Deb McManus | Candidate Questionnaires | Indy Week
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Deb McManus 

Chatham County School Board, District 4

Full Legal Name: Deborah Hawkins McManus

Name as it Appears on the Ballot: Deb McManus

Office Sought/District: Board of Education, District 4

Date of Birth: 12/21/56

Home & Mailing Address: 11 Pine Forest Drive, Siler City, NC 27344

Campaign Web Site:

Occupation & Employer: Office manager/bookkeeper, Carolina Family Practice

Years lived in Chatham County: 27

Home Phone: 919-663-2261

Work Phone:


What do you believe are the most important issues facing the school system? If elected, what are your top three priorities in addressing those issues?

State and federal budget cuts are creating the most challenging issues we face right now. These cuts have impacted class size, staff development, and instructional materials, all important for success in our schools. Addressing cuts requires prioritizing where our dollars are most effective; carefully evaluating and cutting ineffective programs; and providing in-house staff development. I think it is important that we convey to teachers that we understand that they are trying to do more with less and make sure they feel appreciated for that effort.

What in your record as a public official or other experience demonstrates your ability to be effective on the board? This might include career or community service; be specific about its relevance to this office.

I have eight years experience on the school board, two terms as chair and one as vice-chair. I have a strong relationship with parents, teachers, administrators, and other elected officials.

How do you define yourself politically and how does your political philosophy show itself in your past achievements and present campaign platform?

I believe every child deserves an equal opportunity for success. It is my responsibility to do my best to guarantee that they get that opportunity. My past achievements include bringing hands-on science kits to grades K-8 to improve science education, implementation of a one-to-one computer initiative to provide computer access to every high school student, dual language classes, AVID (Advancement Through Individual Determination) program to help prepare more students for college, countywide emphasis on bullying with new anti-bullying policy, and improved child nutrition with healthier choices in our cafeterias and new policies for healthier choices in the classroom.

The Independent's mission is to help build a just community in the Triangle. How would your election to office help further that goal?

I have a strong work ethic and I take my commitments seriously. I take the time to do the research and know the facts. I am receptive to different opinions and I listen to my constituents on issues. I have great respect for the work of our educators and I understand the concerns of students, parents, and the community. I am not afraid to face the tough issues.

Identify a principled stand you might be willing to take if elected that you suspect might cost you some popularity points with voters.

Redistricting. Redistricting is never popular when it affects your child. With our last redistricting, I took a position that wasn't popular but would have better balanced school size for three schools. I was out-voted and we left one school over capacity and still using mobile classrooms while another school was significantly under capacity.

In paying for new schools and other county needs, what role would you like to see assigned to: (a) Property taxes? (b) Impact fees? (c) Year-round schools? (d) More charter schools? (e) Sales tax? (f) Other revenue-raising or cost-cutting methods?

(a) In Chatham County, it is inevitable that property taxes will bear most of the burden for funding schools at this time. (b) Impact fees are important and they will help fund schools where there is the greatest growth but are not great enough to provide enough funding. The current tax structure doesn't allow impact fees to be adjusted to be fairer to the builder of smaller, or more modest, homes. (c) Year round schools can be wonderful but they are not really a cost saver in smaller school districts, and if fact, may cost more. (d) I do not believe charter schools are a solution for most people. (e) I think sales tax would be a wonderful solution but Chatham County's economy is not yet one that produces much income from sales tax. I think that will eventually change but not until we attract more industry. (f) I was a big supporter of the Land Transfer Tax. I think most people did not understand the tax and there was a lot of misinformation provided from outside the county. Whenever I explained it and answered people's questions, they could see the value of a LTT but most people heard the words "new tax" and didn't want the details.

Do you believe Chatham County schools are understaffed?

Not in teaching positions, at least not yet. We are lean right now and I am opposed to more position cuts or we may become understaffed. Class sizes are a little larger than I would like, particularly in elementary grades, but we have kept teacher assistants in grades K-3 and that helps. If we are understaffed anywhere, it is in support staff such as computer technicians, nurses, counselors, social workers, and possibly clerical staff. This often leaves teachers having to take on some of the responsibilities of support staff in addition to teaching. Everybody is trying to do more with less.

What steps, if any, would you take to reduce the dropout rates, and improve college admission rates?

I have already mentioned AVID which I believe will help our dropout rate. We are taking some of the AVID techniques (such as note taking and organizational skills) and teaching them to middle school students. I want to take those skill lessons to elementary students too. Good note taking is an important skill that can be learned and would benefit all students.

We are adding opportunities for students to take the Princeton Review SAT prep classes at discounted rates. Our agreement with Princeton Review will allow all students, whether they are taking the class or not, to take a practice SAT that will be scored. We are encouraging more students to also take the ACT; the ACT is considered to be a better measure of what students have learned in school. Most universities will accept either.

I believe that we need to start introducing students to the idea that they will attend college at an earlier age. A recent study claimed that students have formed opinions about whether they will attend college before age twelve. We need to be introducing students to the concept earlier in their education.

Spanish speaking students present unique educational challenges to the district. Evaluate how the district is meeting the needs of these children. How could the district better meet their needs? What are the obstacles to these goals and how can they be surpassed?

I believe we do an exceptional job addressing the needs of our Spanish-speaking students. For many years we have employed extra ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers. We offer a newcomers program that is based in Virginia Cross Elementary School. We have interpreters in our schools with high numbers of Hispanic students. We have offered summer enrichment programs geared for our second language students and we have offered diversity training to our teachers. In the last five years, the Siler City area has lost many jobs that traditionally employed Hispanic workers; our school enrollment has not dropped in those schools. I think one reason families have stayed is because our schools serve them well.

One way we might be able to better meet their needs is to hire more Latino teachers, teachers who not only understand their students' language but also their culture. Finding those teachers is a challenge. We have tried to address that by recruiting in parts of the country that have had a large Latino population for a longer time (like the Miami area) but there is great national competition for those teachers. I think this will begin to change as more of our local Spanish-speaking students graduate and go to college but we need to encourage more of our Latino students to consider teaching as a career option.

The School Board has recently updated and revised their Drugs and Alcohol policy with stronger consequences for students who violate the rules. Do you believe drugs and alcohol pose a threat to Chatham County students, and if so, what steps will you take to see that the policy's rules are backed and enforced?

I believe that drugs and alcohol pose a serious threat to students everywhere and Chatham County is no exception. Middle and high school students are very susceptible to peer pressure and the need to be cool. Our media makes it appear that every celebrity is using drugs and alcohol, most with little or no consequences. Students do not see the danger of their risky behavior and parents often have a laissez faire attitude about alcohol use because they drank while they were in school.

The policy changes we made came at the request of our school principals; they wanted more stringent rules to give them more leverage for controlling drug and alcohol use. I have no doubt that they will enforce the policies.

There have been discussions about Chatham schools moving towards a "digital learning environment;" does Chatham County need to invest in technology for the classroom (including iPads for students) when the budget indicates staff positions will be cut in the 2011-2012 school year?

Every high school student in Chatham County Schools is issued a laptop. Our End of Course scores in our high schools went up significantly this year. Teachers are using the laptops to create lesson that engage students' imaginations and challenge their creativity. Every student has the same technology to respond to those challenges. What they are creating is amazing. We are reaching students by teaching the way they learn today. I have been part of creating this digital learning environment since I first took office and I am very proud of our accomplishments.

I do hope we can find a way to expand our digital learning environment to put more digital devices in the hands of our middle-school students, whether that is iPads or laptops or some other device. But no, this doesn't look like the year we can do this unless we get grant money.

Budget cuts for next year are projected to be large, maybe worse than this year. Our system just received some federal jobs money and we have decided to use most of it to maintain jobs for the 2011-2012 school year. We are using less than 20% to fund some pressing needs this year.

Even the best technology is no replacement for a great teacher and preserving those positions is my first priority.

  • Chatham County School Board, District 4

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