sam's notes

notes on government, sports and popular culture

Monday, November 08, 2004

I regret to say that Greater Greensboro Observer is going to a bi-monthly publishing cycle for the time being.

Since I don't know the fate of this article on Kris Cooke and Dot Kearns, which was to be in this week's issue, here it is:

The Guilford County Board of Education will indeed have some new faces later this year: Walter Childs and Amos Quick, who were elected to serve their respective districts in last Tuesday’s election.

But, to the chagrin of more than a few voters, two familiar faces will be sitting on the board for four more years: Kris Cooke and Dot Kearns.

Cooke, who represents District 7, defeated challenger Bill Davidson, while Kearns defeated challenger Jim Kirkpatrick in a race that went down to the wire. Both races were hotly contested as opposition groups sought to oust both incumbents, mostly due to their votes supporting the High Point school choice plan.

The election is now behind them, and they’re ready to move on. But Cooke and Kearns do not have pleasant memories of their respective campaigns.

While Cooke has served on the school board for seven years, she has never had to run a campaign. She was appointed to the board in 1997 and ran unopposed in 2000.

“I’ve never seen like that,” Cooke said in a phone interview. “It was mean-spirited, it was personal, and it was full of lies. It was for many a one-issue campaign. I simply stood on my record, what I’ve done and what I’ve believed in, and what I continue to believe in. I think the voters understood that. To me, the negative campaign backfired.”

Cooke said another thing that bothered her about the campaign was that she was portrayed as being out of touch with school issues, an image magnified in campaign ads that depicted her and Kearns as robotic followers of superintendent Terry Grier.

“The biggest misconception, which just floored me, was that I didn’t do my homework, that I didn’t listen to my constituents, and I don’t return e-mails and phone calls. That was just a bold-face untruth,” Cooke said.

Kearns, on the other hand, is a political veteran, having served not only on the school board for several years but also on the Board of County Commissioners.

She said her unsuccessful 1990 reelection campaign for the county commission was almost as nasty as this year’s. Schools were a dominant issue then, too, as officials were considering merging the Greensboro and High Point school systems. As a county commissioner, Kearns supported the merger.

“That was a real tough election,” Kearns said. “It was, I would say, as intense. There were so many in the county who were so harshly opposed to merger. They accused me of practically everything.”

Like Cooke, the part of this campaign that bothered her the most was the political ads.

“I wasn’t any closer to (Grier) than anybody else on the board,” Kearns said.

During their campaigns, both Cooke and Kearns defended their decisions to vote for the High Point plan.

But they differ somewhat about what to do about the lottery, the part of the plan that raised the most ire among parents in north High Point. Cooke is open to taking a closer look at the lottery in the near future, while Kearns favors letting the plan evolve as it is, at least for the time being.

“Speaking for myself, I would look at what can be done about the lottery,” Cooke said

“Hopefully, we’ll have a better sense of what the programs are all about and how successful they are. I think in time, as the programs gain in stature and longevity, students will self-select without a lottery,” Kearns said. “ But I think it’s too early to tell right now.”

The problem, both recognize, is without a lottery, the board would have little choice but to look at redistricting students in the north High Point and Jamestown areas to Andrews High School. The board tried to formulate a redistricting plan a couple of years ago, but was unable to come up with one that satisfied everyone.

“Redistricting is never pleasant. Trust me,” Cooke said. “I don’t think you can make everybody happy. That’s not the nature of the beast.”

“When you simply redistrict a school, you have no choice,” Kearns said.

At any rate, the board will have to look at redistricting when new schools in the northern part of the county come on line in the next few years.

“We’ve got new schools being built, so the first thing we’re going to have to do is redistrict and set up those attendance lines,” Cooke said.

Both Cooke and Kearns are concerned with funding issues, considering the fact that unfunded mandates at both federal and state levels strained the schools’ budget. In addition, the architects of those unfunded mandates, President Bush and Gov. Mike Easley, were both reelected.

However, there’s fresh blood on the county commission, which not only elected new members Kirk Perkins and Paul Gibson (who served as a county commissioner in the 1980s) but will also have a new member filling Jeff Thigpen’s seat when he officially becomes Register of Deeds.

But the relationship between the school board and county commissioners is never cozy.

“The state cut almost $3 million from our budget. Do they not think that impacts us?” Cooke said. “Then we have to rely on the county commissioners to make up the shortfall, and that strains our relationship.”

“There’s just a natural antipathy toward those who need the funds and those who provide the funds,” said Kearns, who added that she supports giving the school board taxing authority.


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