Six members of the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County last week, with their willingness to make a decision as weighty as hiring a new superintendent in the dark and in violation of their own policy, actually put a bright light on their motives.
What happened last week was about egos and payback, and it dates all the way to 1988 and school merger, includes the way that Tommy Lowry was hired in 2015 as superintendent, shovels dirt onto any effort to build new schools, and even accommodates Ben Chavis’ wish to stick it to the central office.
Chavis, who wasn’t elected to direct our public schools, is driving this school bus anyway, which no one who is minimally conscious disputes. He is masterful, highly intelligent and capable of charisma, and those six school board members, even when all their IQ’s are totaled, were no match for him intellectually.
Chavis tricked them into hiring a superintendent we don’t think any had met except perhaps briefly, and Chavis has only known for a few months, and our poor school system will pay Thomas Graves $180,000 a year to perform a job that might be the most critical of all to this county’s future — and pay Lowry an equal amount to work his farm and otherwise relax.
Compare that with the standard protocol, which includes advertising, public input, vetting, typically with an assist from the North Carolina School Boards Association, interviews and second interviews — a pursuit that takes time and allows the public to follow along.
A shame is that Chavis is an effective educator who could do good here, but he prefers to make enemies, not friends, and separates instead of unites. Much of what happened last week, done a different way, we could applaud.
Chavis is also profrane, and enjoys namecalling, which is really easy to do but doesn’t advance much. As a demonstration of the ease with which that can be done, we offer this: Chavis is a narcissitic bully who will consider that a compliment.
There is room for civil discourse, especially in regards of matters of such gravity.
Where to from here? We don’t know, but one board member, Brian Freeman, is showing buyer’s remorse, and perhaps will switch teams to see if what has been done can be undone.
To be clear, we would have had no problem with Lowry’s dismissal if a board majority preferred, and what had followed was a genuine search that would adhere to policy and yields an offer to the best qualified candidate — and, had that happened, it might have been Graves.
But of the many things that our school board has shown itself incapable of, and that list is long, near the top is an ability to conduct a search for a superintendent that is thoughtful, determined and sturdy enough to stand up to political winds. We aren’t convinced that has been managed a single time since the merged system was formed. That it hasn’t been done, doesn’t relieve the board of that duty.
We have now written almost 500 words on Chavis, Graves, and last week’s actions of six members of our Board of Education, and those who are keen might notice whom we have not mentioned.
That has been purposeful, because none of all this is about them.