Seneca Rogers wins school board appointment on 5-1 vote

Alamance-Burlington school board members resolved their indecision Tuesday afternoon, appointing Seneca Rogers to fill the remaining year in the term of Patsy Simpson, who resigned in April.

Rogers previously ran for the school board in 2020 and 2022, coming in fourth place for one of the three open seats in last year’s general election.

School board members voted 5-1 Tuesday afternoon to appoint Rogers to serve the remaining one-year portion of Simpson’s term.  Voting for were:  school board chairman Sandy-Ellington Graves; and school board members Dan Ingle; Chuck Marsh; Dr. Charles Parker; and Donna Westbrooks.  Vice chairman Ryan Bowden voted against.

Rogers, 43, lives at 3392 Golden Oaks Drive in Graham and is employed as a reimbursement analyst with LabCorp.  He graduated from Cummings High School in 1998 and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor’s degree in political science from North Carolina A&T State University in 2002.

Rogers was one of 13 applicants – two of whom school board members had disqualified early on during their deliberations  – who submitted letters of interest to serve out the remainder of Simpson’s term, which expires in November 2024.

Rogers’ supporters have frequently advocated for him to be appointed during school board meetings over the past six months, given his fourth-place finish in last year’s race.  Others have said the seat should be filled with a minority

Others pointed to the need to fill the seat with a minority – especially inasmuch as Simpson had been the board’s only black member.

“We have data shown to us that kids want to see teachers that look like them, so why wouldn’t they want to see someone who helps make decisions on their behalf that looks like them, as well?” Westbrooks said Tuesday afternoon, prior to voting to appoint Rogers.  “I know without a shadow of a doubt that he wants what’s best for our children.”

Dan Ingle nominated Rogers during a work session meeting of the board on Tuesday afternoon; there were no other names placed in nomination.

Ingle, for his part, recalled that, when he taught the [Drug Abuse Resistance Education] program in ABSS schools, how teachers would come to him looking for positive male role models for at-risk students.  “Seneca’s been doing that several years now,” Ingle said Tuesday afternoon.  “If you don’t believe it, look at the emails we received supporting Seneca, over 250 emails.”

ABSS had previously posted a link on the school board’s webpage for community members to email board members about whom they felt should serve out the remainder of Simpson’s term.

Ingle and several other board members referenced emails that they had received about the vacancy in outlining their rationale for supporting Rogers’ appointment Tuesday, but none of those emails have been made available to the general public.

Much of the discussions that had apparently taken place behind the scenes over the last month – the deadline to apply had been set for October 9 – seems to have centered on two applicants: Rogers and Burlington businessman Avery Wagoner, a Republican who failed to secure the local GOP’s backing in 2022 and came in fifth place in the school board race.

Prior to introducing a motion to nominate Rogers for the appointment, Ingle said Rogers had repeatedly addressed school board members at numerous meetings, advocating for many of the same priorities they had identified, such as competitive pay for teachers and hiring school resource officers for every school.

Gesturing toward the empty seat at the dais that Simpson had occupied until April, Ingle recalled how he used to go home from meetings and complain to his wife that he wished Simpson wouldn’t talk so long.  “I told my wife, and she said, ‘you know what, she’s right,’” Ingle said.  “She had a passion for these Title I schools [i.e., those schools identified by state and federal education departments as having higher proportions of minority and socio-economically disadvantaged schools].  Fifty-four percent of these schools are nonwhite; why not have somebody on this board represent them?

“I had several calls; it was very disturbing,” Ingle told an audience of about two dozen people who had attended Tuesday’s work session to hear the discussion about the vacancy. “One didn’t identify himself.  He said, ‘You’re just thinking about picking Seneca because of the color of his skin.’  I said, ‘I’m not picking Seneca for the color of his skin; I’m picking Seneca for the size of his heart.’”

