HendersonvillePete Zamplas

Jay Egolf: School board hopeful calls for thinking plausibly outside the box

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Egolf, 47, in his first run for public office is among several candidates going for three seats on the board. The election is Nov. 6, with no primaries since the seats are non-partisan.

School Board Chr. Amy Lynn Holt is running for a third four-year term on the board. The other two seats up for election are open, as incumbents Colby Coren and Lisa Edwards did not file to run again.

This enables at least two of the five newcomers on the ballot to get voted onto the board. The challengers (in alphabetical order) are Ted Beddingfield, retired North Henderson High School teacher Dot Case, Stacey Caskey of Mills River, Jay Egolf, and Randy Ward.

Egolf is not bashing the current board, but sees room for improvement. “They do a great job. But there are always better ideas,” he told The Tribune. “I can add to that. I’d be a positive influence on the board.” Egolf points to his business experience and common-sense approach, conservative and Christian principle. He said he is also flexible on many matters, in pursuit of “exploring different ideas to see how plausible and workable they are.”

He wants to keep a lid on school spending, and taxpayer burdens. “I don’t like debt — personal debt, or county debt. You can’t make it a habit of spending more than you’re taking in. You have to look at what money is available, and make a decision falling in line with that. I’m very tight, in general. You can’t over-spend.” He said “I’m a hair less conservative than my dad” Jeff Egolf overall.

John Jason “Jay” Egolf has been Egolf Motors’ “dealer principal” for a half-decade, succeeding his father in 2013. Personable Jay has been the family’s TV ad frontman for 14 years, starting when his son Jace was an infant. Jay sold cars in Salt Lake City, Utah for five years, before returning to Egolf Motors in 2000.

Frugality is a tenet of his business experience, in budgeting and weighing spending versus revenues as he would on the school board. He is also versed in staffing, operations, service and public relations. He has a business administration degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Above all, he said, “My dad is my greatest teacher, on how to run a business. You gotta be profitable, but treat customers well.” John Farris (“Jeff”) Egolf III served three tours in Vietnam, in 1966-69.

The Egolfs have adapted to the times and places, in car sales. Jeff’s father Bud Egolf, a WWII vet, started selling cars in 1948 in Illinois. Bud first owned a dealership there, in 1961. He moved it here in 1972, when buying out Pete Folsom’s Chrysler dealership. Egolf Motors has flourished for decades, with Jeff taking over in 1984. Jeff retired in 2013 as the Egolfs sold their Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram truck dealership on Duncan Hill Road. The dealer there is Hendersonville Chrysler.

The Egolfs still sell those brands at Egolf in Brevard, by their Ford dealership near the entrance to Pisgah National Forest. The Egolfs are still in Hendersonville cross-town, with Egolf in Hendersonville used vehicles at 1325 Spartanburg Hwy/U.S. 176.

Jay Egolf learned hard work as a youth. “I mowed lawns for $5 an hour, pushing that mower up and down hills in Indian Hills. I even shovelled manure, in the Ag Center.”

Negotiating deals tirelessly is among skills Jay Egolf would bring to the board, from running the business. He said that the school board at times “doesn’t do enough to talk and work things out. We can be more open.”

Through his work “you meet all sorts of people here — people with good jobs, not with good jobs, with good credit, not with good credit. You have to find a way to make things work out. Find the best price. Structure the deal, so the bank will buy into it. You have to negotiate, and compromise.” Similarly, on decisions for schools, “you have to be flexible. Give a little, to get a little.”

He is optimistic about the school board working with commissioners, despite some testy turf battles in recent years. “I don’t believe someone is too unbending. They’re merely firm in their beliefs,” Egolf reasoned. “You can show that by giving a little, they (commissioners) can get what they want most. Show them a different path. You compromise a little bit. Think outside the box.”

He is leery of hasty and pressured “long-term decisions,” also of quickly dismissing ideas. “It’s fine to be critical of an idea, but don’t stifle it.”

He wants Henderson County to expand supply of laptop computers to students, so as in Transylvania there can be required “virtual learning days” whenever school is cancelled such as from snow. “Students use (Google) Chromebooks at home, to complete school work,” he noted. “This allows learning to continue, while also limiting the number of make up days.” He noted students have to go to school this week, on Good Friday.

The issues over HHS’ new school and current facilities sparked his interest in school issues, and running for the school board. He was a regular at meetings, for over the past year.

