Lincoln school board candidates: Drug-testing of teachers is a good idea

Cathy Davis and Ed Hatley listen to a question from the audience

Even though it’s been declared unconstitutional, most candidates at a recent school board candidates’ forum in Denver say they support random drug testing for teachers.

And even though they acknowledged that drug use among teachers is not known to be a problem in Lincoln County, they enthusiastically embraced the idea.

“I wouldn’t want a teacher under the influence of anything teaching my children,” candidate Anita McCall said in response to a question from audience member Todd Burgin. McCall said she favors testing teachers, but wondered where the school system would come up with the money to pay for testing.

“Teachers don’t need to be on drugs,” said Tony Jenkins, a former school board member who is running after a four-year absence. “There’s nothing wrong with drug testing,” he said, but also questioned where the system could find the money for a testing program.

The comments came during an East Lincoln Betterment Association forum for school board candidates.

Lincolnton businessman Mark Mullen said that, too, he is in favor of drug-testing teachers, and said the system might actually see a cost savings in the long run through lower workmen’s compensation rates and workplace safety savings.

Todd Wulfhorst, a Denver attorney, also agreed with the concept – if the money could be found to pay for it.

Board chairman Ed Hatley said he was unsure whether it would be legal or not, but added “there’s nothing like being the first.”

“You’ve got to have people who are clean and sober,” he said.

The only candidate who expressed reservations was Cathy Davis, who correctly wondered aloud if the board had the legal authority to order the tests in the first place.

It doesn’t.

School bus drivers and students involved in certain extracurricular activities such as athletics can be randomly tested for drug use, but not teachers. The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled in 2009 that randomly testing teachers for drug use is unconstitutional and an unreasonable search.

Individual teachers can, however, be tested for drug use if there is reasonable suspicion that they are abusing drugs.

Although extremely rare, it’s not unheard of in North Carolina or in Lincoln County for that matter, for a teacher to be involved in illegal drugs.

In June 2007, Brian Hunter Zickefoose, then 26, was arrested by Lincoln County undercover agents and charged with five counts of possession with the intent to sell and deliver cocaine, five counts of the sale and delivery of cocaine, and maintaining a motor vehicle for the sale of a controlled substance.

Officers seized 3 grams of cocaine during the arrest.

Zickefoose had taught at Wingate Elementary School in Charlotte, and was to be hired at S. Ray Lowder School. His father, Steve, is the school system’s chief financial officer.

Zickefoose was convicted in 2008 of selling drugs and was put on probation.

Most recently in North Carolina, a Robeson County English teacher of 10 years was charged with conspiracy to deal opium or heroin in May. Also in May, an Asheville teacher and her husband were accused of growing marijuana in their home. Nineteen plants were found in their house. Cari Goree had been a graphic arts teacher at AC Reynolds High School since 1996.

Last month, a federal grand jury indicted a teacher’s assistant in Smithfield of four counts of selling heroin at Smithfield Selma High School. The Johnston County Sheriff’s Department said the assistant sold heroin to an undercover officer on the high school campus.

Incumbent board members Tommy Houser and George Dellinger did not attend the form, and former member Joan Avery, and Nolen Nance also did not participate.

When asked why they thought the other candidates did not attend the forum, Davis, Mullen and Wulfhorst used the question as an opportunity to distance themselves from the incumbents and previous board members.

“For me, I’m glad my opponent didn’t show up,” said Davis, who added that “it speaks a lot to their willingness to step up” and defend their decisions.

Mullen said that if elected he would “serve and be accessible, any time, any place you want me.”

Wulfhorst was more direct:

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire,” he said.

Earlier, the candidates were asked what kind of changes they would like to see in the school system:

Davis – Teacher pay supplements should go directly to those who directly impact children, not administrators. She also called for more accountability and transparency by the board.

McCall - Teacher supplements should go to teachers, not administrators, and she said that there have been problems in the past with school board members’ ethics. “Everything needs to be on the table, up-front,” she said.

Jenkins – The board needs to better understand the budget, be “honest with everything” and not hide money from commissioners who ultimately fund the schools.

Jenkins said he has read the school budget “60 times and I still don’t understand it.” He said that teacher supplements are an “issue,” but he made no commitment to changing the way the money is allocated.

q Mullen – He wants more emphasis on technology, and says board members need to listen to teachers more to make sure they have what they need to do their jobs effectively. He also wants to look for savings systemwide and consolidate services wherever possible.

Wulfhorst – School bus and student transportation issues are a primary reason he entered the race. He said that all he has gotten is runaround from school officials when he has asked why some students’ commutes are so long. He also said he wants to find more ways for volunteers and parents to get involved in the schools, and to “try to find savings” and get the money into the classrooms.

Hatley - One of his goals is to rotate about half of the school board meetings outside of Lincolnton to give more parents and students the opportunity to attend and for the board to “actually hear the people.” He also said that board members (who are elected on a non-partisan basis) should leave politics out as soon as they get to a school board meeting.

While all of the candidates in attendance said they would look closely at school spending, board chairman Hatley made a point to let the audience know that the board “hasn’t asked for a whole lot” from commissioners in the past three years because of the weak economy.

Davis said that the school board has had to make a lot of hard decisions because of the recession, and that she as an outsider would not criticize the board’s budget decisions without more detailed information.

Wulfhorst said that too many times the public tends to “go after the teachers” rather than helping and supporting them.

Here are some comments from the candidates on a wide range of issues:

Mullen said that students face enormous peer pressure today, and open communication between adults and children is essential. He said that families today are struggling, and often times it’s hard for parents to find time for the family unit.

Jenkins said that parents need to go to their childrens’ schools and see what’s going on, particularly with technology, which many parents are lacking an understanding of, he said.

The candidates spoke about bullying, and cyber-bullying, and said that there should be no tolerance for bullying in the schools.

Hatley said that bullying has been around forever, but students are more willing to come forward these days and report it, and that’s a good thing.

The board, he said, wants to become more pro-active in developing anti-bullying programs and policies. Bullies should be dealt with swiftly, he said, and policies should ensure that there is no retaliation for reporting bullies.

Mullen said it is essential for kids to know that someone will listen to them, and staffers are trained to deal with bullying.

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