Moving forward

Published 8:51 am Tuesday, March 22, 2011

WINDSOR – Two members of the Bertie County Board of Education have different reasons for casting votes against Superintendent of Schools-elect Dr. Debbie Harris-Rollins.

While both Rickey Freeman and Alton Parker have their own reasons for casting votes against the hiring of Dr. Harris-Rollins, the incoming schools chief said she looks forward to working with the entire board and believes everyone will work toward the best interest of students.

Thursday, the Bertie County school board voted 3-2 to hire Dr. Harris-Rollins and give her a three-year contract, which will likely be extended to four years in June when it is allowed by state law.

Freeman and Parker cast the dissenting votes and each said they had good reasons to do so.

“Her qualifications are not what we need at this time,” Parker said. “Her financial background is not strong and that is a key issue with me. My fellow board members keep telling me we have a Finance Officer, but you can’t rely on that person being here forever.”

Parker said he was concerned with the fact that Dr. Harris-Rollins was not chosen to succeed Dr. Michael G. Basham as Superintendent of Hertford County Public Schools, even though she was serving as an Assistant Superintendent in the district.

“They went outside of the system and hired a superintendent,” he said. “I think that says something and I’m troubled by what it says.”

Meanwhile, Freeman said his issues weren’t as much with Dr. Harris-Rollins as with the contract agreed to by the majority of the board.

“It wasn’t necessarily not supporting her,” he said. “I had a couple of issues with the contract, especially the four-year contract. I am not a proponent of giving someone four years right off. I wanted a two-year contract. I could not, in good conscience, vote for the contract that was proposed.”

Freeman said he also raised issue with the new superintendent’s start date – which will be sometime between April 18 and May 18. He said he would have preferred to remain under the leadership of Interim Superintendent Dr. Will Crawford through the remainder of the school year.

“I didn’t want to change right now,” he said. “We have graduation coming up, End of Course testing, and many other key issues. I wanted to finish what we are doing under Dr. Crawford, who has been here for a while and knows what we need to do.

“We are facing a major financial crisis – just like every other school system in North Carolina – and I would have preferred that we concentrate on closing out this year and getting ready for that shortfall,” Freeman added.

Parker said he also had that issue.

“I would have been much more pleased with a start date of July 1,” he said. “I was not happy to be changing leaders in the middle of the school year.”

Both Freeman and Parker said they would have preferred to go back and request applicants again, but Board of Education Chairwoman Gloria Lee said she and the other two members of the majority – Pamela Chamblee and Emma Johnson – would not agree to that.

“Maybe down the road, if we could have started the search process over, we could have agreed on a candidate,” Lee said. “We (the majority) wanted to go ahead and get a superintendent and we felt like she met the qualifications we initially listed. We didn’t see any need to start over.”

Parker and Freeman both would have been happier if it had occurred.

“It would have taken us opening the process again,” Parker said. “We really only looked at three candidates and one of those withdrew. We didn’t have a strong pool in my opinion.

“I feel like we could have done more diligence,” he added. “I think we rushed the superintendent search tremendously.”

Freeman said his reasoning went back to the timetable.

“I did not want to rush into this,” Freeman said. “I feel like opening it back up would have helped us see if we had a different set of candidates who maybe missed the deadline or had a change of heart. That could have given us more options.

“Maybe we would have ended with the same result, but we could have had a chance to know for sure what was available to us,” he said.

As for what it means for the new superintendent, most of the group said they believe it will work out.

“I’m not really concerned,” Lee said of the future. “We have a history of disagreements, but, by the same token, we have a desire to work together and we have worked together. Even though the other two didn’t vote with the majority, I think they will work with her.”

Freeman said that is his intention.

“I’m going to work with her,” he said. “We live in a Democracy and the majority rules. I voted the way I felt, but in the end it’s a board of education decision and I’ll move forward.

“As long as she does what is best for the children of Bertie County, I will support it,” Freeman added. “The big picture is everyone is here for the betterment of students in Bertie County and that has not changed.”

Parker said he would need to see how Dr. Harris-Rollins handled her job before he would be sure how they would work together.

“I have a standoff approach right now,” he said. “I will be watching to see how she handles her job. If she does what is best for everyone no matter what board member is in favor or against it, I will support her.

“My being on the board is not about Debbie Rollins, it is about the children of Bertie County the same way it always has been,” Parker added. “I’m not here to like or not like a superintendent. I’m here to do what is in the best interest of the children.”

Dr. Harris-Rollins said she expected no less.

“I welcome the opportunity to work with not just those two board members (Parker and Freeman), but all of them,” she said. “My position will be the vote happened the way it happened. We may have some conversations about that, but when I arrive officially in Bertie County, it will be time to lay those differences aside and shift the focus to students.

“I don’t have doubts or questions in my mind we’ll be able to do that,” she added. “I believe all of the board members are committed to students, to teachers and to Bertie being the best system not just in eastern North Carolina, but in North Carolina and even the country.”