09/08/05 — Duplin schools chief will retire

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Duplin schools chief will retire

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on September 8, 2005 1:47 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Duplin County School Superintendent Tommy Benson will finish his career in a little more than a month, but his school year will continue.

Benson announced at Tuesday's Duplin Board of Education meeting that he will retire Oct. 1 after 35 years in education, most of it spent in his hometown. After that, he will contract with the system for an additional six months.

He will not finish out the school year.

Board of Education chairman Emily Manning said she is confident the district will be able to find a replacement before Benson's departure, but added she is sad to see him go.

The district is planning to conduct a nationwide search through the School Board Association to find a new superintendent. That process is expected to be completed well before Benson's contract ends.

The James Kenan High School graduate said after leaving UNC Chapel Hill he spent his first three years as an educator in Edgecombe County.

"At that time there were plenty of teachers, and I couldn't get a job at home," he said.

But it's different today, he said. Anybody who lives in Duplin County and wants to teach, can get a job with the Duplin County school system.

The Duplin schools are almost fully staffed despite the teacher shortage. He said the school system has filled all vacancies except for two, one in math and science and the other in special education.

His best memories center around people.

"There have been really great people to work with, the kids -- that's why you do this -- and folks in the community who care about the schools and the parents who want the best for their kids."

Benson said he hasn't decided what he's going to do after the six months ends, but he's not one to sit and do nothing. He will be doing something, whatever it is.

The roughest times during his education career were dealing with Hurricane Floyd in 1999 and the blastomycosis scare in 2002 that infected eight people and took the life of an 81-year-old man.

The hardest job was getting a school building plan approved, and then funded.

"It was fairly accepted by most of the community. It was a three-year process of study, developing plans and getting community input and revamping it," Benson said.

But although the board of education approved the $43 million plan this year, the county commissioners were reluctant to appropriate money for the project. One of the commissioners, David Fussell of Wallace, said it would take a 14-cent tax increase to pay for the building project. And even if the county were able to sell the idea of a bond issue for school buildings, that, too, would come down to a tax increase.

The issue is still being debated.