12/12/11 School board improving relations

School board improving relations
Members elect new vice chairman
By Mike Wilder The Times-News 12/12/11     
Reprinted with permission.

   Alamance-Burlington Board of Education members are optimistic that working relationships among board members — which they say were never bad — are improving.

   Those assessments follow votes by the board last week to re-elect Jackie Cole as chairwoman and to select Brad Evans as its new vice chairman. They also follow a retreat the board held in late October with the goal of working together more effectively as a board.

   Cole, the board’s chairwoman since 2009, was re-elected by a 5-2 vote, with board members Tony Rose and Patsy Simpson voting against her re-election. Both Rose and Simpson said there is no personal animosity involved in how they voted. They said differing beliefs about communication among board members and working to have the concerns of all addressed in deciding what to discuss during meetings motivated their votes.

   The board voted unanimously to make Evans vice chairman. Steve Van Pelt, who had been vice chairman since 2009, made the motion to have Evans serve in the position.

   Evans promised afterward to be “fair and impartial” in dealing with board members. While not explicitly mentioning more thorough inclusion of all board members in discussion and decision-making as a goal, he described himself as “one-seventh of our board” in explaining how he hopes to function as vice chairman.

   “I’ve got a good relationship with everyone on the board,” Evans said, and he expects that to continue. All on the board, he said, share the goal of giving young people the best possible education.

   Van Pelt said he had talked with Evans before the meeting to gauge his willingness to be vice chairman and wanted to make the motion to emphasize unity in the choice.

   “I’ve got a lot on my plate,” he said, including his work with the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council, church and other activities. He said Evans, a retired educator, is a good choice for vice chairman in part because he ranks third in seniority on the board.

   While Rose and Simpson have said they don’t always feel board members have been included equally in discussion and decision-making, other board members have said they don’t want to be needlessly bogged down in prolonged discussions.

   Simpson thinks Evans’ strong relationship with board members of all beliefs will help “everyone feel they have a chance to have their opinion heard.”

   “I think Brad will help improve communication,” Rose said. Both he and Simpson, along with other board members, said Van Pelt had done a good job as vice chairman.

   Along with Cole, Simpson and board member Mary Erwin, Van Pelt is up for reelection next year. He said he hasn’t decided for sure but is leaning toward running for a third term.

   Unless something changes, Simpson said, she’s planning on seeking a second term. Erwin said she’s enjoyed serving on the board but hasn’t decided whether to run again. She said that will hinge largely on how being part of the board fits in with other responsibilities.

   Cole is undecided on running again.

   “I probably won’t decide until after the first of the year,” Cole said, adding she will weigh if eight years is long enough to commit to one form of public service.

   Erwin said she’s optimistic the combination of Cole as chairwoman and Evans as vice chairman will help the board function well. Board member Kristen Moffitt said she believes any of the seven men and women on the board would do well in a leadership position, as long as they have the time necessary for additional responsibilities.

   None of the board’s seven members think working relationships among board members are poor. One-onone interviews a facilitator who coordinated the retreat meeting held with board members yielded descriptions of unpleasant behavior such as “bickering and bullying.” But board members have since said they don’t think the board has had serious problems.

   “I don’t think we were ever in any kind of critical shape,” Erwin said.