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School board spends most of its latest meeting behind closed doors

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Alamance-Burlington school board members spent more time behind closed doors during their latest work session Tuesday afternoon than they did in open session.

The open session, “agenda,” portion of Tuesday’s work session lasted 35 minutes.

School board members spent nearly three hours behind closed doors for two scheduled closed sessions: the purpose of the first was to evaluate applications for the superintendent’s position, based on a search timeline that the board approved two weeks ago.

The purpose of the second, nearly two-hour closed session, held after of the “agenda” portion of their meeting, was to discuss the customary, bimonthly employment recommendations that are subsequently voted on in open session.

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School board members convened their work session at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday morning and immediately entered into an hourlong closed session to confer with a consultant from the North Carolina School Boards Association (NCSBA) in Raleigh who is assisting with the search for a new superintendent.  Board members reconvened the open portion of their work session at the regularly-scheduled time, 12:30 p.m.

Following the agenda meeting, school board members entered into a second closed session and remained behind closed doors for just under two hours Tuesday afternoon.

The deadline to apply for the superintendent’s position was May 27.  School board members are scheduled to begin interviewing candidates next week, based on the search timeline that the board approved two weeks ago.

School board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves would not reveal the number of applicants that the school board has invited for interviews, telling The Alamance News Wednesday morning that the NCSBA consultant had advised the board against disclosing any information that has been discussed in closed session.

The search timeline calls for the name of the new superintendent to be announced on July 15.  He or she is scheduled to start work by August 15 in order to work alongside ABSS interim superintendent Dr. Bill Harrison through the remainder of his employment contract, which runs through September 18.

The consultant, Sam Thorp, who is the NCSBA assistant legal counsel for superintendent searches, told school board members at their meeting on May 28 that 34 applications had been submitted from candidates in 14 states, including North Carolina.

Several of the previous superintendent searches for ABSS yielded far more applications.

In 2011, a search that had also been conducted by the NCSBA and resulted in the subsequent hiring of Dr. Lillie Cox attracted approximately 60 candidates, school officials confirmed this week for the newspaper.  Cox resigned three years later, on May 30, 2014.

IN 2017, a search conducted by Illinois-based BWP& Associates that led to the hiring of Dr. William (“Bruce”) Benson yielded 72 applications for the ABSS superintendent’s post.  Benson took over as superintendent on July 10, 2018 and announced his intention to retire on September 30, 2021.  (A subsequent medical emergency forced him to take a leave of absence in October 2021, and he officially retired from ABSS at the end of that year.)

BWP & Associates also conducted the search in early 2022 that attracted 38 candidates and resulted in the May 2022 hiring of superintendent Dr. Dain Butler, who had previously worked 17 years as a teacher and central office administrator for ABSS.  Butler resigned on March 4 of this year.

BWP’s search process, however, differed from the methodology that the NCSBA consultant recently outlined for school board members.

Thorp told school board members at their meeting on May 28 that, when the NCSBA conducts a search, all application materials are turned over to the school board to cull through those materials and decide who they want to interview.

By comparison, BWP & Associates culled through the application materials and selected the most viable candidates for the school board to interview for the ABSS superintendent’s job, based on presentations that Kevin Castner of BWP made to the board at the time.

The next superintendent will be the eighth one hired since the former city and county school systems merged in 1998.

The number of ABSS superintendents, however, excludes three interims: Del Burns (2011); Harrison (who served as interim in 2014 and became the permanent superintendent in February 2015, without a formal search being conducted); and James (“Jim”) Merrill, who served as superintendent of ABSS from 2000 to 2006 and subsequently served as interim superintendent from January to June 2022.

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