By Richard Sullins | email@example.com
A meeting of the Lee County Board of Education that started with only a handful of items on the agenda turned into an affair lasting just short of five hours on Tuesday night, with more than half the gathering taking place behind closed doors.
By the time it was all over just before the clock struck 11 p.m., the new Republican majority had provided a textbook example in how the direction of an organization can be changed in the span of a few hours when you have the votes.
This new majority, joined by veteran Republican board member Sherry Lynn Womack, began by ousting fellow GOP and politically moderate Republican member Sandra Bowen as chair of the board, handing the gavel to Womack as its new leader.
With three new members joining the board all at once, a bit of time in bringing them up to speed was expected. But some people in the audience were surprised that not all of them seemed to have spent adequate time with their homework before taking their oath of office.
Democrats had reclaimed a majority on the school board in September 2021 when Vice Chair Christine Hilliard switched her political affiliation from Republican to Democratic.
But the November 8 elections saw the political pendulum take a swing to the right with the election of three first-time members of the GOP – Eric Davidson, Chris Gaster, and Alan Rummel.
New direction set
Davidson, Gaster and Rummel were sworn into office at 5:30 p.m. before the meeting started, followed by a short reception for congratulations and well-wishes. When the meeting started promptly at 6 p.m., the new Republican majority made clear that they intended more besides changing who will hold the gavel.
As the meeting’s agenda came up for a vote, Rummel and Gaster offered up a quiver of seven motions to add additional items for consideration and have the public take notice that at least for the short term, there will be investigations and, in some cases, reinvestigations of things that were previously believed settled.
The list of potential topics offered in a rapid-fire fashion sought to collectively set a direction that few subjects – if any – would be off-limits for this board during their next 12 months.
Gaster succeeded in adding an item that to create new performance and fiscal audits of Lee County Schools “so that we will have the latest data to work with. Gaster linked his motion to a performance audit done by Evergreen Solutions of the school district in 2012, suggesting new findings might lead to new policies and strategies to relate to a decline in test scores observed over the past decade and noting his intent in offering the motion was to create a foundation for the school board and commissioners to work more closely together.
Much to be learned
But Gaster seemed to be operating from a perception that a fiscal audit had not been done since 2012, a notion that was quickly corrected by Womack and Bowen. Rummel wanted the work to include sections on the status of each funding stream from which the board obtains funds and strategies for making use of those dollars.
No one was prepared to provide detailed information on the 2012 recommendations that resulted from the study, but Democratic board member Patrick Kelly remembered that the Evergreen Solutions document recommended doing away with locally hired custodians and bus drivers, replacing them instead with contracted workers.
The difference among the board members centered on the amount of information being provided through the current auditing process and whether more of this information could be better obtained through a third-party auditing process. Gaster’s original motion passed with four votes in favor, two against, and one abstention.
Rummel questioned whether the board’s current legal representative, the Raleigh firm of Tharrington Smith, should continue representing the board’s interests. Rummel said he was interested “in ensuring that the current firm is adequately representing us and ensuring that we are being represented in a fiscally responsible manner.”
But by this point after other similar motions had been offered by the new members, Democratic board member Jamey Laudate seemed to have had enough of motions appearing to question the way the board operates without having a firm understanding of how and why things work the way they do in the public sector. He asked Rummel “how can you have concerns on something you have no insight on?”
Gaster directed a question to the board’s attorney who was in the meeting room, asking who the legal counsel represents and implying it might be the administration rather than the board. After the attorney assured Gaster that their representation was always that of the board as the statutory authority, Gaster replied, “then I’m sure you wouldn’t mind doing another presentation” for the board’s business.
Another example came when new member Davidson asked about the details in the monthly financial reports for each school and what information each member of the board should glean from them and what use to make of them.
Womack asked Kelly and Laudate to speak to how they made use of this type of information. Both said it gave them a sense of the types of donations being made at individual schools and a means of drilling down into the level of financial accountability at the institution. Womack did not speak as to how she made use of the data.
The requests made by the new Republican majority were all striking in one other major aspect: there was no question or consideration that appeared to be given to the financial costs of the proposed actions versus the potential benefits that might be gained. In fact, no cost estimates for any of the independent reviews that Rummel and Gaster proposed were given.
