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School board deadlocks 3-3, twice, over starting application process to fill board vacancy

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Alamance-Burlington school board members deadlocked 3-3 twice Monday night over two separate motions to begin taking applications for the vacant seat created by the April 24 resignation of Pasty Simpson, who stepped down in order to move closer to her aging relatives in rural Virginia.

School board members had originally voted this spring to accept applications for the vacancy but later stopped the application process, before stalling altogether since, apparently due to internal conflicts between school board members.

School board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves said Monday night, “We had this at our retreat; we could not get traction from the board to take action – there were board members who did not want to see this on the agenda tonight, but we can’t keep [putting it off]. We went through Covid, and we didn’t put aside all the other board business to get through Covid. When Ms. Simpson vacated the seat, we all agreed [to advertise] the vacancy.”

School board members subsequently voted 3-3 Monday night on two unsuccessful motions introduced by board member Dan Ingle to begin taking applications for the vacant seat.

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Ingle initially motioned to accept applications for 30 days. “It falls back on this governing board to make that decision; it’s our responsibility,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of different special-called meetings here lately; to get a quorum to handle those meetings, we need that seventh seat.”

Ingle’s first motion, to accept applications for 30 days, failed, with Ellington-Graves, Ingle, and school board member Donna Westbrooks voting in favor.

Voting against were school board members Ryan Bowden, Chuck Marsh, and Dr. Charles Parker.

ABSS vice chairman Ryan Bowden (in foreground), Dr. Charles Parker (in background) at a subsequent meeting later this week. Bowden, Parker, and board member Chuck Marsh were the three members opposing the setting of any timetable for seeking applicants for the vacant school board seat.  In favor of a 30- or 45-day application period were chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves, and board members Dan Ingle and Donna Westbrooks.

A second motion by Ingle – to instead begin taking applications for the vacant seat for 45 days – also failed. Voting in favor were Ellington-Graves; Ingle; and Westbrooks.

Voting against were Bowden, Marsh, and Parker.

Eva DuBuisson, an attorney with the Tharrington Smith firm in Raleigh who was filling in for the board’s usual attorney, Adam Mitchell, told the board late last month, “There’s no statutory requirement as to how you fill the vacancy.” Yet DuBuisson also elaborated that a North Carolina law that governs filling vacancies on school boards “says the vacancy will be filled by appointment,” adding, “I don’t think the statute contemplates voting not to fill it.”

That discussion took place at a school board “retreat” on July 26 – several weeks before ABSS officials began reporting widespread mold contamination throughout the school system, prompting the superintendent to postpone starting the new school year by a week. ABSS is currently scheduled to begin the new school year on Tuesday, September 5.

Alternating between near-tears and anger Monday night, Bowden used the ongoing reports of mold contamination in ABSS schools as his justification for voting against reopening the application process for the vacant seat.

“I couldn’t, in good faith, tonight vote to move forward with any type of process until our kids are back in school,” Bowden said.

Parker, who joined the board in December 2022, echoed Bowden’s position on starting the process to fill the board vacancy. “We have a major mold [problem] and a significant financial situation related to that,” he said Monday night. “Anything that distracts us from that right now is not appropriate…it is not in the best interest at this time.”

“I think as a board we can multitask,” Westbrooks shot back.

Earlier in the discussion, Westbrooks had said that, after much thought and prayer, she had concluded that “I believe the board vacancy should be filled as soon as possible.”

Westbrooks pointed to an ABSS policy, which mirrors state law, and states: “All vacancies in the membership of the board of education caused by death, resignation, or otherwise will be filled by a person appointed by the remaining members of the board to serve until the next election of board members, at which time the remaining unexpired term will be filled by election.”

Westbrooks added that it would help other board members – many of whom haven’t been able to attend all meetings, to include a series of recent, special-called meetings, due to other obligations – to have a seventh board member. “I feel we not only owe this to our community, but we also owe it to ourselves,” she said.

Bowden prevails in bumping discussion to September 12 work session
Bowden ultimately prevailed in pressing his fellow board members to put the item on the agenda for the work session on September 12, saying, “I want to focus on the mold, air quality – there’s some roofing projects.”

One of the people in the audience – the school board’s meeting room was filled to capacity Monday night, with a crowd that occasionally became rowdy during several discussions – hollered out, “It’s not about just you.”

Ellington-Graves warned, “Mr. Mitchell [the board’s attorney] has asked that [the] audience refrain so that we can conduct board business.”

School board members subsequently voted 4-2 on a separate motion by Ingle to push the discussion about starting the process to fill the vacancy to the work session on September 12.

Voting in favor of the motion to postpone the discussion until the next work session were: Bowden, Ingle, Marsh, and Parker.

Ellington-Graves and Westbrooks voted against.


Read the newspaper’s editorial page views on the issue: https://alamancenews.com/if-they-dont-want-to-fill-a-school-board-seat-at-all-just-say-so/

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