Earl McKee is running for a second term to represent District 2 on the Orange County Board of Commissioners.

He insists that, just as when he first ran in 2010, his top priority now is the school system.

“We have a great deal of deferred needs with the school system — capital improvements and repairs,” he says. “But we also have immediate needs in the classroom.”

According to McKee, those needs include providing better wages for teachers, and keeping teachers’ assistants in classrooms. He points to recent actions by the North Carolina General Assembly as a source of some of the problems faced by Orange County schools.

“It has been a concern over the last couple of years,” he says, “with the cuts that have been coming from the state. And what I see is reallocation of the lottery funds, which causes more and more responsibility to fall on the counties.”

McKee says he will continue to advocate for modest funding increases on a per-student basis.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners has held the line on raising taxes for the past five years. McKee says the last four of those years can be credited to the ability of the Board to shift funding from year-to-year, as well as refinancing some long-term bonds, and deferring funding that was not considered essential in the short term.

But now, as those options seem to be running out, the question remains: Where is the money going to come from to keep schools running as parents and teachers expect? And how is Orange County going to resolve its solid waste and recycling problems?

Is the answer higher taxes? McKee says he won’t pursue raises taxes just as a means of “scouring up a few extra dollars.”

“But if we come to a position that we need additional funding to provide for the school system; if we come to the point where we need additional funding to provide for public safety issues, affordable housing issues…you can go right on down the list of things that are facing us. Then, in that case, I will consider it.”

McKee’s challenger in this year’s race is fellow Democrat Mark Marcoplos, a green builder from Bingham Township. There are no Republicans running for the District 2 seat, so the May 6 primary will determine the next commissioner for that district.

Marcoplos has twice chaired the board of Orange Water and Sewer Authority, and he’s long been active in environmental issues. He recently told WCHL that he would bring environmental experience to the table that McKee couldn’t match. McKee says that as a farmer, he would dispute that. He says one advantage he has over Marcoplos is his own “recent experience.”

“Mr. Marcoplos has had quite a bit of experience,” says McKee. “Most of it was in the nineties.”

(In the coming weeks, WCHL will reach out to candidates in all local races.)