The newest member of the Lincoln County Board of Education is not at all unfamiliar with the duties of the board. Tony Jenkins has already served eight years, 2004-08 and 2012-16. When he found out no one was running for the member-at-large seat then held by Candy Burgin who was not going to run for re-election, Jenkins decided to run again. Not long after he filed, Clifidean Foster Bethea and Clarissa Metts Hill both filed for the same seat.
“Someone asked me why I didn’t pull out but once you sign up, you don’t back away or sway – you go forward,” Jenkins said. “It’d look bad if I pulled out because I wanted them to have a chance to win. I would have loved to see them win.”
Jenkins currently works as a volunteer firefighter, dividing his time between three different stations, Crouse, North 321 and Boger City. After serving 30 years, he retired as a full-time firefighter for the City of Lincolnton but like with the board of education, he can’t seem to stay away from the job. Now he fills in at the three fire stations as needed.
A product himself of Lincoln County Schools, Jenkins has lived much of his life in Lincoln County. He is not married, never has been and doesn’t have children. He believes not having children makes him a much more impartial board of education member.
“I’m interested in helping the teachers and children,” he said. “I want to do what’s best for them.”
As it has been for much of the time Jenkins has served as a member of the board of education, he said funding is always an issue with public schools.
“You could have billions of dollars in your budget but money will still be a problem,” Jenkins said. “It’s how you manage it and get the best out of it. It’s similar to the fire departments. We do the best with what we get. We make sure our equipment is up to par as well as our trained personnel. That would be the same in the school system. You need to be sure everyone is up to par and taken care of.”
Caring for all staff, not just teachers at Lincoln County Schools is a high priority for Jenkins. He wants to be sure pay rates are comparable to other counties so the system doesn’t lose staff to other areas.
“Without the staff, we’d have to shut the schools down,” he said. “I’ve told the administration that I’m there to work with them but not for them. Board members used to work for and bow down to administration but I don’t and I won’t. I work with them, that’s our job.”
Growth in the eastern side of the county is something Jenkins believes will need to be addressed within the next five years and that a new school will need to be built.
“We’re going to have to face the reality that while people don’t like shifting lines to balance the schools, If you build a new school everybody wants to transfer to it,” he said. “A new school doesn’t make any difference in learning. I don’t vote for transfers, I’ve always voted against transfers. They (administration) tell me it doesn’t affect the schools but I believe it does.”
While he said he needs to review what’s been done in the past, Jenkins believes that while no system is impenetrable, the school system has adequately addressed safety. He understands placing student resource officers in elementary schools is a possibility and he supports that decision but funding will need to be sourced.
Both Joan Avery (District 2) and Todd Wulfhorst (District 5) were re-elected in November to seats they held previously on the board. Avery successfully ran against Clayton Mullis while Wulfhorst ran unopposed.