first-term school board member Bruce Shell, and shares a desire for improved transparency between the school board and the public. He said he is also concerned some of the long-time school board members were not receptive to comments and concerns from teachers. Rivenbark works for the New Hanover County ABC board, and is the brother of Wilmington City Councilman Charlie Rivenbark.

Stefanie Adams (D) is one of 4 Democratic challengers to the all Republican school board in New Hanover County. She has worked in the education field for 15 years, and has a son in kindergarten in the NHCS system. Adams would like to see increased funding for mental and behavioral health in our schools, as well as 9th grade centers to relieve overcrowding in local high schools. She thinks the current school board is in need of some fresh faces, saying some on the board have served for too long and are using outdated techniques to address issues in our schools.

Elena Rosemond-Hoerr (D) is a preschool Montesori teacher and mother of a toddler-aged son. She would like to expand access to public preschool, and she would like to see a better socio-economic balance in all of our public schools. She would like the county to build a 5th public high school, and was disappointed by the current school board’s decision earlier this year to delay high school redistricting to alleviate severe overcrowding. Rosemond-Hoerr is one of 4 Democratic candidates running to fill the seats on a board that is currently filled exclusively by Republicans.

Nelson Beaulieu (D) is a veteran, an instructor at Cape Fear Community College, and a father of two elementary-aged girls. The political newcomer is one of 4 Democratic candidates challenging the all-Republican New Hanover County School Board. He is an advocate for delayed-implementation redistricting, a $500 stipend for elementary school teachers to spend on classroom supplies, and replacing the school system’s current Title IX coordinator, in light of how NHCS has handled complaints about sexual assault and harassment. He feels like there is a lack of communication between the current school board and the public, and would like to see school board meetings held in various schools throughout the county to increase public access and participation.

Judy Justice (D) is a career educator, having worked for 8 years as a social studies teacher at Laney High School before going on to work as a principal and central office administrator in other parts of the state. A Democrat, she says she is dismayed by cronyism, nepotism, and a lack of transparency and accountability in the New Hanover County Schools system. She would like to see more economic integration in our schools, and thinks 3 of the incumbents running for re-election have served for too long on the school board. Justice also believes there are too many charter schools in North Carolina, and they have expanded at the expense of traditional charter schools.

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