Group wants state to come in and fix local schools

By: T.C. Hunter - Managing editor

LUMBERTON — A petition asking state education leaders to come to intervene and correct perceived problems within the Public Schools of Robeson County has surfaced on the internet.

A letter accompanying the petition posted by the group Advocates for Better Education is directed at the N.C. Board of Education and the state schools superintendent, but the letter did not mention Mark Johnson by name.

“ABE is an advocacy group dedicated to improving the Public Schools of Robeson County (PSRC). We are deeply concerned about the financial and administrative condition of the Public Schools of Robeson County,” the letter reads in part.

Specifically, the group asks in the letter that state education leaders come to the county and “take all necessary and appropriate action to immediately address any mismanagement of PSRC resources which will cause direct harm to our schools and students.” The group asks for investigation and corrective action in the areas of fiscal management, personnel policies, code of conduct ethics, and systematic dysfunction.

The letter cites recent actions by members of the school board and district leaders

“During a meeting of the school board on Tuesday, May 14, 2019, a board member said the school district is ‘broke’ and that the superintendent is facing legal matters requiring additional legal representation. The board members appeared to have limited information about the budget or these legal needs,” the letter reads.

The letter also points out that the school board has admitted there is a budget deficit and will need financial help from the Robeson County Board of Commissioners.

“The administration has recommended cuts to programs and services in order to balance its mismanaged budget. This information has created chaos among PSRC staff and parents,” the letter reads.

The petition can be read and signed by going to http://chng.it/9Tz2r2RcQV. It had 52 signatures on Friday at 7 p.m.

The state Board of Education can remove a public schools superintendent under circumstances set forth in NC General Statutes; Chapter 115C.

Section 115C-274, titled “Removal,” reads in part, “The identification by the State Board of Education of more than half the schools in a local school administrative unit as low-performing under G.S. 115C-105.37 is evidence that the superintendent is unable to fulfill the duties of the office, and the State Board may appoint an interim superintendent to carry out the duties of the superintendent under G.S. 115C-105.39, may revoke the superintendent’s certificate under this section, may dismiss the superintendent under G.S. 115C-105.39, or may take any combination of these actions.”

The same general statute chapter also sets forth criteria for suspending a local school board.

Subsection B of 115C-39, titled “Suspension of duties by State Board,” reads, “In the event the State Board of Education has appointed an interim superintendent under G.S. 115C-105.39 and the State Board determines that the local board of education has failed to cooperate with the interim superintendent, the State Board shall have the authority to suspend any of the powers and duties of the local board and to act on its behalf under G.S. 115C-105.39.”

Rumblings of dissatisfaction with the management performance of the school board and leaders of the school district have grown louder over the past few months. Residents have watched district leaders struggle with financial problems exacerbated by declining student enrollment. Fewer students mean fewer state dollars to fund schools operation.

In a move to address at least part of the $2 million-deficit problem, Superintendent Shanita Wooten has asked that the contracts of 30 district employees not be renewed for the 2019-20 academic year in an effort to reduce staff. But The Robesonian has been told all 30 employees appealed.

The school board has scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday and personnel will be discussed.

Residents also have watched and questioned local education leaders about the lack of consistent action to rebuild the central office complex and West Lumberton Elementary School, both rendered unusable by Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. On at least two occasions district leaders did not apply for state funding to build a new school because they did not have a site selected on which to build a new school and a plan for building a new school to present to the funding authorities.

School board members and district leaders have talked about consolidating schools in order to reduce operations cost, but have done little more than talk.

It was suggested during the May 14 school board meeting that the board members have a retreat and talk more about the problems assailing Robeson County’s public schools. None has been scheduled.

The advocacy group last year championed an effort to end corporal punishment in the county schools. The local system at the time was one of only two in the state that allowed it, but ended its use in a split vote.

T.C. Hunter

Managing editor

Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]

Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974 or via email at [email protected]