Isle of Wight County School Board candidate Q&A: Jason P. Maresh

Published 10:02 am Saturday, November 5, 2022

Jason P. Maresh, District 4 

Can you briefly summarize why you decided to run for office?

I have deep concerns about the direction of IWCS and public education in general. The future of our children – and our country – is at stake. After a year and a half of routine engagement with our current School Board, I decided to run for office. I have asked questions, researched issues and offered suggestions only to be repeatedly ignored, dismissed or rejected. I object to the focus on social emotional learning (SEL) and social justice narratives which label and categorize children (and society) based on skin color, socioeconomic status and sexual preference. I object to this board’s historical “rubber stamp” approach of endorsing, without question, everything the superintendent proposes. As a School Board member I will encourage parents and community stakeholders to fully engage with our teachers, our board, and our superintendent so that together we ensure every student has access to a high quality education in Isle of Wight.

What should the School Board’s top priority be right now?

The board’s top priority should be ensuring that core academics, a mastery of critical skills and a safe, nurturing environment exists for every child in our school division. Although we saw a slight increase in SOL pass rates for 2021-2022, we are still below pre-COVID pass rates. The board is responsible for ensuring we provide our children with a solid curriculum that is open and transparent to the public. Our current board has poured thousands of our tax dollars into digital applications filled with controversial and divisive materials. We, the taxpayers, have purchased “equity audits,” hired equity consultants and even hired a full-time equity coordinator. Our return on investment is declining scores. It’s time we get back to the basics and focus on supporting our teachers in teaching our kids how to read, write and count. We especially need this for students served through the special education program.

Is Isle of Wight County Schools doing enough to keep students safe from shootings? What additional security measures would you like to see?

Based on conversations with some of our local law enforcement I think IWCS has effective measures in place and is prepared to respond to potential school shootings, but we can do better. I support board member Collick’s proposal to conduct an in-depth threat assessment and analysis for each school to focus on prevention of school shootings. The current board thinks we are doing enough – and irresponsibly voted against Collick’s sensible proposal. We all want our schools and our children safe, so let’s take a hard look at how best to do that with existing funding and acquire additional funding as needed. All options need to be considered to include SROs, metal detectors, etc. The recently passed “Safer Communities Act” offers certain federal grants that need to be researched and applied for. The board must lead the safety effort, rather than asking if it’s something the superintendent wants to do.

Are Isle of Wight’s supervisors right in delaying their vote on whether the school system can keep over $600,000 in unspent funds from the 2021-22 school year, or are their calls for accountability looking for problems where none exist?

Yes, the supervisors are right in delaying their vote. It is clear to me and many others in our community that there are some very serious matters surrounding the expenditures of school funds, irresponsible handling of contracts, a lack of transparency and even withholding of information from the supervisors and the public at large. The School Board must work with, not against, our county supervisors to assure IW taxpayers that all funds are expended in an ethical and judicious manner. Earlier this year the School Board chair declined, on her own accord, an invitation to convene a joint budgetary working session with the supervisors, causing strife between the two boards and their members. I believe that it is absolutely necessary to ensure all spending is accounted for and that audits of our school division are above reproach.

Should departing school superintendents be compensated more generously for unused paid leave than other retiring school employees?

No. There is good reason for School Boards establishing policy. Specific personnel and compensation policies serve to protect employees, justify the expenditure of tax dollars and to make sure that the public understands how funds are allocated. I find it insulting and disrespectful to all our school employees, past and present, to provide departing superintendents with special compensation in any format, especially when it contradicts policy. While the superintendent’s contract is completely different from other employees, there are areas that should mirror what teachers and other staff receive, including how unused leave is paid. The irony of listening to members of this board (and the now retired Superintendent Thornton) emphasize the importance of “fair and equitable treatment,” to then pull a stunt like this, is a slap in the face of the remaining hard-working employees of IWCS and IW taxpayers.

Should students have access to information on sexuality and race relations via school-purchased library books and electronic devices?

No. The purchase of certain materials in our schools has become a question of how and why these materials ended up in our schools. We are now constantly confronted with materials that have nothing to do with academic achievement, building literacy or ensuring that our students graduate with the skills to go into the world of work or enter higher education. Smithfield High’s “Read Woke Challenge” includes questionably inappropriate books containing sexually explicit acts, illegal drug use, anti-police rhetoric and divisive social justice propaganda. Similar content can be found on so-called “learning resources” available on K-12 school-issued digital media accounts. As a School Board member, I am willing to lead the effort to determine how and why these materials were and are purchased, investigate the purpose of these materials along with parents and community stakeholders, and take action to establish policies for the purchase of all reading material.

Are unisex bathrooms in schools a good idea?

No. Unisex restrooms in our schools is inappropriate. The separation of young girls and boys in restrooms (and athletic locker rooms) is a policy that I will stand up and defend. The safety of our children is of utmost importance as a school leader and an elected official. I am aware of at least two instances – not in IWCS – where males (identifying as females) have been investigated for sexually assaulting females in school restrooms. I fear more will occur. I would support unisex restrooms that lock and are single occupancy in new-construction schools. This is a tough issue and needs to be addressed with the community stakeholders. While a one-size-fits-all solution is unlikely, I know we can figure out what is best by listening to those who elect us. I pledge to ensure our school division is safe for every child.