Despite strong opinions, Scruggs says he seeks school board civility

kjahner@newsobserver.comAugust 23, 2013 

Matt Scruggs

Even though neither of Matt Scruggs’ two daughters has turned 3 yet, the Fuquay-Varina man wants to get involved in shaping their education now.

Scruggs cites his children as the reason he’s running for school board and says his business skills will help him as he promotes neighborhood schools among other priorities. The CarQuest Auto Parts commercial sales manager says he also favors investing more in teachers, protecting schools with armed personnel and depoliticizing the board in favor of practical solutions to help students.

“Both sides need to drop the political agendas and do what’s best for the kids,” Scruggs said. “This is the 16th largest district in the country. Wake County should be leading the way in this state.”

Scruggs said evaluation is important, but called it costly to flip programs on their heads every time a new party took control after an election.

“We need to find something that works and stick with it,” Scruggs said. “You have to listen to each point and fact that’s made by anyone in the district and come up with what’s best for the kids.”

The Oct. 8 election will fill John Tedesco’s seat in District 2, where most schools fall in Garner’s city limits. Monika Johnson-Hostler, an anti-sexual violence advocate from Raleigh, is running against him for an abbreviated three-year term. Legislation altering the board and its elections goes into effect in 2016.

Scruggs said he decided to run when he found out Tedesco would not; he said he had also considered it earlier in the year. The Republican said he didn’t know until he filed on the last day that Johnson-Hostler, a Democrat, was the only other candidate.

“I’d hope there would be more parents that would want to be involved,” he said, noting that the politics he cited earlier may scare some off.

“Luckily I have thick skin,” he said.

Where he stands

While he advocates depoliticizing the process, Scruggs does have strong opinions. Like Tedesco, he does not favor busing a long way to school. He said commute times can be costly for the district and burdensome on students as well as their families, and supports a balance between neighborhood schools and some kind of choice plan.

“I like the idea of neighborhood schools, of lower commute times. If kids are on the bus too long in the morning, well, I wouldn’t want to learn. And when they get home in the afternoon it is tough to do homework,” Scruggs said.

Regarding high-poverty, low-achieving schools that result from neighborhood schools, he said: “We need to ensure that each school is just as good to go to as the next.” He added that after-school programs such as Garner’s could be game-changers as well.

Like Johnson-Hostler – who’s married to a Wake County high school math teacher – Scruggs has a personal connection to teachers: both his parents and his stepmother were educators. He also thinks teachers should get paid more.

He doesn’t directly oppose recent legislation removing tenure; teachers should be accountable he said. But he wants protection for teachers, and suggested a review board of educators, parents and school board members could hear cases of fired teachers and potentially overturn the dismissal.

Scruggs also regards the district’s security planning as inadequate. The active Second Amendment-advocate would be favorable toward teachers and administrators with permits bringing guns to school. He also suggested a sheriff’s deputy in each of the more than 100 elementary schools in the county as a fair compromise.

“I think that would go a long way to ease a lot of parents’ concerns about the safety of their kids in schools,” Scruggs said.

Scruggs said he would be willing to listen to all sides and keep the tone more civil than it’s been on the school board in recent years.

“I don’t think anyone should back down from their principles. At the same time the yelling and the arguing is a bad example for the community,” Scruggs said.

While Johnson-Hostler said her advocacy work positioned her to reach out, listen and advocate for the students, Scruggs highlighted his business skills.

“I’m used to working with budgets and making financial decisions. You’re going to see a lot of that with the bond coming up this year,” Scruggs said.

Background

Scruggs grew up in Belmont. After graduating near the top of his class, he said he took an athletic and academic scholarship to Belmont Abbey College to stay close to his ailing grandparents. He withdrew in 1999 because of a medical condition he said, and eventually mounted a medical debt that he spent years paying off.

He’s currently working to complete his undergraduate education through the University of Alabama distance learning program. He made the dean’s list in the spring of 2013 in pursuit of a business administration degree.

He’s lived in Wake County for more than five years, and moved to the Triangle nine years ago when his wife went back to school at UNC-Chapel Hill.

While he’s never run for office before, this isn’t his first political position. He also served as a precinct chair for the Republican Party in Fuquay-Varina. He said that had been part of his separate interest in running for the municipal government. But he said that there were “a lot of great candidates running for town commissioner and mayor” and didn’t think the race needed him.

Jahner: 919-829-4822

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