LUMBERTON — The Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County on Tuesday hired the North Carolina School Boards Association to conduct its search for a new superintendent, while some board members tried to remove the local board from the process.
Allison Schafer, the association’s director of policy, outlined for the board the six-month process her organization goes through in order to select the best superintendent candidates. Schafer and her associates also sought input from the board on an advertisement for the position that will be posted immediately.
Schafer explained the legal limits of what her organization can do and how state law mandates the school board must make the final decision. This was offered in response to a suggestion that the board should be removed from the selection process because it lacks the trust of Robeson County residents.
“Dr. Schafer, I think the credibility of this board, as far as selecting a superintendent, is not very good as far as the trustworthiness in this county,” board member Craig Lowry said.
Lowry and other members said they wanted the association to conduct a search independent of the board and return to it a final list of three to five candidates. However, Schafer explained that her body does not recommend candidates, rather they seek them out using criteria set by the school board.
“The honest truth is, it is, by law, the board of education’s decision to be made,” Schafer said. “We want the board to feel like it is their choice not our imposition. We really do try to stay out of the decision-making process.”
Schafer also offered the board specialized training to help members work as a team.
In January, the board split 6-4 over the firing of former Superintendent Tommy Lowry. An attempt by six members to hire Virginia-based educator Thomas Graves was made in violation of the board’s policy to advertise the position, raised accusations that some board members violated open-meetings laws, and prompted a lawsuit. The board withdrew is offer later. Graves has indicated he intends to apply for the position once it is advertised.
The North Carolina School Boards Association has assisted with the last four searches for Robeson County superintendent candidates. The current search will cost the school district an estimated $25,000. The price tag includes a base cost of $18,500 plus expenses related to bringing in candidates for interviews. Under the timeline offered Tuesday, the new superintendent would start work Aug. 1.
Board members were advised to forward any candidates they have to the North Carolina School Boards Association to avoid personal contact.
“Let us handle the candidates. Every board member gets the same information and it’s fair. No one is talking to candidates privately,” Schafer said.
The board also heard an update from Hugh McIlwain, director of Internal Affairs and Finance, on progress being made related to Hurricane Matthew recovery.
McIlwain said the total cost to replace the public school’s fleet of vehicles would be around $2.9 million. The district lost 96 vehicles to flooding, 92 of which were insured. The vehicles not insured weren’t in use and were more than 30 years old.
The maintenance department, the book room, print shop, and a portion of the child nutrition department are currently working out of a warehouse on U.S. 74 near Lumberton. A proposal to bring that facility up to code has been received from the Pembroke engineering firm of Locklear, Locklear and Jacobs. The cost would be about $1.5 million. There have been significant problems finding buildings to work out of that are not in flood zones.
Chairman Loistine DeFreece expressed concern that students at W.H. Knuckles Elementary School have been eating cold lunches in their gym since the October storm because the school’s cafeteria was destroyed. Bids on work to repair the cafeteria are open until March 3 and the cafeteria will be out of use for the rest of the school year, she said.
Board member Brian Freeman was critical of delays in many projects and of the time it has taken to get work contracts signed. The board plans to meet within a week to focus on those issues. No meeting date was set on Tuesday.
In other business, the board:
— Named Michelle Ivey, of Rowland Norment Elementary School, the regional assistant teacher of the year. She is one of eight finalists for the statewide award.
— Voted to extend leasing space at Native Angels for central office employees for three months beyond April 1. The cost, which is based on square footage, is about $9,000 a month.
— Was told that Barnes and Noble bookstores held a book drive across the Southeastern United States to help replace books lost during the hurricane. The names of books lost or damaged were submitted by students.
— Was told the North Carolina High School Athletics Association collected donations statewide during Hurricane Matthew Recovery Nights in October and November. As a result, Robeson County will receive $15,000 to assist with repairs to athletic facilities throughout the district.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly