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Steven Barger and Shirley Babson face off in the Republican primary for Brunswick County Board of Education, District 4

Photo Credits: Left - WHQR, Rachel Keith; Right - Steven Barger

Two Republican primary candidates are running for a seat in Brunswick County Board of Education’s District 4. Janis Simmons will be the winner’s Democratic challenger in November.

Steven Barger is the current chair of the Brunswick County School Board. He works in emergency services and law enforcement — and teaches at Brunswick Community College. And he’s running for his second term.

Barger said among his top priorities are lobbying state and local officials to increase teacher salaries — noting that many emergency responders and educators aren’t able to afford to live in the county, and that selling the idea that living near the beach isn’t enough.

Asked about a potential new school bond, Barger said the district is still spending funds from a $152 million bond passed in 2016 to expand North Brunswick High School ($26.5 million in bond funds) and Town Creek Elementary ($14.7 million — $4.2 of which were bond funds; $10.5 million from property and sales tax funds).

“So I'm not telling you a bond is not needed in the future. I can see where that would be a need. But right now, we're currently working off a bond and we've done a good job of putting money away,” Barger said.

Shirley Babson, his opponent, first won a seat on the board in 1976 but lost re-election bids in both 2016 and 2020. She said she came back to fight “woke” education — and to ensure the Parents Bill of Rights is being implemented.

Barger said parents are an important part of the school system, and said he imagines a time when “our kids can go to school without fear of having agendas, no matter what side the agenda is coming from, where they can just go to school feel safe.”

As to whether it’s time for another bond to be on the Brunswick County ballot, Babson said, “I definitely would. The children in the county need it, and the parents need it. Like I said, the children are my top priority,” Babson said.

She said because of her working relationships with current elected officials, she would work to raise the county’s teaching supplement, too. (*You can find Brunswick County’s local supplement information at the end of this report.)

And the pipeline of future educators concerns both Barger and Babson.

Barger mentioned a joint meeting between the New Hanover, Pender, and Brunswick school systems where Brunswick Superintendent Dale Cole said to the group of officials, “‘if we don't fix our challenges in public education now, mostly with staffing, public education is going to end as we know it.’ So we [have] got to do a better job of recruiting more staff. Treating staff well. That’s why teacher climate and environment surveys are so important.”

Babson returned to the idea that the county is losing educators because of the lower supplement amount when compared to New Hanover County, and even when compared to other states.

“And the teachers, of course, leave to go over to South Carolina. And so we need to think about, what do we need to do to change to give these people where they want to work in Brunswick County?” she said.

As for academic performance, Barger said while the school report card scores are informative — and standardized tests have their place, it’s not looking at the whole picture.

“I've talked with district staff many times, and those numbers are a snapshot of one day, potentially one hour of a student's life out of 365 days. We also know that kids are faced with challenges at home and outside school today that are much different than they were yesterday,” he said.

Barger said he wants the district to look at more growth metrics and student portfolios in terms of student and educator achievement.

He said he also wants families not to rely on technology as much — while it has its place in the classroom, society, in general, relies too heavily on screens, which does a disservice to kids.

For Babson, she wants the district to go back to teaching the basics.

“Teaching children how to sign their name. You know, how to say 50 plus 50 is 100. And also that teaches them to respect America. And the people that fought for America and the founders of America,” she said.

She also said she's concerned about teachers introducing content about LGBTQ people into the classroom. She maintained this isn't in the curriculum, but more "underground" and subversive.

Barger said if elected he’ll continue to be in the schools a lot, “It’s not a gotcha moment for me. It's relationship building, which is so important at every level of life.”

Babson said, ultimately, she wants to return because of her love of children.

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR