By Richard Sullins |

Republican Sandra Bowen and Democrat Christine Hilliard were re-elected as chair and vice chair at the Lee County Board of Education’s final meeting of 2021 on Tuesday. But if you thought this meeting was about toasting the year’s achievements with egg nog and cookies, you’d be mistaken.

As soon as the election of officers was over and the public comment period began, the board and its superintendent, Dr. Andy Bryan, came under a relentless barrage of attacks, even from within its own ranks. And it seemed almost every issue brought with it another round of contention.

Alan Rummel, a Republican who has declared plans on social to seek a seat on the board in 2022, questioned a decision from last month to renew Bryan’s contract through June 2024. He quoted a board policy requiring votes on the superintendent’s contract to be taken in open session and asked why the vote was done during the closed portion of the meeting.

In fact, the board did vote by a 5-1 margin in open session after coming out of their closed session at the end of the November 9 meeting to extend Bryan’s contract without any changes to his salary or other terms and conditions.

Rummel also claimed during Bryan’s tenure, Lee County Schools’ performance had dropped from above average to the bottom third of schools in the state and called the superintendent’s performance “less than mediocre.” He said because the board hadn’t shared information with the public about Bryan’s performance, “it leads the public to believe that some shady business is going on.”

Bryan’s performance was also called into question by Lee GOP Chairman Jim Womack, who asked “is it any wonder that all three of our middle schools and both traditional high schools are nationally ranked as ‘below average’ according to Yet, there you were, one month ago, extending this Superintendent’s contract for two plus years with not one shred of objective justification.”

Attacks on the board didn’t stop there.

Lisa Ragan of Sanford said “the people don’t have to accept whatever comes down from the State Board or the teacher’s union” and called board members “a disappointment.”

Chad Stall expressed anger over the district’s continued masking mandate, comparing it to “sensory deprivation” and “speech restrictions.”

“If this is not about control and dominance,” he said, “then why on earth would a board member have the authority or the position to vote to practice their own habits on the lives of 7-year-olds or 12-year-olds? I cannot believe that in a county, such as Lee County, a group of adults would knowingly aid and abet a person who lives that kind of lifestyle and grant them authority and access to your children. You should all be ashamed of yourselves.”

The only Chad Stall registered to vote in North Carolina lives in Wake County.

Womack rips superintendent’s contract extension

As the meeting got down to scheduled business, Republican board member Sherry Lynn Womack, wife of the county Republican chairman, sought to add an item to the agenda – a discussion and review of Bryan’s contract extension. She was not present in November when the contract was extended.

Her motion to add the item to the agenda failed by a 3-4 margin. But when the time for member comments came at the end of the public portion of the meeting, Womack unloaded about what she viewed as violations of the board’s own policies.

One item she questioned was on the November 9 agenda as “Superintendent’s Informal Evaluation,” which was to be discussed during the closed session. Board Policy 7805 does provide for an informal evaluation process designed to “foster trust and communication.”

The policy provides the informal evaluation is to take place in December, and it wasn’t clear why the board chose to move it to November for this year. A review of agendas for Decembers past shows that unspecified “personnel” items were discussed in the final month of those previous years, but a “Superintendent’s Informal Evaluation” has not appeared on an agenda since December 2015.

Efforts to reach Board Chair Bowen and Board Attorney Stephen Rawson for clarification were unsuccessful as of press time.

Mask mandate extended, Womack calls for end to contact tracing

The board again extended its mask mandate by another month – probably a given, with COVID numbers continuing to rise in Lee and 91 other North Carolina counties.

District Nurse Supervisor Mary Hawley Oates reported the total number of positive COVID cases since the pandemic began in March 2020 has now reached 9,870 and will almost certainly top 10,000 before Christmas.

Womack offered a motion for the district to immediately end contact tracing and give that duty over to the Lee County Health Department unless there are two or more positive cases identified that come from same class, bus, or athletic event; and that staff need not quarantine unless there is a positive test.

The motion to end contact tracing failed 2-5.

Board member Patrick Kelly said he’d come to the meeting with hopes he could move to end the mandate, but cited rising numbers as a reason he didn’t think that possible. Hilliard then moved that the mandate be continued until January.

That didn’t sit well with Womack.

“This is a disservice to our children,” she said. “We are going to continue to see our numbers go down in schools. We are going to continue to see violence. We are going to continue to see suicide and depression until somebody decides to wake up. I’m sick and tired of the politics. It’s time that we started standing up for our children.”

The motion to keep the mandate in place for another month passed 5-2.

Full video of the meeting is available here.