With nine candidates expressing interest in the at-large seat on the Wayne County Board of Education, the board is preparing to hold interviews Thursday.
At a special called meeting Friday morning, the board decided to forgo discussion about the candidates, expressing frustration at not being made aware of the applicants in advance.
The seat was vacated last month by Raymond Smith, who was elected representative to District 21 of the N.C. House.
The timeline for filling the school board seat was adopted at a special called meeting Jan. 11. It entailed developing a prototype application packet previously used by the Pender County board, with applicable modifications. The information was made available Jan. 16, online and at the administrative offices, with a deadline for physical or online receipt of applications by 5 p.m. Jan. 30.
There was one stipulation, that only “fully completed application packets” be considered.
Friday’s meeting was originally slated for the purpose of reviewing applications, selecting interview questions and adding interview dates if needed.
As the session got under way, though, the discussion quickly veered from the candidates to the way the information packet was received.
Board member Jennifer Strickland said she did not like the idea of going through the applications at the meeting.
“I’m not prepared to narrow this list down,” she said. “I’m more than happy to narrow down the questions, but I think that’s about all we can accomplish today.”
Board attorney Richard Schwartz said that interviews had been already been announced for Feb. 7 at 6 p.m., so in order to get notification out, feedback was needed “pretty quickly.”
“I thought we were getting these in advance,” Strickland said.
“We haven’t had them (until now),” said board member Patricia Burden. “I don’t think there’s time for us to sit here and go through each application and give a statement.”
Strickland suggested that since the deadline for applications was two days before, information could have been sent out to the board prior to the meeting.
Schwartz shared that nine residents had submitted paperwork for the seat but only eight of those had complied with the requirements. The other one, whose information packet was incomplete, was James N. Thompson Sr. of Goldsboro.
“The board made clear that only completed applications would be accepted,” Schwartz said. “So that first name on the list would not qualify. That leaves eight names.”
Those candidates include Ven Faulk of Dudley and Goldsboro residents Chretien Dumond, Robert Freeman, Anthony Goodson Jr., Larry Johnson, Brandi Matthews, Phyllis Merritt-James and Averil Williams.
Freeman, a retired principal and former liaison between the school district and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, was also Smith’s opponent for the House seat in the November election.
Faulk, president of Shumate-Faulk Funeral Home, has had four previous unsuccessful bids for a school board seat. In 2008, he ran for the at-large seat, losing to Eddie Radford. Two years later, he submitted his name for consideration for the District 2 seat to complete the term vacated by Shirley Sims. The county commission then had the authority to name a replacement, choosing Len Henderson.
In 2012, Faulk campaigned for the District 2 seat, losing to Dwight Cannon. He ran again in 2016, for the at-large seat, losing the bid to Smith.
Goodson, chief operating officer for the Goldsboro Housing Authority, has also been an active volunteer at Carver Heights Elementary School, where his wife, Winter, is curriculum specialist. Anthony has also been an advocate during the recent efforts by the school district to retain leadership of the school when the state threatened to place it under control of the Innovative School District.
He was the only audience member, and the only candidate, in attendance at Friday’s meeting.
“This is important,” he said. “This is public. Why wouldn’t you show up?”
As the board debated the process, Burden and board member Len Henderson said they favored interviewing all eight candidates. Instead, by a vote of 4-2, the decision was made for each member to submit a list of five names, in no ranked order, to the board attorney by Monday morning.
“If there are any names that are not on anyone’s list, they will not be offered a slot,” Schwartz said. “Everybody else will be offered an interview slot.”
In order to do all the interviews in one day, the board also moved up the start time from 6 p.m. to 1 p.m. Each candidate will be afforded a 40-minute appointment.
Schwartz said that he would send out emails to all candidates, indicating that interviews would be conducted on Thursday. Once the field is narrowed, he will follow up with a second notice indicating appointment times for those chosen to move forward.
Interviews will be conducted in open session.
Burden said she seeks transparency in the selection process, while Strickland took issue with having the interviews open to the public, citing the possibility of “hecklers” or disruptions from the audience.
Board chairman Chris West said anyone behaving out of order could be asked to leave.
West also said his concern would be candidates having an “unfair advantage” if they are allowed to sit in on other interviews and having additional time to prepare.
Schwartz reiterated that it is an open meeting and must be conducted accordingly.
The board also discussed the list of questions that will be posed to each candidate, narrowing it down to 11. The topics ranged from challenges the applicants see in the district, capital needs and how they should be addressed, achievement gaps, communication with parents, and touched on current district lines and redistricting.
After the two-hour meeting adjourned, Goodson requested a copy of the questions.
Burden said she thought that was fair since he had taken the time to show up for the meeting.
Schwartz said it was public information, prompting West to suggest the interview questions be posted on the district website.