Duplin School Board fights over merger vote
By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on January 6, 2010 1:46 PM
KENANSVILLE - The Duplin County Board of Education took no action Tuesday night on a request by board member Willie Gillespie that the board rescind a facilities plan vote from December.
An attentive crowd overflowed into the hallway, many wearing the North Duplin Junior/Senior High School colors, as Gillespie again stated his case for leaving the room during the vote that included consolidating James Kenan High School and the North Duplin school.
In the past, it was customary that if a board member was absent, an important vote would be delayed, Gillespie said.
"I will just stop at calling the actions unfair," he said.
Gillespie brought the issue up for discussion during the board meeting, saying that he made every effort to attend the meeting following a medical procedure.
Chairman Reginald Kenan responded to the comments.
"This crowd is here tonight because of you. You have caused this," he told Gillespie.
Gillespie responded that his actions may have led to the situation, but the decision to leave due to medical reasons "was not careless on my part," he said.
"I expected if a vote was taken that I would receive a call," Gillespie said.
Kenan said that he did call Gillespie after the meeting, and that Gillespie asked him how the vote went.
Gillespie responded that Kenan told him the board had "approved the central high school building" and that they would talk about it later.
The board was working on a timeline and had to make a decision, Kenan said.
Board member Jennings Outlaw also voiced his thoughts on the matter.
"This is the most important vote taken that has not had all board members present," he said.
The board then moved on to approve the consent agenda.
During the meeting, Kenan requested that he and board members Hubert Bowden and Chuck Farrior meet with the county commissioners.
Commission chairman Cary Turner said Wednesday that he has had no recent direct contact with Kenan about a three-person meeting.
At one time, that possibility was mentioned during a closed session of the Duplin commissioners, but the intent was not to talk about facilities or the lawsuit, he said.
"When we heard that the appeal favored the Board of Education and we went into a closed session to discuss whether we wanted to appeal it to the Supreme Court, one of the things that was mentioned was could we get three of their members and three of ours so we could try to find some common ground, and it wasn't to talk about the lawsuit, it wasn't to talk about facilities, it was to find common ground to have a working relationship," Turner said.
Three members from each board do not constitute a quorum and therefore such a meeting would not have been open to the public.
He had hoped at the time to address the possibility of getting "smart boards" for all of the Duplin schools, after he saw the boards at North Duplin, he said.
Several people spoke during the Board of Education public comment period.
Duplin land and business owner Jennifer Barwick asked for the board members to make their case for the facilities plan, and provide answers to questions she has regarding the details of what it will mean for students and residents. She felt she did not have enough information to make a decision on the issue, she said.
"I would like to leave here tonight with the knowledge to make a decision. ... How will this help any student in Duplin County? How will this help any resident in Duplin County?" she said.
North Duplin graduate Kyle Canuette, now a college sophomore, said he was offended by comments made about the ability of the high school to prepare students for the 21st century. Programs that provide opportunities for students to earn college credit while in high school were part of that preparation, he said.
"My 36 college credit hours far surpass that of anyone I've met," regardless of where they went to high school, Canuette said.
Concerned resident Sandra Lee also addressed the board members about the consolidation issue.
"Why are you trying to shove this down our throats? If you have information, we would love for you to share it with us and convince us," she said.
Resident Jimmy Dixon spoke in support of the facilities plan, and said he believes it would be possible to enact it without a tax increase.
"This plan was a good plan, because it basically divides the county into three high school districts, and that we can afford," he said.
The county is currently reaping the harvest of "bitter seeds that were sown 10, 20, 30 and 40 years ago," Dixon said. "To reap a better harvest, we need to start sowing better seed."
And although the crowd attending the meeting was a good show of participation, what the county needs is representation for the whole community, he said.
"We don't need people to represent the North Duplin community, we don't need people to represent the B.F. Grady community. We need people to represent the Duplin community," Dixon said.
In other business, the school board moved forward to pay the North Carolina Association of School Boards to help conduct the search for a new superintendent. The school system will pay a base fee of $8,500 plus any further approved expenses for conducting the search, which is expected to take about six months.
The B.F. Grady school will soon operate with its own school resource officer. In the past, the school has shared an officer with another county school, but dedicating an officer to B.F. Grady would be best given the proximity of the school, Capt. Tim Jones said.
The board also approved moving forward with a heating and air conditioning project, which will replace all the window units at James Kenan High School with rooftop units. The board voted to use $909,806 total of lottery funding to complete the work.