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School board needs to reorder spending priorities, candidate says

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CLAYTON — Michelle Antoine thinks the Johnston County Board of Education has its spending priorities all wrong.

Under former superintendent Ross Renfrow, she noted, the board created a new administrative body called the Equity Office. “Objectively, it could be a good administrative tool,” Antoine said in an email response to questions from the Johnstonian News. “But the resources taken away from the kids at this time of budget crisis will ultimately impact the children that need instructional support the most, many from low-income and minority households.”

“Equity must start with sufficient funding for the students in the classroom,” Antoine added. “It is just another reminder of the failure for budgetary oversight by the current board of education.”

That lack of oversight has created a school system that adds central office administrators while classrooms go without, said Antoine, one of 16 candidates seeking four school board seats. “I was in shock that the elementary schools aren’t providing social studies and science learning resources due to funding,” she said.

Instead, she said, the elementary schools are hoping their English textbook touches on enough social studies and science to get by.

“The middle schools and high schools are even worse in terms of textbooks and curriculum,” with “funding again the culprit,” Antoine said.

“I’ve sent in multiple reams of paper due to lack of funding for basic copy paper,” she added. “The teachers are afraid to use their small limit of copy credits, so high school teachers micro-print four sheets onto one 8-by-11 plain sheet.”

“With an out-of-control budget and no solutions in sight,” Antoine fears the schools are on a path toward giving their children an inferior education. “My goal,” she said, “is to refocus the board on the necessary items for excellence in education.”

Antoine wishes the current board shared that goal. “Current board members seeking reelection are still talking about adding their new pet projects to the district budget for the upcoming year,” she said. “This solidifies in my mind the delusion that some of the current board is operating under.”

Antoine has many planks in her campaign platform. But most important, she wants the schools, through “real solutions,” to give children “an appropriate and excellent education without bankrupting the county or increasing property taxes.”

Also on her agenda:

• Quality teachers who know how to instruct and engage and who are compensated accordingly so that they will stay in Johnston.

• A “real curriculum,” along with textbooks and support, to meet all required standards.

• Planning for growth, including creating capital reserves.

• Better coordination with county commissioners to meet the funding need for both staff and buildings. Antoine said she supports impact fees on new development, and she’d like for the schools to form partnerships with the county’s largest employers.

• Addressing the needs of exceptional children, including seeking grants to support their education.

For Johnston’s next superintendent of schools, Antoine said she wants someone who’s “not just a figurehead with a doctoral title, but rather someone approachable and sensible, who can have vision for the future and plan accordingly.”

She also prefers someone who’s “not afraid of taking on big issues, someone who weighs out and measures the effects of decisions and is willing to be truthful and transparent.”

Antoine hopes the schools can close their budget gap without resorting to layoffs of teachers, teacher assistants and bus drivers.

“The larger question is how will the board manage a growing school district with funding levels that do not match” the needs, Antoine said, again calling for revenue sources outside of property tax and sales taxes.

Don’t believe candidates who say the schools can get by on the dollars they have today, Antoine said. “Any person running for this position that would postulate the idea that we can remain at old budget levels is not a serious candidate,” she said.

About Michelle Antoine

Antoine is 45 years old.

“My husband and I were college sweethearts and celebrated 20 years of marriage last July,” she said.

They have eight children: Olivia, 19, who’s majoring in crop science at N.C. State University; Parker, 16, a sophomore lacrosse player at Corinth-Holders High School; Jackson, 13, a seventh-grader at Riverwood Middle School; Nathan, 10, a fourth-grader at Cooper Academy; Bennett, 7, a first-grader at Cooper Academy; and Dylan, 5, Austin, 4, and Elijah, 2, who attend a Baptist preschool in Knightdale.

Antoine holds bachelor degrees from the University of Wisconsin and a master’s degree in rehabilitation psychology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

“I am currently a stay-at-home parent,” Antoine said. “I focus on tutoring my children and keep them active in sports.”

Her husband is chief operations officer for a commercial construction company; also, he is an attorney with an advanced degree in real-estate law.

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