School board’s next step unclear

By: By Mike Gellatly -

LUMBERTON — The split Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County has failed in a first attempt to hire a superintendent, and now will “regroup,” but it’s unclear what that means.

Will the board go back to the list of 21 “qualified” candidates that has dwindled, or add to the list by readvertising the position? The few board members willing to speak with a reporter of The Robesonian seemed unsure.

Regardless, the cost will not rise much beyond what has already been spent, said Allison Schafer, the North Carolina School Boards Association director of policy who is overseeing the search. The cost for Schafer’s team to search for candidates starts at $17,50o and additional expenses, including background checks, are added as they are incurred.

“We are in the middle of the search … If the board decides to do something different there is no extra charge,” Schafer said.

Schafer said her team was still very much involved.

“We are there until the candidate is selected,” Schafer said.

Neither Schafer nor any school board member would expand on what the next step in the superintendent search would be.

“We are just regrouping as a board, period,” board member Brenda Fairley-Ferebee said. “We’ve got to regroup as a board and take a stand. We have got to come together first. We need to know the direction we need to go as a board.”

The board has been split 6-5 since firing Tommy Lowry on Jan. 10, and then voting to hire a Virginia educator by the same slim margin. That hire fell through when it was found that the board had broken its own policy requiring the position be advertised.

The split has put Chairman Peggy Wilkins-Chavis, Brian Freeman, Dwayne Smith, Steve Martin, Randy Lawson and Charles Bullard in one corner, and Fairley-Ferebee, Mike Smith, Craig Lowry, John Campbell and Loistine DeFreece in the other corner.

The board’s split was apparent again when the same six would not honor Tommy Lowry with a resolution at the request of the Pembroke Kiwanis Club.

The board on Monday elected Wilkins-Chavis chairman and Freeman vice chairman in 6-5 votes.

The school board took no action Monday on hiring a candidate despite indications it was ready to do so. Instead the board released a statement.

“The board has unanimously decided to regroup and continue in earnest its search for a superintendent and we will not make a decision tonight on the superintendent,” attorney Grady Hunt said that night on behalf of the board.

No member of the board offered an explanation when asked Monday, nor was an explanation received when The Robesonian reached out Tuesday to every member of the board.

“I think the way he worded it, we are just continuing the search, we haven’t chosen a superintendent,” Mike Smith said. “All I’d say is that we are looking for a school superintendent.”

“We are continuing the search, that’s all I’ll say,” Lawson said.

Board member Dwayne Smith echoed Lawson’s comment.

Martin refused to comment.

Calls to DeFreece, Wilkins-Chavis, Freeman, Bullard, Campbell and Craig Lowry were not returned.

The superintendent search was whittled to three finalists in the last week or so.

Campbell made public one of the finalist’s names, Eric Bracey, now the superintendent of the Sampson County school system on Facebook when he accused some members of the board of not supporting Bracey because he is black. Bracey has been a superintendent for eight years, and was recently recognized by one organization as the Superintendent of the Year in North Carolina.

Bracey apparently withrew his candidacy when his name became public.

A second finalist, who is also black, got another position, The Robesonian has learned.

The third finalist, which appeared to be favored by six members of the board, is a director of Secondary Education for a North Carolina school system. The Robesonian knows but has decided not to publish his name so his current employment is not put at risk.

Multiple sources have told The Robesonian he withdrew as a candidate, but it’s unclear if that decision was because of a pay disagreement or because of concerns related to the divided board.

Shanita Wooten has been serving as interim superintendent. The start of school is about six weeks away.

The original timeline called for the new superintendent to have been named by July 1.
Split board is ‘regrouping’ in search

By Mike Gellatly

Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly

Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly