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Macon to vote on new school board members, funding option for new high school

Clockwise from top, left: Billy Handley, Stephanie Hyder Laseter, Danny Reitmeier, Diedre Breeden, Carol Arnold. Clockwise from top, left: Billy Handley, Stephanie Hyder Laseter, Danny Reitmeier, Diedre Breeden, Carol Arnold.

This year, Macon County Schools began the process of building a new high school. The Franklin High School that exists now has been there since the 1950s and current plans are for the new school to be built on the same site, through a multi-year process of demolition and construction.

This election season, voters in Macon County have the opportunity to vote on two items that could affect the outcome of the long-awaited new school. 

First, the quarter-cent sales tax intended to help fund the project will be on the ballot as a referendum. This would raise its sales tax from 6.75 to 7 cents per dollar, with all additional revenue from the increase going back to Macon County. It’s estimated this would generate just over $2 million in additional annual revenue that would go towards funding the capital projects plan. 

Second, there are two seats up for election on the five-member Macon County School Board. In district two, incumbent Tommy Cabe was running for re-election when he passed away in September. There are three candidates left competing for his seat — Billy Handley, Stephanie Hyder Laseter and Danny Reitmeier. In district four incumbent Carol Arnold is challenged by Diedre Breeden. 

District Two 

Billy Handley graduated from Franklin High School, received a Bachelor of Science Degree from Western Carolina University and works as the general manager of Tastinger’s Floor Covering in Franklin. Handley has coached youth sports in Macon County for almost 30 years and has two children, one who has graduated from Macon County Schools, one who is still attending. 

“I have been considering running for the school board for several years,” said Handley. “I finally decided that talk is cheap and it was time to throw my name in the hat. I feel that our teachers, staff and students are being short-changed by some of the conditions of the schools they attend and work at.”

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If elected, Handley would work to get the new high school project done as soon as possible. Additionally, he would like to see plans started immediately for a new Nantahala School. He plans to advocate for teachers in Macon County so they do not have to spend personal money on classroom needs and would like to see more vocational and agricultural classes available at the middle school and high school level. 

“As a former member of FHS chorus, I believe band, chorus and the arts should never be put on the back burner,” said Handley. “I would also like to make sure we continue to push the basics. For example, personal finance, home economics and basic automotive knowledge for every student.”

Stephanie Hyder Laseter is a native of Macon County and a mom of two kids in the public school system. She is a biologist by training with the Forest Service, teaches kids at First Methodist Church, has chaired parent teacher organizations, worked with youth sports and volunteered for the Mainspring Conservation for several years prior to being an employee there. 

Several years ago, after becoming heavily involved in conversations around funding for Macon County Schools, Laseter and a colleague started the “Support Our Schools” campaign in order to get parents and the community more involved in understanding how decisions were made at the school board level. The goal was to keep the community informed about everything having to do with education. 

“That process really led me to have a good understanding of the school budget process in Macon County,” said Laseter. “It’s the responsibility of the board to provide an excellent teaching environment for teachers and an excellent learning environment for students. Whether that’s the classroom space, or with the things in the classroom, it’s important to me that we do our best to long-term planning and long-term thinking around those decisions.”

Laseter is a strong supporter of the quarter-cent sales tax referendum and the new high school project. 

“I think it’s really important that people understand that that’s money we could be keeping here locally,” said Laseter. “We could use that for a new high school facility, which is much, much needed here.”

When it comes to school safety, Laseter is not only interested in physical school security; she also wants students to be secure while using technology that is becoming increasingly common in education. She wants teachers, administration, school board members and parents to be aware of the changing nature of online bullying and online safety protocols. 

Laseter wants to not only serve Macon County Schools locally, but also advocate for the system at the state and federal level. Through the “Support Our Schools” campaign, she has learned that this can only be achieved by showing up. 

