LUMBERTON — The Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County met with the person in charge of the search for a new superintendent on Saturday, but took no official action on the matter, with one board member leaving the meeting early and others not commenting.
Before the board retreated to closed session, it for a second time voted down a civic group’s request that it honor a 38.5-year educator with a resolution that the club hoped to present him during Lumbee Homecoming.
Allison Schafer, head of policy for the North Carolina School Board Association, joined the board at the system’s Transportation Classroom at 621 Kenric Road as it met for 90 minutes behind closed doors with the only interruption being board member John Campbell leaving abruptly.
About an hour into discussions, Campbell stormed out.
“It’s nothing but a bunch of foolishness,” Campbell said as he exited. “I don’t have time for that.”
Campbell would not elaborate on what he was referring to specifically.
After the private session the board took no action and adjourned the meeting. Several members, when asked, declined to comment, including Chairman Loistine DeFreece.
Before the closed session, the board again rejected a resolution to honor Tommy Lowry, who was fired as the schools chief on Jan. 10. A motion to honor Lowry failed with six votes against.
Ten of the 11 board members were at the meeting, with the 11th, Brenda Fairley-Ferebee absent because of a family emergency but participating by teleconference.
The Pembroke Kiwanis Club had planned to present the resolution to Lowry on July 8 during a 5-K race it sponsors as part of Homecoming.
DeFreece, who placed it on Saturday’s agenda, at first asked for a voice vote, and there were votes sounded for and against, so she asked for a show of hands of those who opposed the resolution. For the second time, Dwayne Smith, Brian Freeman, Peggy Wilkins-Chavis, Randy Lawson and Steve Martin voted against, and they were joined in opposition by Charles Bullard, who attended the June 13 meeting when it was first considered, but left before the vote.
There was no opportunity for a show of hands in favor, but on June 13 DeFreece, Mike Smith, Campbell, Craig Lowry and Fairley-Ferebee had voted in favor.
All members of the school board declined to comment on the vote.
The resolution didn’t dwell on Lowry’s superintendency, but recounted his career as an educator that included teaching and coaching, highlighted his efforts following Hurricane Matthew, including using school resources to help victims, and ended with the Board of Education wishing to “extend to Mr. Lowry best wishes for many years of good health and happiness during retirement and all future endeavors.”
Mike Smith, who voted in favor on June 13, called the board’s action at that time “mean-spirited,” saying the resolution was just a “gesture.” The Robesonian tried to contact all five board members who voted against at the time — eight votes were need to advance the resolution — and just two spoke with the newspaper. Dwayne Smith and Wilkins-Chavis both suggested that the system had tried to honor Lowry at a retirement dinner with a plaque, but he did not attend.
“Why should we bend over backways?” Dwayne Smith said.
They were referring to a retirement dinner for all the system’s retirees, and not specifically for Lowry.
The Robeson County Board of Commissioners, when asked, adopted a similar resolution honoring Lowry.
The board, after voting 6-5 to buy out Lowry’s contract on Jan. 20, moved to hire Thomas Graves, a Virginia educator, with Dwayne Smith, Lawson, Freeman, Martin, Wilkins-Chavis and Bullard voting in favor. It was subsequently determined the board had violated its own policy requiring it to advertise the position, and the offer was withdrawn.
Graves had said he would apply for the position, but The Robesonian has learned he was not among the finalists.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly