Six members of the Board of the Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County have a grand opportunity to flip one page on all the silliness that has dominated the headlines since Jan. 10, and admit they acted wrongly in the firing of Superintendent Tommy Lowry and the aborted hiring of Thomas Graves.
Dwayne Smith, Randy Lawson, Steve Martin, Charles Bullard, Peggy Wilkins-Chavis and Brian Freeman appear to be ready to write a new chapter to the madness — and see if they can turn a profit as well.
Should The Six just fess up, the lead attorney for a group of plaintiffs who have sued them as well as the full board, says that the lawsuit will go poof, clearing the deck for the next order of business, which is to find the right person to lead a school system that is failing by just about every metric of performance.
But The Six” instead have lawyered up, and are seeking $245,000 in compensation from the plaintiffs, minor children with no money. A story on page 1A today provides details.
The school board will hold a special meeting Thursday with the system’s lawyer, Grady Hunt, and Neil Yarborough, a high-octane lawyer retained by The Six, to talk about what is next.
The plaintiffs are asking that The Six admit that they violated the state’s open meetings law, if not its letter, its spirit, which asks public boards not to do the people’s business in the dark.
How else could a majority of an 11-member school board make the decision to fire one superintendent and hire another, one that most had not met, without the minority even knowing something was afoot? We see no way that could happen — and believe that a judge would agree.
As The Six dig in deeper, they will subject themselves to scrutiny that is unlikely to rehabilitate them, but could cause further damage to their reputations — and bank account — as their private correspondence becomes public when entered as evidence in a courtroom. Additionally, the public might finally get to hear what is said in those closed sessions.
The plaintiffs are determined to show that the board members not only acted illegally, but that some have not received the mandatory training in ethics, law and school board responsibilities required by the state to served on a school board.
If The Six were to take the high road, then the important work can begin, which is to find Lowry’s replacement. Returning him to the central office isn’t the answer, and neither is hiring Graves, because whoever takes on the task of trying to fix our schools needs to enjoy the support of the full board.
What The Six don’t understand, is that if they had gone about firing Lowry and hiring Graves in a transparent manner, then they would have enjoyed public support. People in this county are ready for new no-nonsense leadership in our schools, and that is more likely to come from outside the system than from within it.
The Six, by not taking their collective medicine, will widen the chasm that divides the board, complicating the important job of coming together and supporting whomever will be the next superintendent.
It seems clear to us that our public schools and those it serves, primarily the children and their families, are condemned to labor under a school board that is more interested in winning than in educating. The decision by The Six to not accept the offer of a truce is only the latest evidence of that.
Expect more Thursday.