LUMBERTON — The Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County is continuing its search to find a superintendent after taking no action Monday night.
The board met tonight but made no decision on hiring a candidate for the top job in the school district after previously whittling down the field of 21 to three finalists.
After more than an hour in closed session, about half of which was spent with Allison Schafer and her team from the North Carolina School Boards Association, the board made a statement.
“The board has unanimously agreed to regroup and continue the search,” said Grady Hunt, attorney for the school board.
While no action was taken on hiring a superintendent, the school board did elect Peggy Wilkins-Chavis as chairman in a 6-5 vote, doing so after she was nominated by board member Steve Martin.
Before the vote and during the public comment period of the meeting, Chavis’ ability to lead the board was questioned.
Joshua Malcolm, an attorney and parent of child in the district, asked the board not to elect Chavis as chairman.
“There are many that do not desire Peggy Chavis as chairman because we, Ma’am, we do not think you have the competency or the temperament,” Malcolm said.
Malcolm’s comments received sustained applause from the near-full chamber at City Hall, where the meeting was held.
After Malcolm, Gary Locklear, a former Superior Court judge, spoke of his desire for the board not to pick a superintendent based on race. Locklear also accused the board of “running off” the most qualified candidate for the job and referenced a Sunday editorial by The Robesonian, and handed out copies of it to each member of the board.
“Why would any person in their right mind take a job as superintendent in this county when six people came into a meeting unannounced and fired a guy with 18 months to go on his contract?” Locklear said, before urging the board to unite.
He was referring to a 6-5 decision by the board on Jan. 10 to fire Tommy Lowry as superintendent. Brian Freeman, Dwayne Smith, Martin, Randy Lawson, Wilkins-Chavis and Charles Bullard voted to fire Lowry, and they were a block in selecting Wilkins-Chavis as chairman. Voting against both times were Mike Smith, Loistine DeFreece, Brenda Fairley-Ferebee, Craig Lowry and John Campbell.
In January, Locklear and Malcolm represented two children from the Public Schools of Robeson County in a lawsuit attempting to reverse the firing of Lowry and hiring Virginia-based educator Thomas Graves as his replacement.
Under pressure and after it came to light that the Board of Education had violated its own policy on hiring a superintendent withpit advertising the position, the board rescinded, Graves’ appointment.
Graves’ local booster Ben Chavis was in attendance at the meeting Monday but played no part.
Locklear referred to the board members as “The Six,” borrowing from a reference The Robesonian has used. Freeman was elected chairman by the same vote.
Chavis’ election was greeted with an audible sigh from the audience.
The Robesonian has been told by multiple sources that the superintendent’s job was offered, but had not been accepted. The Robesonian knows that person’s name but has elected not to publish it.
Wilkins-Chavis also blamed The Robesonian for running off a finalist, but did not name that person. The Robesonian published only one name of a finalist, Eric Bracey, now the superintendent of the Sampson County system. That happened only after Campbell went on Facebook and accused the six board members of refusing to hire Bracey because he is black. The Robesonian then published his name after having it for more of a week.
The Robesonian has been told he withdrew his candidacy, and that another finalist, a black like Bracey, has been hired for another job.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly