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  • Writer's pictureTopsail Times

Phil Cordeiro for Pender County Board of Education

Q: What is the primary issue facing the school systems that led you to run for office?

A: Building a new K-8 school in Hampstead will be the board’s biggest challenge for the next 5-10 years. For example, the Surf City K-8 school opened in August 2018 and it’s already over capacity. We cannot make that same mistake again.

As a member of the school board, I’ve already presented a detailed analysis to my colleagues and the superintendent regarding how the demographic data we’re relying on are flawed. We cannot afford to ask the voters to approve more bonds in a few years – and ask the county commissioners to raise taxes – because we didn’t do the important work of asking the right questions.

Q: What are your skills and experiences that make you the right choice for Pender County voters?

A: My experience as a town manager and certified public accountant makes me uniquely qualified to participate in the budget formulation and approval processes. I am an expert in governmental accounting and can ensure financial resources are being used in the most efficient and effective way possible.

As an example of my finance experience at work, in my first six months on the board I identified approximately $750,000 in wasteful annual spending. When I brought this to the attention of my colleagues on the board, they voted unanimously to cut that spending. We can now use those funds (totaling ~$3 million over a four-year term) to hire teachers, counselors, bus drivers, and provide employees much-needed pay increases.

I’m also a retired Marine, and I understand the challenges our community’s military families face. More importantly, I understand the significant resources the military brings to the table.

As another example of my experience at work, soon after joining the school board I met with representatives from Camp Lejeune to see how the school system could partner with the military to help our students.

As a result of this meeting – along with staff, and fellow board member and retired soldier Brent Springer – Pender County Schools is about to implement an exciting new tutoring program. This program will provide free online tutoring in math and reading to all students in our Topsail area schools.

Further, because the military is providing this program at little-to-no cost to the county, the school system will have enough funding to offer similar in-person tutoring services to all students in our Pender and Heidi Trask area schools.

These are just a couple examples of how my outside-the-box thinking – and desire to be smart about spending – has benefitted the entire county.

Q: Recently a young child was found unattended on Hwy 17 during school hours and was returned to the school by a passerby. If elected, what will you do to ensure something like this never happens again?

A: Foremost, I'm glad no harm came of this incident and I thank God for the good Samaritan that brought this child back to safety.

  After hearing about this incident, I contacted the superintendent the same day to ask that he quickly investigate this issue and come to the board with recommendations for how we can ensure it doesn't happen again. I also asked the superintendent to be fully transparent about his investigation and findings. "Hiding the ball" or issuing politically-correct public statements only erodes community trust in the school system.

  One of the many lessons I learned in my military career is that accountability is paramount when dealing with situations like this. And, my favorite Marine Corps leadership principle is, "Take accountability for your actions, and seek accountability from others."

  The school system clearly failed in this case. We must admit our failure and learn from it. In my opinion (and experience), we learn much more from our failures than we do our successes. But, the first part of this learning process is admitting failure.

  I look forward to receiving a detailed investigative report on this incident, sharing that report with the community, and collaborating with teachers and law enforcement professionals to revise our security policies accordingly.

Q: Do you have children or grandchildren that attend the Pender County Schools, and if so, what do you feel are the major issues that affect them?

A: My son will attend the new K-8 school the community is building in Hampstead, and will be a Pender County Schools student for the next decade. I have a strong interest in the school system’s success.

  The biggest challenge my son will face – along with all other students in our community – is overcrowded schools. Specifically, every school in the Topsail area is over-capacity and half the schools in the Pender and Heidi Trask areas will be over capacity by 2026.

  The school board needs to sharply focus on solving this problem. Smartly allocating the $178 million in school bonds passed by the voters in 2022 is key – and we must prioritize projects that create new classroom space for students.

Q: If elected, how do you plan on filling the need for more teachers and school bus drivers? Would you support incentives, like benefits and bonuses?

A: The school system is understaffed, but it’s important to realize this is a product of funding. The state only allocates minimal funding, and the county commissioners have been very meager in their local allocations. As a result, it’s incumbent upon the school board to find savings where we can to hire more staff and increase pay.

  As mentioned, last year I discovered and convinced my colleagues on the board to unanimously support eliminating approximately $750,000 in wasteful annual spending (totaling ~$3 million over a four-year term). I support using this funding to fill the need for more teachers and school bus drivers.

  Lastly, yes, I firmly support incentives like bonuses for employees who earn them through exemplary service. As another example, in August of 2023 I made a motion to approve $1,000 retention bonuses for all full-time school system employees. I also made a motion to approve $5,000 recruitment bonuses for teachers in hard-to-fill positions. My colleagues on the board unanimously approved both of these initiatives.


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