School board chairman: ‘We don’t need politics, race, and power plays’

“I am a member of the Republican Party, yes, but I am [a member of a nonpartisan board],” Ellington-Graves said during the work session.  “When I took this oath in 2020, [Alamance County district court judge Larry Brown, Jr., a Democrat] stood in this very room and challenged every one of us to always think about how it affects the children with every vote you take.

“We’ve got a lot of stuff going on in this school district, and what we don’t need is politics, race, and power plays,” the school board chairman said prior to voting in favor of Ingle’s motion to appoint Rogers.  “I am done being part of that.  I was told this weekend that if I did not vote for a certain candidate, who I would gladly support to sit in that seat, it as a kiss of death for me.  If that’s what it is, then that’s what it shall be, and I shall sit at home after my term ends in 2024.  This seat is not about race; it is not about politics; and it is not about power.  It’s about 22,000 children and their families and the citizens of this county and the power of public schools.

“I’ve sat here for three years and gotten criticized on every single vote that I have taken, right or wrong,” Ellington-Graves added.  “I will not and have not cast a vote on whether you’re going to vote for me in 2024 – and I will not do that today.  I have no issues with Seneca; I have no issues with [Avery Wagoner,]…Of the 12 or 13 people that applied, he has been consistently engaged in this school system fighting for children since 2019, when I came on the scene.

“I don’t think I got voted in because people want me to sit up here and play favorites or do what’s popular,” Ellington-Graves said during the work session.  “Sometimes you have to be courageous, if you’re going to stand up here and be a leader, and you take the hits that come to you.  I have done it for three years, and I will continue to, as long as the public tells me I can sit in this seat, but when I don’t any longer, I will feel good and hold my head up when I walk away.”

Multiple sources have told The Alamance News that the Alamance County GOP had pressed school board members to appoint Wagoner to the vacant seat.

School board member Chuck Marsh – who, as the third-highest vote getter, had edged out Rogers in last year’s election – outlined his rationale for supporting Rogers.  At the same time he was working the polls during the general election, he was also recovering from open-heart surgery that required a triple bypass, Marsh explained, saying that one of the women who was also working the same polls saw he was struggling and gave him a Gatorade and a pack of crackers.

Only later did he learn that woman was Rogers’ mother, Marsh tearfully recalled Tuesday afternoon, before announcing, “That’s why I’m throwing my support for Seneca.”

For his part, Dr. Charles Parker, who had been the second-highest vote getter in last year’s election and had been part of the local GOP’s candidate “slate,” didn’t state who he wanted to fill the vacancy during the discussion Tuesday afternoon.

Instead, Parker recalled that he had wanted to use a transparent process and to provide opportunities for public feedback during the selection process.  “This is going to be precedent-setting, and I received a lot of adjusting feedback, saying ‘you’re just trying to delay this,’” he said.  “What I didn’t want was anybody from outside after the fact to be able to look at the process we went through and say it was a sham.”

Meanwhile, Bowden maintained his position that the only nonpartisan thing for the board to do was to let the seat remain vacant until the filing period for the 2024 school board election begins.  “During our board retreat, I said the most nonpartisan thing we can do is not appoint [a replacement for Simpson] and allow the citizens to decide,” Bowden said Tuesday.

Bowden went on to read aloud an email he said he’d received from local activist Michael Graves, who is black and a former head of the Alamance County NAACP chapter, urging the board to insist that whomever was appointed to the vacancy must also agree not to seek election to a full term “because he or she will have an unfair advantage.”

“My point in sharing this is, is this particular appointment about pushing for a particular individual, or the need [to have a seventh board member]?” Bowden asked Tuesday.  “If this is about need, this board should be willing to take Mr. Graves’ suggestion into consideration.  I feel strongly that this seat doesn’t belong to us; it belongs to the citizens of Alamance County, and they should decide who sits there.”

The seat that Simpson vacated earlier this year will be one of four available in the 2024 school board race.  The school board seats currently held by Bowden, Ellington-Graves, and Westbrooks will also be up for grabs in next year’s general election.

Rogers will be sworn into office immediately before the school board’s next regular monthly meeting on December 4.