UPDATED 8/31/22: I RECEIVED THE BCAE/ACAE ENDORSEMENT!
[See my endorsement interview here!]
Tell us a little about yourself, why you are running for office, and why you are the best candidate.
On Election Day, I will have lived in Asheville for 10 years and 1 week. I moved here for the incredibly lively arts scene, for the beautiful environment, and— above all—for the our city’s generous, open-hearted, diverse and welcoming people. I believe Asheville deserves a city government worthy of its residents: responsive, inclusive, transparent, and accountable. We deserve a city that lives up to the core values of democracy in everything it does.
Our city faces great challenges, among them are housing affordability, climate resilience, public transportation, and the need to diversify and strengthen our local economy. They are interrelated and complex. None of them will be addressed satisfactorily if the people most affected by them are not included in the policy-making process early enough to make a difference, if the public’s work isn’t done in public (so that residents can understand how decisions are reached and hold public servants accountable), and if the choices government makes don’t result in equitable outcomes for all our residents.
Voters can select three candidates from a slate of six in the general election. I don’t claim to be ‘best.’ Rather, I would like voters to choose me because I have pledged to be transparent about my decision-making processes, to treat the position as a full-time job, and to be in constant conversation with our community about matters coming to City Council. You can read my Pledge to Our City here: http://tovish4avl.com/pledge. My website also contains a wealth of information about my policy positions (including answers to every questionnaire I’ve ever submitted), videos of my comments at Council meetings, and biographical information. I hope you’ll take a look at it.
ACAE and BCAE have petitioned their respective school boards to meet several staff priorities. Please provide your position on each of these priorities. You may explain your positions in question #3.
Do you support or oppose living wage certification for Asheville City Schools and Buncombe County City Schools? SUPPORT.
Do you support or oppose increasing the local supplement for educators to bring it in line with other high cost-of-living districts? SUPPORT.
Do you support or oppose increasing local funding for early childhood education through the public school system? SUPPORT.
To what extent do you believe that your values and policy positions align with the Buncombe County Association of Educators (BCAE) and Asheville City Association of Educators (ACAE)? Are there examples of issues or situations when you have disagreed with these organizations? Provide examples to illustrate your response.
I believe with all my heart that the people most affected by government policy and legislation should participate in their formulation. Outside of government, that translates to a strong commitment to unions and membership advocacy groups and associations. I am very proud to be endorsed by the Western North Carolina Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO). I am an ongoing supporter of unionization here in Asheville, including the nascent Asheville Food & Beverage Workers United. And as soon as I learned it was possible, I became a member of NCAE as a community ally.
I’m no kind of expert whatsoever on the challenges and issues facing public educators, schools/districts, and staff. Were I elected to Council, I would listen carefully to the individual and collective voices of those communities and the organizations that represent them. I have plenty to learn. I also know that the challenging issues that effect every resident of Asheville also have disproportionately large effects on the people who have been marginalized and disempowered for generations—and that thousands of them are schoolchildren.
The children of Asheville need advocates for a healthy, equitable, and well- funded public school system that pays its employees well for their service (certainly never less than a certified living wage). High-quality public education is a foundational cornerstone of a healthy democracy—and for Asheville residents democracy begins at home, in our city.
As a public official, how would you engage with ACAE and BCAE, their leadership, and members about education policy issues?
I am encouraged that, for the first time, Asheville City Schools will have a majority-elected Board of Education—and that eventually all our Board members will be elected by the residents of our city. As the Board becomes more democratically responsive to the electorate, its recommendations will garner ever more respect and legitimacy.
I will actively seek out the perspectives, wisdom, and lived experience of ACAE/BCAE members. I’ll seek your guidance on policy and budgetary matters. I would hope to hold joint meetings with constituents, representatives of ACAE, school staff, the School Board, and all other stakeholders in the public school ecosystem to collaborate on decisions that affect our children and the community.
How would you collaborate with your constituents, specifically parents and educators, to benefit students?
Despite City Council’s limited powers, it’s important to note that the key concerns of city residents—housing affordability, public transportation, a healthy local economy, and climate resilience—all have very direct impacts on families, educators, and students. Reliable and affordable city services make an essential contribution to the ability of students to learn and thrive.
Services provided by the City (for example, programs of the Parks & Recreation department) can and should supplement the school district’s offerings.
Collaboration begins in conversation, and I have pledged to meet our residents where they are to discuss what matters to them.
How would you advocate for our schools’ needs with local and state governments? Please include what you will do as a public official to ensure that public education is a budget priority and that local government provides adequate funding for high-quality public schools for all children.