For example, the costs of contracting with an outside attorney (presumably not Tharrington Smith) for an evaluation and report as to whether warnings of potential issues with a faculty member had been missed could easily end up costing the board tens of thousands of dollars, money that is required by state law to be paid by county taxpayers.
Likewise, a suggestion that a review of this type had the potential to cross paths with the ongoing legal investigation were not addressed.
Rummel offered the final motion of the evening before adjournment directed Dr. Bryan to bring recommendations to the board for a qualified legal firm to conduct an external investigation.
This issue, likely discussed during the board’s closed session, related to this same issue – the ongoing probe by the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney of alleged sexual abuse of students by former SanLee Middle School teacher Andrew Allen.
Statements issued on the day of Allen’s arrest by the Sheriff’s Office and Lee County Schools suggested that the abuse might have happened as far back as his hiring in 2012.
Rummel said he felt the board needed to assure the public that “no red flags were missed or issues still lingering that haven’t been addressed.” There was discussion before entering the closed session that these questions might be better addressed after legal proceedings against Allen were finished, but no resolution was reached and the board was unanimous in voting to authorize the process of beginning the search for a firm to conduct the inquiry.
In other business, the board approved a one-year contract for Lucas Yerger to serve as an assistant principal at Lee County High School and that SanLee Middle School had received re-validation of its AVID (Advancement By Individual Determination) program, helping to best serve students who need support to succeed in becoming college ready.
AVID is a nationally recognized method of using evidence-based research and strategies to accelerate the performance of students who need a boost as they aspire to do their best work in college-level studies.
What it all means
The direction of Lee County Schools over the next couple of years will be riding on how well the switching out of nearly half of the members of its governing body plays out. Davidson and Rummel were quick to agree with Gaster’s own assessment of the task facing each of them: “There is a lot that I need to learn. A whole lot.”
Chris Gaster is wholly unprepared to be a school board member, which is why I’m shocked that Republicans didn’t elect him chair.
Anyway, he said, publicly, during the campaign that he was unqualified to be a school board member by training or experience. Not caring about such trivialities, Republicans made him the top vote-getter in their primary.
With Sherry as chair, well, buckle up, kids. As the Rant pointed out, no one stopped to consider whether existing programs or personnel were worth the cost of the program. So, get ready, Lee County, for the advent of cut-rate public education.
And, why not? These republicans *hate* public schools. Don’t be surprised if they run ours into the ground.
I have no doubt they will use all their imaginary grievances to really mess things up and as the former commenter, run things into the ground. Ignorant and vicious Republicans breed ignorant and vicious changes and laws that will doom our democratic republic if we don’t stop them. I say shame on Sanford voters- we all will reap what you have sown.
Lee County voters, not Sanford voters. Although an argument could be made that if more Sanford voters had come out for this county election, we wouldn’t be here right now.
And the argument can be made that if you offered some intelligent insight into fixing the problems you disagree with, instead of bitching and complaining that Republicans are the problem in every single post you make, then maybe a solution could be found quicker and more efficiently, and other issues can be addressed. Lee County School Parent said it best. It’s all about you and your adult problems. Well news flash sweetie, it looks like you passed the age limit for school so unless your going to actually offer some insight into what should be done to address the problems, you know like an adult, then go back down in your basement, and play your online games, and let the adults solve the problems. We will call you for dinner when it’s ready.
Tired of Entitled People’s post reminds me of a quote from Mark Twain” Never argue with stupid people they will drag you down to their level and beat you with experience “
The actions of the new Republican members of the Lee County Board of Education organizational meeting are a source of great amusement if you don’t care about the educational system. I was particularly enamored of the concern shown by Alan Rummel over the ability of the law firm of Tharrington Smith to competently represent the board . Who would Mr. Rummel have render an opinion on that firm’s work product? I became a member of the Bar in in 1974. Not once have I heard the ability of that firm doubted. That doesn’t mean everyone agrees with the merits of a case- just that Wade and Roger Smith, and those under their wing, will represent their clients at the highest level.
But, isn’t this what we elected our new members to do? How much time and money will we expend to investigate a problem which doesn’t exist, paying tax money to a law firm to evaluate a better firm? I wish I didn’t care. Then I wouldn’t feel so bad giggling at this crew .