He calls for creative ideas regarding how to use HHS’ historic Stillwell classroom building, once a new high school is ready. The plan is that to happen in fall of 2020.

Moving the central office and/or non-profits into Stillwell is the common approach. Egolf said in talking with citizens, there is growing support for “arts and other uses, as well as the central office.”

He said there is hope that guidelines enable “shifting state grant money, to Stillwell” improvements. Stillwell’s useful life is getting extended, with spending authorized by county commissioners. Its upcoming renovations include with the roof, heating and cooling, and “enclosing the fire escapes, so people don’t get hurt,” Egolf noted. “A lot has to be done, to make it safe and the (athletic) fields safe. It’s such a hairy issue created.”

Egolf urges exploring a temporary use of Stillwell for continued classroom use, such as for a half-decade. This would be for displaced students as the next school construction phase happens at East Henderson High and Hendersonville and Bruce Drysdale elementaries. He suggests students at those schools take turns using Stillwell as a temporary home during renovations, and particularly after HHS students have moved across the campus to their new school.

“You could move students to Stillwell while doing capital project at their schools, and after doing all this to Stillwell to make it safe,” he suggested. “The learning environment is much better than in trailers. You save money by not having to construct trailers. And you’re still getting use out of Stillwell.”

Having two local high schools on parts of the same campus seems ticklish. Yet Egolf reasons “kids come together from different schools, such as in church” and can co-exist temporarily on a shared campus. His wife Jennifer Jones Egolf graduated from East, a half-decade after Jay did in ‘89 from HHS. Jay was a Bearcat soccer “sweeper” defender, swam, played tennis, wrestled, and was in band.

Their son Jace is an HHS freshman. Jace manages Bearcat varsity football, and films basketball games. Through this experience, the Egolfs have seen good East-HHS camaraderie more than fierce sports rivalry. “When the JV games were done, many (Bearcat) JV players sat on the East side with East players to watch varsity games,” Jay said. “For a year, the kids can deal with it. Whatever problems it might cause, they’ll go by fast.”

The Egolf daughters are Beck in sixth grade, and Charlotte in second grade. Jay notes “we have three kids in the Henderson County school system, and I went 13 years through the system.” He realizes the schools’ underlining aim is to “prepare youths to take on life. I want to make sure we’re doing our best at that.”

Egolf is outspoken on school safety and gun control, issues making news after recent attacks on schools across the nation. “Having three kids” in local schools, “safety is first and foremost” to the Egolf family, he assured. He cautions that gun control will not in itself solve school violence, as social “problems are larger.” He skipped the March for our Lives in town Saturday, which he saw as evolving from school safety to gun control.

“If we limit guns, another weapon of choice will be discovered,” he stated on Facebook. “For example, look at the recent package bombings in Austin, Texas. Let’s not focus on how something was done, but why and the prevention of future tragedies. Let’s look at mental health care, support within schools such as with increased guidance counseling, entrance restrictions, policies like locking every classroom door, cameras, instant panic buttons, increased parental involvement, etc…We all have the same goal. We want our kids to be safe.”

Safety is also among his concerns for the future HHS campus, and its various possible uses. “You have to provide safety for the students. You have to find a way to have more parking, and to provide ongoing funding. That (1926) Stillwell building is over 90 years old. It needs work. It’s good to spend on Stillwell. But you have to find a way, going forward, for another use that provides safety and enough ongoing parking.”

He agreed with this reporter’s comparison of the old Stillwell building and a used car traded in to Egolf. “You have to find out how many miles are on it, and how much work it’ll take.”

He is reluctant to give up on Stillwell, at least unless it turns out to be far beyond feasible repair and upkeep. “Everybody says ‘don’t tear it down. I would hate to see it demolished. I would think it can be used in some way.”

To avoid an ongoing Stillwell money pit, he hopes it generates rental or other revenue. Stillwell’s gem is its auditorium, which has occasional public use. “Stillwell needs money coming in, to keep fixing it,” Egolf said.

“If you could move the central office there from Rosa Edwards, that would secure administrative funding. Then use Rosa Edwards to increase uses of the nearby library and its parking. The county population keeps increasing. We can make the main library for the public bigger and better.”

Finally, when asked about any critics of his ideas if elected, he said “I don’t want them to hide behind a social network. Call me. Let’s meet for lunch. Explain your views. Give me a chance to talk about it.” In such ways Jay is a chip off of the old block engine, so to speak. Jeff Egolf once said of his business style, “There’s nothing like face-to-face communication, to understand each other.”

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