I look forward to the opportunity to be a public advocate for the needs and concerns of educators, families, and children. I’m not shy about bringing forward what I learn in conversation with constituents, and I’m more than willing to speak out in my capacity both as a Councilmember and a citizen with policymakers at the county, state, and even national level. I’ll gladly use whatever media platform that comes with the office to draw attention to our schools’ need for improved funding to boost both educator and staff pay and improve our ability to achieve truly equitable education outcomes.
Public schools in our community are funded through a mix of state and local taxes. Do you believe the state’s funding is adequate? Do you believe local funding is adequate? What changes, if any, would you support to the current funding?
The state’s funding is clearly not adequate. By playing politics and preying on uninformed voters’ fears, the Republican-majority General Assembly has made everything harder for educators, undermined public confidence in public schools, and deprioritized fully funding our educational system.
On the local level, recent investigations by Urban 3 have revealed how county property assessments significantly overvalue property in our poorest, historically redlined and segregated communities. Our legacy Black neighborhoods are bearing a disproportionate burden of taxation. Until this serious inequity is addressed it would be deeply unjust to raise school taxes.
I have been repeatedly advocating both at County Commission and at City Council budget meetings for a better, broader, and more automated way to provide meaningful tax abatement to those who have been hurt the most. So far, neither body has chosen to base automatic tax mitigation (through grants) on already available information about length of home ownership, percentage of valuation increase, and assessed value. Instead, they’ve chosen to make residents apply and jump through unnecessary hoops, thus missing a huge portion of the population who deserve relief. (It would also be much cheaper to administer.)
If these two matters could be favorably resolved, then a local school tax increase would be much more appropriate.
How do you see the role of your potential office in supporting families of marginalized populations, particularly in the areas of racial and social justice?
Our city school system can take steps to cease its contributions to the school-to-prison pipeline. City policy can reduce unwarranted and excessive police intervention in the educational environment. We can put more emphasis on social services intervention and support, avoiding escalation and criminalization in interactions with students.
As mentioned earlier, the city-wide concerns of housing affordability, food security, public transportation, and climate resilience all have a harsher impact on our marginalized residents. The more we do as a city to ensure equitable access to these essential needs and services, the more support we’ll be easing the life and economic stresses on our most vulnerable populations.
Evaluate how well our districts serve and meet the needs of our students. What accounts for the gap in achievement scores between students of different demographic groups, including the significant disparity in discipline referrals and standardized test scores between Black and White students. How will you work locally and with the state legislature to address this disparity?
It is shameful and inexcusable that our local achievement gap is reportedly the fifth highest in nation. Local government should be making it a priority to turn that around, and promptly. And our representatives at the state and national level should be working right alongside us to ensure we have the resources to do that. Rather than sending $600M+ of sales tax income to the DoT for roadways, for example, we should be investing more in the well- being and education our children.
To name the causes of these disparate outcomes is straightforward: they arise from a centuries-long history of systemic racism combined with deeply embedded and often unacknowledged individual implicit bias. To address these causes is a monumental and essential responsibility.
Every educator and all supervisory staff should have regular implicit bias training. In Asheville and Buncombe, we have a Reparations Commission that I anticipate will be considering how reparations can have a role in bringing an end to the education achievement gap. City resources should be allocated to enable intensive supportive tutoring and coaching for those students who need it. Outreach and support to families must ensure that they have stable housing, high-quality nutrition, pre-school care, after- school programs, and physical safety at home help create the conditions that make successful learning possible.
What is your long-term vision for our districts’ schools over the next five to ten years? As a part of your vision, please discuss your vision for retention and recruitment of both certified and classified public school staff.
My vision would be to empower educators, students, and their families and communities to participate in public schooling that prepares every child to lead a productive, vibrant, and creative life.
I can’t speak for educators, but it seems to me that if you want to recruit and retain excellent and committed employees you have to give them great working conditions, support them in their expertise, pay them not just what they need to survive but what they deserve in order to thrive, and ensure that they have the opportunity to continue learning and growing as professionals. Other staff in our schools deserve the same support and respect.
Are there any additional comments you would like to make?
A society can be judged by the quality of education available to all its citizens. And that holds true for local communities as well. If we are not affording every child in Asheville access to a rich, individually appropriate, well-resourced learning environment, then we’re failing as a city. If we’re not supporting the basic human needs of families, so that children can go to school ready to learn, then we’re failing as a city. Every child that ‘falls through the cracks’ is on US as a community. We can and must do better.
Our democracy depends on informed, educated, capable citizens—and public education is meant to ensure that every one of us well-prepared to participate in and contribute to the glorious undertaking of democratic self-government.
I believe my values and policy priorities are in alignment with the goals of those who have committed themselves to public education, and I would be very honored to receive the endorsement of the ACAE/BCAE.