School board fills up Wooten’s tank

We can imagine the collective groan across Robeson County on Wednesday morning when the headline to our story on the meeting of the Board of Education — “Wooten gets OK to add 3 administrators” — was being read, and the grumbling that followed, about a top-heavy central office getting heavier, and that money for those salaries and benefits could be better spent directly on the students.

Deservedly or otherwise, the administration for the Public Schools of Robeson County has an entrenched reputation of being bloated and overpaid. But the local system, with a shade under 24,000 students, is large, with a pupil population that ranks about 15th highest in North Carolina, as well as 42 schools and more than 2,000 educators.

Remember as well, when Shanita Wooten, formerly an assistant superintendent of Administration and Technology and Maintenance, was named as superintendent, the system went from four assistant superintendents to three. There are no plans to hire another assistant superintendent, and Wooten continues to perform some maintenance oversight because of the continuing issues that relate to Hurricane Matthew, with the other three assistant superintendents picking up the other slack.

So if the central office was bloated a year ago, it is less so now.

On Monday, the school board, in a 9-2 vote, gave permission to Wooten to hire what she sees as three key positions — an executive director of curriculum instruction and accountability, a schools transformations director and a science supervisor. A page 1A story today by staff writer Reid Beaman provides a little additional clarity on what Wooten envisions for those new positions, the salaries for which will come from federal funds for low-wealth districts such as ours.

Loistine DeFreece and Brenda Fairley-Ferebee voted against, with DeFreece, a former educator, saying she was concerned about a top-heavy administration. Fairley-Ferebee called this newspaper to clarify her position, saying she was supportive of hiring an assistant superintendent to take on Wooten’s former duties, but not three additional administrators.

We were pleased to see the board, which has been chronically split at 6-5, come together for the most part in support of Wooten. We have been told by board members on — for lack of a better description — both sides of the aisle, that Wooten has performed well at the beginning of her tenure.

Her assignment, difficult enough because of our demographics and the Matthew hangover, is not made easier by the fact that she didn’t apply for the position and assumed it by default, when board members could not agree on an applicant. So she needs a supportive board.

Does she need three more people roaming the central office? We don’t know, but believe it is her call to make.

One thing is clear: Our school system, which the state’s report card issued last week once again demonstrates, is failing our students as we trail in all the important metrics except the graduation rate. And it has been that way for decades.

We can think of no stronger testimony in favor of abandoning the status quo and trying to do things differently. Wooten has been given the keys to the car, but she needs fuel in the tank as well.

The school board on Monday gave her some high octane. Let’s see how far she can drive the system forward.