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SMITHFIELD — Mark Lane has two reasons for seeking a seat on the Johnston County Board of Education.
“I am running for school board for the kids and teachers of the Johnston County school system,” Lane said in an email response to questions from the Johnstonian News.
But while his reasons for running are few, his wishes for the schools are many and begin at the top, with the board of education. “I would like to see the school board unite and do what’s best for the students,” Lane said. “Unless the board is united, they are failing the kids, parents and employees.”
Lane said he wanted also to continue to make Johnston schools safer. “Every school needs a resource officer and hopefully ... funding can be found for that purpose,” he said.
Lane would also like to see fencing around every elementary school playground. “This would not only slow intruders down from entering but keep students from wandering away or going into the street,” he said.
And Johnston must find a way to keep high school students from leaving campus, Lane said. “I’ve seen firsthand students getting off a school bus, walking across a field and getting into a waiting car,” he said. “Not only is this dangerous for the student but also a huge liability for the school system.”
Lane said he wanted to pay school system employees better. “I would like all teacher salaries to be at the state average or better,” he said. “I would like to develop a plan where teachers are reimbursed for any classroom supplies they are forced to buy.”
It’s also time to take a look at what the schools pay custodians, secretaries, receptionists and the like, Lane said. “I understand a classified salary comparison has been or is being done comparing surrounding counties,” he said. “It’s great for the evaluation to take place, but action must be taken when the results are released.”
Of course, the schools are in the midst of a budget shortfall, Lane acknowledged. “We need to find the (cause) of the shortfall, fix it and learn from the mistakes,” he said, while suggesting it might be possible to shift spending from lower priorities to employee pay and student safety.
“Teachers and the lower-paid classified staff are the backbones of our school system, and to keep them, they need rewarding,” Lane said.
Like most people outside the school board and central administration, Lane knows few details about the issues that rocked the schools last year, from the sudden retirement of then-superintendent Ross Renfrow to the revelation that he left a budget shortfall in his wake.
“However, I think mistakes have happened and must be found and information released,” Lane said. “Transparency is a word used very much during school board meetings in the past. It’s my opinion that the board has not been transparent enough.”
That lack of transparency extends to the temporary transfer of Clayton High principal Bennett Jones, a move that came amid an investigation of grade fixing at the school, Lane said. “The school board and school system failed the Clayton community when it came to transparency,” he said. “I’m sure there were and still are facts that cannot be released due to personnel issues, but I’m sure there were facts that could have been released sooner than they were. If released sooner, some of the doubts and distrust maybe could have been avoided.”
Lane said Johnston’s next superintendent should come from outside the county’s schools. “We need a fresh start from a person with considerable superintendent experience and also experience with Title I and Restart schools,” he said, referring to the county’s poorest and lowest-performing schools.
“The needs of all students should be met,” Lane said. “A slower-learning student should not hold back a faster-learning student and vice versa. Both students need to be challenged with programs to help each student with their needs.”
Lane said he hoped county commissioners would see fit to help the schools close their budget gap. “I’m against employee layoffs,” he said. “However, the school system and school board must be good stewards with the taxpayers’ money. The county commissioners simply cannot continue to bail out the school system in this county.”
“I totally understand the huge growth in our county,” Lane added, “but with a shortfall that huge, some mistakes and reckless spending had to have taken place. Whenever the cause is found, the information must be released to the taxpayers of Johnston County.”
About Mark Lane
After graduating from Smithfield-Selma High School in 1977, Lane studied horticulture at N.C. State University. He owns and operates Lane Lawn Care.
His wife Cindy is a 1984 graduate of Smithfield-Selma High School. He has three daughters, Jamie Foy, Katie Lane and Shannon Thompson, and one son, Jerry Thompson, all graduates of Smithfield-Selma High.
Lane has five grandchildren, three in the Johnston County schools and two in day care.