“I just advocate for showing up. It’s really important to be in the room,” said Laseter. “I understand budget complexities, I understand the challenges facing the school board, because I’ve been present at a lot of meetings recently. I’m a mom of kids currently in the school system. I see challenges that teachers face in the classrooms, what kids face and I think I have the leadership and experience to be a strategic thinker and to focus on the long term.”

Danny Reitmeier graduated from Franklin High School shortly before joining the Air Force. He currently works as the Landscape Maintenance Operations Manager for Clark and Company Landscape Services in Franklin. He has been very involved in youth sports, coaching and refereeing for many years. He has worked with the high school football team as the equipment manager and taught Sunday School at his church. 

Reitmeier campaigned for a spot on the county commission earlier this year but did not make it out of the primary. 

“I have a real strong desire to serve,” said Reitmeier. “I served in the Air Force and I like to help people. I want to help guide our county, our school system down the road into the future. Kids are the future of our county, we need to give them the best opportunity we can to be the best citizens as they get out into the world.”

Reitmeier’s priorities, if elected to the board, include building the new high school and equipping the building with the best facilities available, hiring the best teachers, staff and administrators and fostering a smart budget. 

“We have to remember our budget money is not our money for the people that sit on the board to do with as we want,” said Reitmeier. “Our taxpayers pay that and they expect us to be good stewards of that money, use it wisely.”

Parents are key to the school board’s success in Reitmeier’s view. He would like to see more community involvement and input in order to help the board of education make the best decisions possible for the community they serve. 

“I know that nobody will outwork me and I would always be available and accessible to listen to anybody,” said Reitmeier. “This is my hometown, this is where I’ve grown up, I want nothing but the best for our county and our school system.”

District four 

Carol Arnold is the lone incumbent in the race for Macon County School Board. She was appointed to the board two years ago to finish out the term of Fred Goldsmith when he resigned from his position. Arnold was recently appointed vice chair of the school board after the passing of Tommy Cabe. She previously served on the Macon County School Board from 1998-2002, but did not seek reelection after that term. 

Arnold is a native of Macon County and has spent over 41 years in education working in several different positions including classroom teacher, principal, associate superintendent and consultant. 

“I have decided [to run again] because we have some projects that we have been working on diligently with our county leaders,” said Arnold. “We have been looking at a new high school and I’ve been very active on the Facilities Committee for that so we can go ahead and start the process and it is going very well right now.”

With her expertise in education, Arnold would like to work for stronger parent involvement, which she says makes a huge difference in a child’s education long term. She would also like to see more access to early childhood education. Arnold holds a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in early childhood education. 

“I believe in working with children in pre-K programs, especially at the age of three and four years,” said Arnold. “Students that have participated in pre-K programs have a much easier transition into Kindergarten than those who have not. It’s a commonsense approach to education.”

Much of Arnold’s work in education involved grant writing. Over her 35 years in education administration, she estimates she brought in over $200 million for the programs she worked in and wrote grants for. 

“I think I am the most qualified candidate for this position,” said Arnold. “I have a wealth of knowledge and degrees in education. I have a vast knowledge of grant writing and how to bring money and partners in, and I have the time to do the job.”

Diedre Breeden is a licensed clinical mental health counselor supervisor who currently owns a Christian counseling practice in Franklin. She has long been a volunteer in the school system and works for the community through her non-profit Heart for Families. 

“I want to make a difference for our community and I have insight and experience from my career that allows me to bring a unique perspective to the board that would benefit our students and their families,” said Breeden. 

If elected to the board, Breeden will prioritize teacher support while also striving to protect the input of parents and their choices in students’ education. She will work to ensure students have a safe environment to learn and access to as many opportunities as possible. Breeden is strongly in favor of a new Franklin High School. 

“I am a parent of three, connected with and invested in the dynamics of our schools and community,” said Breeden. “I will unapologetically stand on truth, fight for parents and families, strive to ensure our board is wisely investing resources in our schools and always promote the best interest of students.” 

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