9/25/13 School board resolves to end conflict

School board resolves to end conflict
By KAREN CARTER, Enterprise Editor, The Mebane Enterprise 9/25/13  
Reprinted with permission.      

On Sept. 3, three Alamance-Burlington Board of Education members sent a letter to the school board chair Tony Rose about grievances.

Dr. Kristen Moffitt, Steve Van Pelt, and Jackie Cole signed the letter and copied fellow board members Patsy Simpson, Brad Evans, and Pam Thompson as well as sending it to Rose. They also copied Superintendent Dr. Lillie Cox with the letter.

The school board monthly meeting Monday evening provided a forum for discussion of the letter.

Chairman Rose said he would have dealt with the matter not in public but since the letter is a public document and was sent to the media, it was placed as an agenda item for discussion and vote.

The vote concerned mediation.

The letter specifically asked for “immediate mediation by an external trained mediator” to address the concerns, namely the “visible deterioration of board relationships and lack of respect for the governance process.”

Van Pelt read the letter to the school board audience and made the motion to seek mediation. Moffitt made the second.

After a frank discussion, the motion failed with Rose, Simpson, Evans and
Thompson voting against mediation and Van Pelt, Moffitt, and Cole voting for it.

Here are some of the comments made by board members to clarify the issues and address the internal conflict among board members.

Van Pelt: “I believe without mediation of some source this board will be polarized because of lack of teamwork. My prayer is that we can come together to achieve the Vision Plan and our Strategic Plan.”

Evans wanted to know why he was not asked to participate in the writing of the letter.

Van Pelt said he did not have an answer.

Moffitt said she had two concerns: “We were cited by AdvanceEd, which is responsible for accrediting our system, to better our board relations.”

The letter reads: As stated in the report, “the governing body does not consistently
protect, support, and respect the autonomy of the system and school leadership to accomplish the goads for achievement and instruction and to manage day-to-day operations of the system and its schools.”

Moffitt said, “We are called upon and charged with board relations. I haven’t seen any progress. We need outside help. We touched on this last spring.”

For her second concern, Moffitt added, “We have huge decisions to make—the strategic plan. It’s really important we have dialog, listening, and exchanging ideas. I’m not sure this is possible.”

Chairman Rose has often described the differences among board members as “philosophical differences.”

Moffitt said she thought philosophical differences “create a good board.”

She said, “It’s a matter of how we manage and exchange ideas. We break down. We have to have a full board participate.”

Vice chair Patsy Simpson spoke about her concerns.

First, she said she did not see any specific examples from the AdvanceEd report to show visible deterioration or lack of governance. “Where did they get this information?” she said.

Simpson recalled former days on the board, she said, “I made motions and did not even get a second.”

Simpson said that rather than seeing the negative, she saw “positive things this board has done.”

As for division and deterioration of the board relationships, Simpson said the board voted together more often than it did not when consents items are considered.

Simpson said she disagreed that the board is always split 4-3 because the board pulls together and puts more items on consent agenda than making divisive votes.

Simpson acknowledged, she said, that changes came when the chair position was changed but she did not see the need for mediation.

“Two years ago we spent money on board mediation. We’ve gone there twice,” said Simpson.

Simpson said what was needed was “support and respect for the vote of the majority.”

She also asked that it be made clear that the vote was not personal or a reflection on the superintendent.

In the past and present, board members have differed on the proper boundaries between the legislative (school board policy with the board) and the executive (superintendent and the principals).

Van Pelt has at times made the comment in school board meetings that the school board wanted to “micro-manage” the superintendent and schools.

Simpson said that was not the case.

Cole said the “significant differences” are not about votes. “There’s a tension on this board. The meetings are stressful. We need professional development. We would benefit from someone coming in and helping us face the challenges. Obviously, we’ve gotten to the place where we need help.”

Rose said he understood the concerns and said he agreed with Simpson. He also questioned “visible deterioration” of the board and yet called for “improvement.”

Rose took issue with the claim of lack of respect for the governance process and explained that the board was abiding by the laws set by the General Assembly and through the system. “The laws of North Carolina support the actions of this board.

Rose said the issues were “philosophical” in nature and there was no need for mediation, a waste of time and taxpayer money.

He cited the election process as the indicator of the governance process.

Rose also said the differences were not about a lack of support for the superintendent and pledged his support.

He agreed with Simpson that the board pulls together on consent items more than it does a 4-3 vote.

He charged the school board members to support the majority of the vote.

Van Pelt went back to the issue of proper roles and said the laws are given to the board, not to individuals. “I’m a former principal. But I leave it up to Dr. Cox rather than go out as an individual and try to do something.”

At this time, board members agreed to work on communication with each other and move forward in support of the Vision Plan and Strategic Plan for Alamance-Burlington Schools.

The 4-3 vote to reject mediation gave the majority vote to Rose, Simpson, Evans, and Thompson.

In next week’s Enterprise, look for school board coverage, capacity issues.