04/30/14 — Five want District 3 seat on school board

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Five want District 3 seat on school board

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 30, 2014 1:46 PM


Five people have asked the Wayne County Board of Education to consider appointing them to fill the unexpired term of the late Thelma Smith who served as the board's District 3 member for 17 years prior to her death on Feb. 28.

A decision could come as early as Monday, when the school board will hold its regular, first-of-the month meeting. If a decision isn't reached, a special session would be required, Chairman John Grantham said.

The five candidates are:

* Patricia Burden, a 1965 graduate of Dillard High School where Mrs. Smith was a teacher at the time, who retired after 42 years as a teacher and administrator including serving as principal of Goldsboro High School from 2000 to 2010

* Dr. Jerry Grimes II, a 1996 Goldsboro High School graduate, who mounted an unsuccessful campaign against Congressman G.K. Butterfield in 2010

* Linda R. Harper, who retired in 2007 after having taught for 36 years, 20 of which were in Wayne County, and who continues to work as a substitute teacher

* Trebor J. Jackson, who lost a 2010 bid to unseat District 6 school board member Rick Pridgen

* Charles Wright Sr., retired military and education chairman for the Goldsboro/Wayne NAACP, who lost to Mrs. Smith in 2008 and in 2012.

Last Friday at noon was the deadline for people to submit their names for consideration.

The school board set the deadline during a contentious April 14 meeting to give members time to individually review the names before Monday's meeting.

State law mandates that the board's decision, as well as all discussions about the appointment, must take place in open session.

It will be the first time the Board of Education has been able to fill its own vacancy since the 1991 merger of the county and city school boards.

As part of the merger agreement, the board surrendered the power to Wayne County commissioners.

Since that time, commissioners have made two appointments to the school board, once in 1997 and again in 2010.

The 2010 appointment prompted the school board to seek local legislation to restore its appointment authority. The bill doing that became law in June 2011.

The law also allows the school board to ask commissioners for their input. School board members have not mentioned doing so.

School board elections are nonpartisan, but the journey to Monday night's possible decision was not without controversy.

The school board had to take four votes, all split, at its April 14 meeting before it could decide on how to go about naming Mrs. Smith's replacement.

District 3 is a minority district, but while the person appointed has to live in the district, he or she does not have to be a minority.

All of the candidates are black, except for Mrs. Harper, who is white.

The April 14 session was marked by tempers and terse comments -- some shaded with political and racial undertones.

Board member Dr. Dwight Cannon said unspecified hidden agendas and motives were driving the discussion and possible selection of the new member.

Cannon said one potential candidate had been given to him by Mrs. Smith. However, no names were mentioned during the meeting.

Cannon said after the meeting that he could not identify the person he had mentioned because he had not spoken to her and did not know if she was interested in serving.

He could not be reached prior to press time Wednesday for comment on whether or not that person was among the five-person field to be considered on Monday.

Cannon insisted during the April 14 meeting that the seat be filled by a minority since that was the original reason the district was carved out.

Other board members did not disagree, but expressed concerns that Cannon's approach would eliminate many people in the district from being able to seek the office.

"Are you saying that no white person need apply?" board member Arnold Flowers said.

"I don't think that is what I am saying because you can be Hispanic and not be white," Cannon said. "The word I used was minority. I did not use a color."

Flowers and board member Chris West pressed their concerns that the approach would not be fair.

"The word 'fair' is the operative word," Cannon said. "To be fair we do not, I feel, need to advertise so that this board could do its meandering if that is the wish of the board. We know what Mrs. Thelma wanted. She made it very clear to those who were close to her. To ignore that is not fair.

"Also to me it is not fair that we stack this board, even though we are nonpartisan, in a way that we can manipulate whether there will be a replacement of the superintendent, replacement of central office staff. I am always leery when new people come on board and they have to deal with the personalities of this board of education and everybody has their hidden agenda, or their particular agenda, whether it is hidden or not. I tend to prefer to call it hidden."