Ron you’re 100% spot on. The problem is the School Board should not be partisan. The average voter in Lee County especially with the growing number of Ft Bragg families moving here do not know much about local politics. The school board members in my opinion did not win on their merits but won because our county voted Republican on a National level and they won by default. On a National level I mostly support Republicans, however our local Republican Party is a bunch of loons.
It is also hard when you have a 1000 member church with a vested stake in one party winning local races.
Personally I am glad the idiots took over. Sometimes we have to hit rock bottom before we can appreciate having intelligent, sane people hold pubic office. I just hope DEMS have someone at every meeting in their face pointing out all their mistakes and idiot ideas.
Not just the Dems responsibility to call out their idiot ideas, it is everyone’s responsibility to do it. Strong schools and common sense leadership are not partisan ideals.
I agree but Jim Womack and the republicans made School Boards political locally. I told one of the remaining sane members to let them elect the crazies to run the show. I suspect they could have re-elected Bowen to be chair assuming Davidson went along. That would have meant two more years of political hits coming from Jim Womack. They own the SB now. I wonder how long it will take for them to figure a way to grant some funds to Life Springs Church?
Great job, love the negative feedback posted on this Rant, it shows that change gets under everyones skin, lol … when it dosen’t go your way you all freak out, hilarious … the majority of you don’t even have kids in the public school “system” 🤣😂😅 Continue to investigate, follow the money, look under ever stone, it’s about the kids not the party you nimrods, it’s about the well-being of children and young adults, money should be spent properly, kids safety is a must, scores have to go up, kids need to graduate, read closely to these post … it’s all about you and your adult feelings, weak, 🥴 it’s about our youth not look at me I’m hurt and now I’m going to bit*h
You my friend are mentally challenged, you’re right it is about the kids and the local republicans are making it political. Please go back to your sad corner on Steele Street and bask in the glory at the Womacks shrine of hate .Fools like you are ruining the Republican Party I just hope you aren’t as stupid to believe what your writing. And trust me your not capable of hurting my feelings.
Triggered 🤣 … not a Republican … so sad … typical response
Shows your hand using “triggered” #fool
The article is obviously biased in its judgement against the newly democratically elected school board members. I would actually give the new school board an opportunity to make changes and then judge them based on the merits and the impact of those decisions on the schools. It seems now in local, state, and national elections there is a rush to judgement and demonizing the other side. I think it might be better to revisit this topic in 6 months and see what changes have actually transpired. I am hopeful that all sides can compromise and come up with best practices and solutions to move the needle forward on education.
I’m sorry BUT when one of the newly elected School Board members posts publicly that at Jan 6th Capital riot (where people DIED, for or against). That they were “soft and should have finished the job”. That’s where I draw a line.
GeneFX58, that’s where everyone who cares about our democracy should draw the line. It was an disgustingly seditious comment.
As I watched the first board meeting, it became apparent that many of the newly elected members had done absolutely no research about the current issues facing public schools in Lee County. While the transition to a Republic-majority with Ms. Womack as the Board Chair was expected, most of the new motions made were ridiculous. I still do not know what Mr. Rummell hoped to gain with his motion. Did he want a fiscal performance or academic audit? I don’t think he knew either. Then, a 2012 audit initiated by the Board of Commissioners was brought up as a model for conducting such an “audit.” First, you need to explain the problem. Simply replicating an audit from 10 years ago for an unknown problem is a waste of time and taxpayer money. Fiscal audits occur monthly, quarterly, and annually by internal and external agencies. Academic performance is evaluated quarterly by NC DPI for every public school in NC via the multitude of tests administered.
Next, why do we need a motion to send out a request for bid regarding a new law firm to represent the Board? Why? I think Mr. Davidson wanted to look important but this is a waste of time and money. Again, the real issues confronting our kids in the classroom have no bearing upon what board members discussed at the meeting. While new boards take time to fully understand agendas that are not common knowledge, these new board members simply stated or suggested they have no experience as their excuse for being unprepared. Is this a sufficient explanation? Here is a scenario…”You’re running for an elected office, attend some of the meetings, criticize decisions, and then admit that you really know next to nothing after you are elected.” Since the time they were elected until the date in which they were sworn, there was plenty of time to seek out information from informed sources. If I were elected to the Board with little to experience, which is unthinkable, then I would contact those with more experience for advice. Here is a wild suggestion, go back and watch previous meetings that are archived on the Lee County Board of Education website.
