Bertie educators refocus efforts

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 19, 2007

WINDSOR – Judging from his remarks, Rickey Freeman is prepared to move Bertie County Schools forward.

During a Thursday forum in Windsor, the Bertie County Board of Education chairman said the time was now to turn the page on past history and refocus efforts on the future of a school district embroiled in controversy, the most recent chapter of which was the firing of Superintendent Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart.

“As elected officials, we are held responsible and must be responsive to the needs of our constituency,” Freeman said. “We expect that many of the comments and questions from our citizens will be expressions of disagreement with the board’s actions and frustration due to questions that by law cannot be answered to your satisfaction.

I respect that and believe that in our democracy we can disagree and yet exercise our freedom of expression in a civil manner.”

On Jan. 23, the school board, in a 3-2 vote, dismayed a large crowd gathered at the Bertie Schools Central Office by voiding the remaining 29 months on Dr. Collins-Hart’s contract. That agreement called for paying the superintendent for 12 months when and if the contract was voided prior to its June 30, 2009 expiration. To fulfill that obligation, the Bertie School Board must pay Dr. Collins-Hart $122,500. Additionally, the school board recently hired Dr. Michael Priddy of Greenville to serve as interim superintendent while a search ensues for a permanent replacement. The contract with Dr. Priddy calls for an $11,000 monthly salary. His contract runs through June 30, 2007 unless terminated with 30 days notice.

The hot topic at last week’s forum was the money the school board must spend to honor Dr. Collins-Hart’s contract plus the monthly stipend for Dr. Priddy.

“The board made a decision to end its relationship with the former superintendent,” said Freeman who, along with board colleagues Melinda Eure and Alton Parker, voted to terminate Dr. Collins-Hart’s contract.

He continued, “That decision was not made with undue haste, nor was it directed by others. This board fully accepts responsibility for any and all actions.

History will be the judge as to whether it was the right or wrong decision.”

According to state statutes, elected school officials are prevented from making public comments concerning personnel issues.

“No one on this board is evading or attempting to hide why we make decisions,” Freeman said. “We will be as open and honest with you as we can be.

Personnel matters are covered by numerous state statutes, none of which we wish to break.

Freeman then turned his attention to the children of Bertie Public Schools.

“I hope we will begin to focus where our mission statement says it should be, on our children,” the board chairman noted. “While much of the focus may be on adults, our plan is to focus all of our efforts on our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.”

Freeman added, “We believe that we have selected an outstanding leader in Dr. Priddy, who will guide us though this vital transitional period.

I believe this is not simply a transition from one leader to another.

I, and the rest of the board believe, this should be a transition to a Bertie County School System we can all be proud of, a school system that moves our students into the world of higher education and the world of work prepared to meet the challenges and as competitive as any student from any other county in our state.”