Durham County

School board to give community a chance to weigh in on superintendent search

The Durham Board of Education prepares to discuss the school district's budget and the board's search for a new superintendent during a regular business meeting, Thursday, April 27.
The Durham Board of Education prepares to discuss the school district's budget and the board's search for a new superintendent during a regular business meeting, Thursday, April 27. The Herald-Sun

The Durham Board of Education’s discussion about what steps it will take next in its search for a new superintendent was long and passionate Thursday night during its regular business meeting.

But when all the talk ended, the only decision reached revolved around gathering more community input before it considers how to proceed in the search for someone to replace Superintendent Bert L’Homme who will retire in August.

In truth, community input has already begun for board members who frequently referenced calls and email messages they have already gotten from people with ideas about how the board should go about the business of replacing L’Homme.

But next Thursday, May 4, the board will hold a formal sharing session beginning at 5:30 p.m., following a regular work session, to give citizens a chance to chime in on the search.

Meanwhile, some board members have agreed to begin planning several community meetings, most likely for next month, to give residents more opportunities to tell the board what they’d like to see in a new superintendent.

“There will probably be three meetings, possibly four,” said School Board Chairman Mike Lee in an interview following the meeting.

Lee said the meeting will be held in several different parts of the county to give residents from across Durham a chance to attend.

The board didn’t make a decision Thursday about whether it would hire a search firm to help find L’Homme’s replacement.

About eight residents, several of them teachers, spoke Thursday on the issue of hiring a new superintendent.

“As we search for a new superintendent, we need someone like Dr. [Bert] L’Homme who is rooted in the classroom,” said Ken Brockenbrough, a teacher at Holt Elementary School.

Brockenbrough said the board should take its time and search broadly, a sentiment shared my several speakers, for someone who has taught and loves teaching.

“We need someone who will work with the community to make this an educational hotspot for the Triangle and nationally,” Brockenbrough said. “And someone who will hammer home with our commissioners our need to not just tread water financially but expand with the expanding needs of our community.”

Activist Jackie Wagstaff, a former school board member, said she hopes the board conducts a better search than it has done in the past two searches.

She cited former superintendent Eric Becoats who left under a cloud of controversy amid questions about his handling of school finances and L’Homme who announced his retirement less than a year after receiving a five-year contract extension.

School board member Minnie Fort-Brown reminded her colleagues that hiring the next superintendent is the board’s most important job.

And she warned teachers calling for a national search that hiring a new superintendent would mean a total “reset” for the district.

“How many teachers are ready for a reset, because when you bring someone new in we reset,” Forte-Brown said. “I hear teachers say all the time that they are tired that every time someone new comes in we start all over. Are you ready for that?”

Budget talk

In other business Thursday, the board received a brief overview of the district’s $430 million budget proposal for the 2017-18 school year.

The board has scheduled a public hearing for 6:30 p.m., May 4, following the forum on the superintendent search, to give residents a chance to comment on the budget before it is approved by the board and sent to County Commissioners for that body’s consideration.

On Thursday, several residents urged the board to ask commissioners for what it needs to adequately educate Durham’s children.

“We can’t afford anymore cuts,” said Bryan Proffitt, president of the Durham Association of Educators. “Every single cut to the classroom, every single cut to an instructional facilitator, every single cut to another district service is something else our kids aren’t getting and they already aren’t getting what it is they deserve and what it is that they need.”

Crystal Rogers, the vice president of the Southwest Elementary School PTA, said the district can’t afford to continue cutting services.

Rogers said teachers are overworked and students are forced to do with less when the district makes cuts.

“Please consider increasing the ask of the County Commissioners to supplement these issues for the kids and our teachers,” Rogers said.

DPS officials are asking County Commissioners for $3.5 million in “new money” to pay for charter school enrollment growth, salary and benefit increases and fixed costs such as increases in utilities.

The county’s 13 charter schools would receive a little more than half -- $1.8 million of the “new money” — $1.2 million for a projected 380-student enrollment growth and $630,000 due under state law requiring school districts to share a percentage of any new local allocation with charter schools.

The spending plan would also eliminate 103 central office and school-based positions, in a move that would save DPS $11.2 million.

School officials contend no jobs would be lost because the cuts would come through attrition and the elimination of vacancies.

Proposed cuts to school district’s central office would yield $8 million with the remaining $3.2 million coming from schools in the areas of clerical support, assistant principals and teachers.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645