Patsy Simpson, who was just elected to her fourth term on the Alamance-Burlington school board in 2020, told The Alamance News this week that she won’t seek a fifth term – and she isn’t sure she can complete her current one that runs through November 2024.
“I have three elderly aunts in Virginia, all over the age of 80, and I can see where they really need someone to help them out,” Simpson said Wednesday afternoon in an interview with The Alamance News. “I really don’t want them to go to a nursing home or something like that. One is wheelchair bound, unable to speak and walk, and my 83-year-old aunt is trying to take care of her.”
For now, the Lynchburg, Virginia native says her future as a school board member hinges on exactly when her husband, Larry Simpson, Sr., intends to retire from his 37-year career with the U.S. Postal Service. “If my husband does, in fact, retire at the end of the year, I plan to vacate my seat and change [our] legal address.”
However, Simpson said that, should her husband decide to stay on with the Postal Service a while longer, she will participate in school board meetings via the Zoom teleconferencing system, with the goal of being in Virginia as much as possible to help her relatives manage their daily activities.
“I’m not going to do anything unless my husband says, ‘I’m retiring,”’ Simpson said. While it’s most likely he would do so by the end of this year, she emphasized, “It’s his decision; I made mine when the time came, and now it’s his – but I have to put my family first.”
Simpson retired from her nearly 40-year career as a field agent for the Internal Revenue Service in May 2014, she confirmed for the newspaper Wednesday.
“It takes months to put in the paperwork to retire,” Simpson said of her husband’s plans.
Currently the longest-serving school board member, Simpson said it would be up to her six fellow school board members to appoint someone to serve out the remainder of her term, based on her understanding of the statutory process for filling a vacancy prior to the expiration of a board member’s term.
‘A voice for the people’
During her four terms on the school board, Simpson has served under four superintendents – Drs. Randy Bridges, Lillie Cox, Bill Harrison, and current superintendent Bruce Benson – and one interim, Dr. Del Burns, between Bridges’ departure in 2010 and Cox’s hiring in 2011.
Despite the strides ABSS has made since she was first elected to the school board in 2008, Simpson said there’s a lot more she’d hoped to accomplish. “We still have redistricting to do with the middle and elementary schools; we still have a lot of work to do in regards to all of the construction projects and facility needs we have. But I truly believe I have stuck with a platform of being a voice for the people.”
Given the hundreds of millions of dollars that freely through the local school system at any given time, but particularly after the three federal Covid stimulus packages put another estimated $100 million in its coffers, Simpson also acknowledged a need to appoint a replacement school board member who will advocate for fiscal responsibility – and press ABSS administrators for it, when warranted.
For an example, Simpson pointed to a discussion last month, where she and her fellow school board member Ryan Bowden had pressed ABSS assistant superintendent Dr. Todd Thorpe about why federal Covid-19 stimulus funding couldn’t be used to cover the estimated $1.8 million cost for a roofing project at Western Middle School that also entails repairing the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system and raising the pitch of the roof to create a slope.
Instead, Thorpe had proposed asking the county commissioners to release more than $9 million in capital reserve funding for the roofing project at Woodlawn Middle School (and roof repairs at three other schools), as well as additional costs for add-ons at the forthcoming $67 million seventh high school that weren’t included in the $150 million bond package voters approved for ABSS in 2018.
The assistant superintendent acknowledged that federal rules allow Covid-19 stimulus funding to be used for projects intended to improve air quality in school facilities, but said he wasn’t sure if the scope of work at Woodlawn Middle School falls within the allowable uses. “You get into, ‘what is air quality?’” Thorpe said at last month’s work session. “We have to wait for the clarification of what that definition is.”
“I will continue to monitor how Covid-19 funds can be used, instead of asking the county commissioners,” Simpson said in the interview Wednesday. “We already have $25 million set aside in the [county] capital reserve fund for our projects. I’m saying, ‘let’s use the Covid money for those projects’ [if the federal rules allow it].”
Meanwhile, Simpson offered her thoughts about other qualities in the person appointed to replace her if she vacates her seat before her term ends in late 2024. “I would hope they will put someone on the board who can give a different perspective. Because I am the only person of color on the board, I would hope they would pick someone who would look like the student population.”
Brad Evans was the only other black person to serve on the school board in recent years. A retired ABSS educator, Evans was initially elected to the school board in 2006 and reelected in 2010. Evans opted not to seek reelection to a third term in the 2014 general election.
Veteran board member has consistently placed second or third in four elections since 2008
Simpson has consistently been one of the top vote-getters since she first entered the school board fray in 2008.
In 2008, she was the second-highest vote-getter out of 10 candidates and one write-in candidate, receiving 24,217 votes (14.30 percent). Topping Simpson by little more than 1 percentage point was then-school board member Steve Van Pelt, who was running for his second term and received 26,093 votes (15.41 percent), based on certified vote totals on file with the State Board of Elections.
Dr. Kristen Moffitt was elected to a two-year term in a special election that was also held in November 2008 to fill a vacancy left by Mary Alice Hinshaw. Moffitt was subsequently elected to a full four-year term in the November 2010 general election but opted not to run again in 2014.
When she won her second term in November 2012, Simpson was the second-highest vote-getter, trailing Pamela Tyler Thompson (now a county commissioner) by less than a percentage point, but outpacing fellow incumbent school board members Van Pelt and Jackie Cole, as well as three write-in candidates, according to results on file with the state elections board.
Simpson placed third out of five declared school board candidates and eight write-in candidates in 2016, receiving 38,561 votes (20.35 percent), according to the State Board of Elections. The top two-vote getters were Van Pelt, with 39,799 votes (21 percent); and Thompson, with 39,094 votes (20.63 percent). With 35,720 votes (18.85 percent), newcomer Brian Feeley bested incumbent board member Cole in the race for one of four seats that year but lost his bid for reelection in the 2020 general election.
Simpson, for her part, again placed third in the fall general election, with 30,664 votes (11.70 percent), according to official results from the State Board of Elections. Newcomer Sandy Ellington-Graves was the top vote-getter among 11 candidates in the 2020 race, with 40,731 votes (15.54 percent), followed by Ryan Bowden, another newcomer, who received 33,116 votes (12.64 percent). Placing fourth for one of the four open seats on the school board was retired ABSS administrator Donna Westbrooks, who received 23,617 votes (9.01 percent), ousting Feeley, who came in at eighth place.
Trailing Westbrooks in fifth, sixth, and seventh places, respectively were: Seneca Rogers, with 22,076 votes (8.43 percent); Paula Harrison, with 21,466 votes (8.19 percent); and former Graham Middle School teacher Dayson Paison, who received 20,474 votes (7.81 percent). Rounding out the bottom in last year’s school board race were John Coleman, Cathy Dickens, and Linda Kinney, who received approximately 15,000 to 18,000 votes each, representing between 6 and 7 percent of the total of 86,401 ballots cast for school board candidates in the 2020 general election.