LUMBERTON — The schools superintendent’s plan to hire three new district-level administrators has raised in at least one school board member concerns of adding more weight to a public schools administration bloated with personnel who are straining the system’s financial resources.
Superintendent Shanita Wooten denies the central office is top-heavy, and says she is looking to advance a school system that trails other systems in most education metrics.
Brenda Fairley-Ferebee said she would have supported only hiring one person to fill Superintendent Shanita Wooten’s vacated assistant superintendent post. But she has concerns that hiring three more administrators will make the district even more “top heavy.
Wooten on Tuesday brought before the board her plan to hire an executive director of curriculum instruction and accountability, a schools transformations director and a science supervisor. Wooten was met with resistance from board members Loistine DeFreece and Ferebee, who voted against the hiring proposal. The board eventually approved the hiring plan on a 9-2 vote.
“The positions will be paid from the Title I, federal programs, the two executive director positions will start at $61,852 and the science supervisor begin at $56,164,” said Erica Setzer, district finance officer. “Both of the positions also include benefits.”
Wooten said the district must invest financially in its people and build a capacity to move the district forward.
“Our central office is not top heavy,” she said. “We have a very small curriculum staff, considering the great needs that a low-performing district typically has.”
The Public Schools of Robeson County is a low-performing district and no one strategy is going to fix it all, Wooten said.
Other board members see Wooten’s hiring plan as either a step in the right direction or a misstep.
Ferebee said Wednesday she didn’t mind supporting a hiring plan but would prefer the money intended for the new hires go to help struggling schools.
“Why add this on to schools that are already succeeding?” Ferebee said. “You have schools in trouble, you need to put something in place that is geared for the classroom.”
Like Ferebee, DeFreece voted against the hiring plan. On the day of the school board meeting she spoke with Wooten and told her she couldn’t approve of the plan, DeFreece said Wednesday.
“I’d rather the money go into the schools,” she said.
Now that the hiring plan has been approved she plans to support the process and what Wooten is doing, DeFreece said.
“I’m not opposed to central office positions. But we don’t have a lot of money and I’d like to see that money directly in the schools,” DeFreece said.
Mike Smith, one of the nine who voted in favor, believes Wooten needs the opportunity to lead the system.
“I think we can expect them to produce and move the test scores up,” Smith said. “We charged Dr. Wooten with moving our school system forward and gave her the autonomy to move the system forward,” he said.
The school board should give the plan about a year and then re-evaluate it to make sure the new hires are being productive, he said.
“We can’t add positions without evaluating them,” Smith said.
Craig Lowry also has high expectations for the hiring plan. He’s expecting the new administrators to oversee an improvement in academic performance, provide more leadership, and help improve test scores.
With the three new positions, Wooten expects to build a stronger curriculum team and strengthen the instructional program in the school district.
Some duties have been reassigned at the central office over the past few weeks to facilitate the creation of the three positions, she said.
“At this time, we are not filling my position as assistant superintendent of Administration,” Wooten said. “I continue to retain some of the maintenance duties because of my involvement with the hurricane recovery process.”
Most of her previous duties have been divided among her three cabinet members, Thomas Benson III, assistant superintendent of Human Resources; Elizabeth Younce, assistant superintendent of Instruction Support; and Robert Locklear, assistant superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction & Accountability, Wooten said.
Wooten was named superintendent after the school board searched for a replacement for Tommy Lowry, who was fired Jan. 10, but could not come to an agreement. She oversees a system of about 24,000 students, 15th most in the state, 42 schools and more than 2,000 educators.
Reid Beaman can be reached at 910-816-1989.