School Board at odds over leader

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 2, 2005

JACKSON – A divided board and community await a new superintendent.

The Northampton County Board of Education split on electing a new district leader here Tuesday afternoon moments after public input request that the matter be tabled.

On a motion from Grace Edwards and seconded by Barbara Stephenson, the Northampton County Board of Education voted 5-2 to enter into contract with Dr. Kathi H. Gibson as the district’s new superintendent.

While five members of the board – Edwards, Stephenson, Board Chairperson Catherine Moody, Board Vice Chairman Bill Little and Roland Whitted – were staunch in their support of Gibson, two others strongly opposed the appointment.

&uot;Dr. Gibson is very enthusiastic and has a lot of passion about moving Northampton County Schools to the next level,&uot; Moody said. &uot;She showed us how she will go from step one to step two.

&uot;I understand we have concerns from citizens, but I want them to hear both sides of the story,&uot; she continued.

Edwards echoed those thoughts.

&uot;I feel very good about our decision,&uot; she said. &uot;With the applications we had, we selected the best candidate to take our children where they need to be.&uot;

Whitted said the board made the best decision possible and he was satisfied with the process that ended in Gibson’s selection.

&uot;We advertised and followed the criteria agreed on by the seven-member board,&uot; Whitted said. &uot;We made the best decision.&uot;

Board member Charles Tyner gave multiple reasons for his decision to vote against the appointment of Gibson, as did his fellow member Lafayette &uot;Lott&uot; Majette.

After the motion was on the floor to hire Gibson, Moody called for discussion and Tyner took the floor. For the next 25 minutes, he laid out his reasons for voting against Gibson’s selection as superintendent.

The first of Tyner’s complaints was that Northampton was taking a superintendent from a neighboring county. He said it was unethical because the Northampton board never contacted Weldon City Schools to let them know they were in the process of discussing the vacancy with Gibson.

He second problem was Gibson’s status as a 27-year veteran educator. He said he believed that she would be retiring in three years and no more than five and that the board would be going through the process again.

His third point was residency in Northampton County.

&uot;I want a superintendent in Northampton County who is like me,&uot; Tyner said. &uot;I want someone who lives in this county, pays taxes in this county and goes to church in this county.&uot;

He said the county had just gone through having a superintendent that was in the district Monday to Thursday and wasn’t available the other three days. He charged that Gibson owned a home in Fayetteville and wouldn’t be part of the community.

&uot;She’s going to make all this money – and I haven’t gotten to that yet – and then she’s going back to Fayetteville and leave us high and dry,&uot; he said. &uot;We need someone who’s going to be here. We need to find someone that will go to our churches and live among us.&uot;

Tyner said he was tired of superintendents telling him what was wrong in the county. He said he didn’t want another one bringing in people to say what was wrong.

&uot;We don’t need someone from Fayetteville coming in and telling us what is wrong when we’ve got people in this community that can help us,&uot; he insisted. &uot;The county is doing well. You know why? Because they had the guts to hire someone who loves Northampton County and didn’t just come here for a stepping stone.&uot;

He used Sue Gay of the health department as another example of those who were from Northampton County and loved it.

&uot;I’ve got as much sense as anybody,&uot; Tyner said. &uot;You board members have as much sense as anybody. We don’t need to be told what is wrong, we need someone to help us fix it.&uot;

Tyner then charged that preliminary test data from Weldon City Schools indicated that the elementary school didn’t meet annual yearly progress and that the middle school test score have dropped.

&uot;She doesn’t have the credentials to take us where we want to be,&uot; he insisted.

Tyner’s final point was the contract the Board went into closed session to discuss before the open meeting vote.

&uot;They just told you there was a contract,&uot; he said. &uot;I’ve looked at the contract.&uot;

He said the state allowed Northampton to pay $97,000 for a superintendent.

&uot;This board wants to pay the superintendent $125,000 base,&uot; he said. &uot;Where is the extra coming from? Us. The Northampton County tax payers.&uot;

Tyner said there was also a call for $2,000 in membership fees and travel and professional development allowances that were not limited by the contract.

&uot;This is an atrocity for our school system and the tax payers ought to raise hell in Northampton County,&uot; he said. &uot;I appreciate the citizens voting for the bond referendum and showing they have confidence in us. Right now, I don’t have confidence. I’m going to fight it until I die. Citizens of Northampton County, I want you to know I’m with you.&uot;

For his part, Majette said he had been on the Board for nine and one-half years and selected four superintendents.

&uot;We didn’t do this the right way,&uot; he said. &uot;We didn’t.&uot;

Tyner made a substitute motion to table the matter with Majette offering a second. The motion was defeated by a 5-2 vote.

After a call for the vote, Moody said she wanted to speak to the citizens.

&uot;You’ve only heard one side of the story,&uot; she said. &uot;I’m not an argumentative person, but as a seven-member board, all but two of us come together to agree this is the best for the community.&uot;

She said last year’s test results showed vast improvements in Weldon’s test scores and she was pleased with the enthusiasm Gibson showed.

Following the meeting, Moody was conciliatory towards those who opposed the decision.

&uot;Mr. Tyner is a team player,&uot; she said. &uot;I know when he realizes we have the right person, he will join with us.&uot;

Stephenson and Little weren’t so quick to speak of coming together. Both took umbrage to the process being called unethical.

&uot;The only thing I can say is we selected the best candidate for the students and citizens,&uot; Stephenson said. &uot;I also was born here and pay taxes here. I believe in being fair and I am only speaking for the citizens and if that means not being elected next term, so be it.

&uot;If you want to talk about unethical, this decision was only discussed in closed session before today,&uot; Stephenson continued. &uot;There were already petitions on the street disclosing the name of the candidate. That’s unethical.&uot;

Little said that he agreed with Stephenson’s assessment.

&uot;I’m not beholden to anybody but the students,&uot; Little said.

He also agreed that anything done in closed session should remain there.

For her part, Gibson has not returned any messages left at her office by this newspaper for more than two weeks. Wednesday morning she was at a school in Weldon, according to her staff.

Moody said she had discussed the situation with Gibson on Tuesday and the newly selected superintendent had indicated she would sign the contract.

Her start date is July 1.

Interim Superintendent J. Wendell Hall’s contract runs through July 15, but he said Tuesday he did not know how long he would be with the district because he hadn’t spoken with the board about that process.