BOE at-large seat

School board member Dr. Joseph Democko, District 5, left, listens as attorney Richard Schwartz, representing the Wayne County Board of Education, right, explains the options for selecting a candidate for the at-large seat recently vacated by Raymond Smith, who now serves District 21 in the House.

The Wayne County Board of Education met Friday morning to establish criteria for filling the at-large board seat vacated by Raymond Smith.

At the special called meeting, the board discussed the process by which it will advertise and interview applicants in the upcoming weeks.

Smith, who had been elected to his first term on the board in 2016, has two years remaining. His departure comes on the heels of being elected in November to House District 21.

During the hour-long session Friday, the board hammered out a tentative timeline for soliciting applications and scheduling interviews for potential candidates.

This is the third time in a decade that the local board has been faced with filling a vacated seat, but only the second time they get a final say in the process.

In 2010, District 2 board member Shirley Sims moved to Garner and stepped down from the role, with two years remaining.

At that time, there existed a provision from the merger of the Goldsboro City and Wayne County school systems decades earlier. The holdover from the 1990s made Wayne County unique in the state for granting the commission authority to fill vacated school board seats.

The process implemented by the commission included applications and interviews before the appointment of Len Henderson in July 2010.

Henderson served the remainder of the term and unsuccessfully sought election to the at-large seat. He later ran on the ticket unopposed for District 2 in 2016 and was elected.

That was not the first occasion for the commission to exercise its power of authority. In 1997, they named a replacement for Carl Maples following his resignation from the school board.

Shortly after the 2010 appointment, authority was transferred to the school board through a local bill passed in the General Assembly.

The next time an appointment was required came after the passing of District 3 board member Thelma Smith in March 2014.

Five candidates submitted their names for consideration. No formal interviews or presentations were held, as then-board chairman John Grantham said at the time was because board members were already familiar with the candidates.

Ultimately, retired educator Patricia Burden was appointed to the seat. She has since been elected to continue to serve.

At the called meeting, board attorney Richard Schwartz explained that the board can create its own process moving forward.

“If you choose to seek any recommendations from the commissioners you may do so. You’re not obligated to do so and if you do so, the commissioners have 30 days to do so,” he said. “Again, it’s completely optional with this board.

“If you want to keep this process completely in-house, you may. If you want to consult with the commissioners and give them an opportunity to weigh in, you may.”

Because Smith held the at-large seat, that broadens the scope for candidates in the county, Schwartz said.

“The vacancy that has been created will be filled by majority vote of the remaining members of this board and the newly appointed member may be from anywhere in Wayne County because it is an at-large seat, so there are no restrictions in where they live,” Schwartz said.

Since Smith only completed half of his term, the appointee will be asked to serve until December 2020.

The board discussed a framework for getting the word out and moving things along so the seat is not empty for long.

Chairman Chris West initially suggested potential candidates have between seven to 10 days to submit applications. Several felt, though, that additional time may be needed to complete the necessary paperwork, which could include references and familiarity with such information as the district’s strategic plan.

Burden said she did not believe it would be possible to have a candidate in place by the January 28 board meeting.

Schwartz helped speed up the process when he presented examples that have been used by other school districts in Wilson and Pender counties for advertising for candidates.

The board voted in favor of using the prototype by Pender County, making any necessarily modifications more in line with the needs of Wayne County.

They also decided to launch the application process, advertise in the local newspaper, through other media sources and online. Applications will be available on the district website, waynecountyschoiols.org, or hard copies can be picked up at the administrative offices on Royall Avenue.

Applications will be accepted Wednesday through Jan. 30, with the deadline for receiving application packets at 5 p.m. on Jan. 30.

The application period was approved by a vote of 5 to 1. Henderson was the only dissenting vote, prompted by concern that more time should be allowed.

The board also set two additional dates in the process. They will hold a special called meeting on Feb. 1 at 10 a.m. to review applications received and determine options for interviews, as needed.

At this point, one option has been set for that purpose. The first interviews are slated to begin Feb. 7 at 6 p.m.