School board’s dysfunctionality open for all to see

Last week the Robeson County Board of Education almost voted to hire as a superintendent a local person who had shown no interest in the job instead of a longtime educator who apparently wants it enough to work at the pleasure of a board whose dysfunctionality was in full bloom that night.

In doing so, one board member, equipped with misinformation, said the likely incoming superintendent, Rick Watkins, had essentially lied to the board, another board member said Watkins’ interview with this newspaper was “illegal,” and then the R word — race — entered the conversation.

All this happened in open session. No, we aren’t making this up; we have it on audiotape.

Despite Jo Ann Lowery’s assertion, Watkins’ decision to speak with this newspaper was not illegal. It might have been ill-advised, but it’s likely that Watkins at that time knew a lot less about the pettiness of the school board than he does now. Board members seemed upset that Watkins’ name was in the public arena, although it got there because board members talked publicly.

The newspaper learned Watkins was the board’s pick the day after the board made that decision, but waited a full 10 days before we called him for the interview, delaying publication to accommodate school board members who asked us to do so, saying they were worried we might jeopardize his candidacy.

After Lowery’s misfire, John Campbell chimed in that Watkins was not properly credentialed for the position. It is true that the board had been provided incorrect information, but it is curious that Campbell seemed anxious to believe the worst. It is a dereliction of his due-diligence duty as a board member that he didn’t consider that the North Carolina School Boards Association, which screened the applicants, would not have passed along the name of a candidate without the proper educators license to be a superintendent in North Carolina.

We are less skeptical concerning Brenda Fairley-Ferebee’s suggestion that race played a factor in the process. Race always does in Robeson County, which explains why blacks are seldom hired for such leadership positions. Blacks lack E.B. Turner-like leadership locally.

That doesn’t suggest that Watkins is not qualified for the position; he clearly is, and is well-qualified.

Remember, all of this was done in open session, which violates the spirit of the law that allows for personnel conversations to be done in private. That the board allowed itself to attack Watkins in open session is a transgression that is unforgivable, but not at all surprising given the characters.

When the school board members finally shut up, an effort failed to hire Tommy Lowry, a longtime assistant superintendent with deep roots locally. We don’t doubt that Lowry would have made a fine superintendent, but he didn’t apply for it even though he was the logical local choice — and his lack of enthusiasm for the assignment should have been a bright red flag.

Chairman Mike Smith then broke a 5-5 deadlock to offer the job to Watkins.

Watkins, we are told, was still reviewing the contract last week. We spoke with him briefly and there was nothing to suggest he is having a second and sobering thought about working for this bunch, but who would blame him if he did?

So it appears we are getting a new superintendent. What we also need is a new school board following last week’s clown performance.

Voters get that chance in May.

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