Monday, February 26, 2024

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School board to keep vacant seat open – at least for now

Alamance-Burlington school board members agreed by consensus Wednesday afternoon to keep a vacant seat open for the foreseeable future.

The vacancy was created by the resignation of four-term school board member Patsy Simpson in late April of this year.  Simpson had announced in mid-March her intention to resign on May 22 – due to her and her husband’s impending move to rural Virginia – but she ultimately stepped down about a month earlier than planned.

The six remaining school board members then briefly began soliciting letters of interest for potential replacement board members but suspended that process until the vacancy actually existed.

School board members resumed their discussion about how, or whether, to fill the vacant seat during a lengthy retreat at the ABSS central office on Wednesday afternoon.

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Eva DuBuisson, an attorney with the Tharrington Smith firm in Raleigh who was filling in for the board’s usual attorney, Adam Mitchell, who was traveling, told the board, “There’s no statutory requirement as to how you fill the vacancy…It’s really in the board’s discretion as to how you want to start accepting applications.”

Asked by school board member Donna Westbrooks whether state law requires the vacant seat to be filled, DuBuisson said, “The statute says the vacancy will be filled by appointment…I don’t think the statute contemplates voting not to fill it.”

Though several board members expressed concern about the potential implications of a tie vote, none was ready to move forward with starting the process of filling the vacant seat.

“One of the things we had talked about is it seems like the board is working very well together,” said school board member Dr. Charles Parker, who joined the board in December 2022.  “From a consensus standpoint, it’s been very collegial.  The downside is, we get a 3-3 vote and something doesn’t pass.  It seems like all of the votes have been unanimous, especially since the vacancy [occurred].  I don’t think the vacancy is damaging the operations of the board. There are not times we can’t do something because there’s not a quorum.  From my perspective, there’s not a strong time-sensitive component to do it.”

Dr. Charles Parker and vice chairman Ryan Bowden during Wednesday afternoon’s school board meeting.

In the event the board takes no further action, the seat would remain vacant until the scheduled expiration of Simpson’s term, in November 2024.

“When Mrs. Simpson first announced her intention to resign, I didn’t realize until we opened up the dialogue the division it created, not necessarily on the board but in the community,” school board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves said Wednesday afternoon.  “I’m torn because I do feel like the majority of our votes have been unanimous, and I do feel like we’ve represented the best interests of all of the children and the district.”

“We’ve all received letters, emails, and phone calls; I’ve even had folks tell me this is a great opportunity to get somebody on the board that [we] want,” said vice chairman Ryan Bowden.  The question I ask myself is, is it the right opportunity?  I don’t believe it is, even though we have the opportunity to appoint who we want.  Some group isn’t going to like that.  I think the most nonpartisan thing we can do on this board is to not appoint and to allow the citizens to decide approximately 15 to 16 months from now in the next election.”

The board agreed to postpone its discussion about the vacancy in order to give school board member Chuck Marsh – who was about 40 minutes late arriving at the meeting – an opportunity to weigh in.

The board resumed its discussion at the tail end of the meeting, following a brief closed session to discuss personnel recommendations.

“I’d like to just kick the can down the hall – leave it alone for a little bit,” Marsh opined.

“It doesn’t sound like I’ve got any direction [from the other board members] at this time,” Ellington-Graves summarized.

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