For the new Board members, here are some other topics that you should address:
1. Increased attrition rates of public school teachers in Lee County.
1a. In about two months, look at the number of teacher transfers and resignations.
2. Significant increase of student discipline problems that are not being addressed by principals (elementary, middle, and secondary); therefore, not being reported (you can decide why).
3. Lack of alignment with outcomes-based assessment and instruction.
3a. Ok, you have idea what I’m saying. Look at what students are supposed to learn and look at the instructional resources teachers are using. They are not receiving help from their supervisors, especially at the elementary level. Also, look at the resources for any given grade level provided by the district and you will see the point.
4. Principals driving teachers to only focus upon concepts covered on state tests, not providing additional resources or modeling content to meet their expectations. AKA…micromanaged to the precise minute of each day. Relying upon county-based resources alone are the problem.
5. A district office that lacks depth and understanding of what teachers encounter in the classroom on a daily basis; complete ignorance about pedagogy (how children learn), etc. Refer back to #1-#4.
Ok newly elected board members, I’ve done your homework for you.
Pretty simple. Davidson, Gaster, Rummel, & Womack want to get rid of the attorneys currently representing the Board. Why would Davidson have an audit performed over 10 years ago? They are looking to clean house and Jim Womack is likely behind their efforts.
O.K. So reading some of these posts, I have come to the conclusion that Republicans as a whole, are now the scapegoats and the catalysts for everything wrong in the local Government, the Federal Government, and with anything that people have an issue with or don’t like. You lump all Republicans together in one nice little bunch, and say they are all the same instead of speaking on the person whom you dislike or have issues with. Think about that. Think about what your doing. Your putting the collective whole into one group for the actions of one or two. Last time I checked, that was considered racism.You can deny it all you want, but it is plain and simple racism covered by a blanket of justification of Political affiliation. One poster even described the Republican Headquarters as a “shrine of hate.” All Republicans hate those who differ from what this one person thinks, so therefore we are a hate group. Well, do you remember the little uproar a few weeks back about a drag show at a local business. I’m sure you do. And how everyone was shocked and appalled by the protests of some of the residents (not the “Proud Boys” but your local residents. How would it make you feel that four of the protesters who were against the drag show even happening were registered Democrats? Because they were. So I guess it’s fair to say that Democrats are also a hate group because they are against gays and trans-gender individuals. I mean if the actions or a few justify the reputation of all, then Democrats hate gays and trans-gender people. Also, those individuals protesting did not even know the reason for the show was to raise funds for the incident that occurred in Colorado. Nope, they just believed that they were recruiting for their lifestyle. And the part that was so funny about the entire thing was they had the audacity to pray for these people. Really? your going pray for the salvation of someone’s eternal soul in one breath, then condemn them, and their lifestyle in the other? Kinda hypocritical if you ask me, but that’s fine because your doing under the guise of Religion, and to “save a person, that you don’t even know, but they are different than you so therefore they must be wrong.” and to be quite honest, people have no clue anymore what Religion, tolerance, freedom, love, or anything is anymore. You cannot pray in schools, because your forcing your beliefs onto others …..bullshit. You must teach children about the gay and trans-gender lifestyle so they can accept it and understand it when they see it…..again bullshit. Critical Race Theory must be added to the curriculum so kids are tolerant of others and know how oppressed the black man was and currently is……um, bullshit.
These things are not to be taught in schools. They are what is known as values and those are taught by parents, not teachers, not government officials, or even by your neighbor, by your parents. So both individual Democrats and individual Republicans are to blame for the way things are going…..individuals, not the entire group. Until people learn to realize this, nothing is ever going to change. And I’m sure this publication is completely against what I’m saying and will delete this post because it does not align with their particular viewpoint (and that’s fine, they can post whatever they want as it is their website and not mine.) but in the off chance this is posted, just think about what your doing and how your condemning everyone associated with their chosen political group because of a few people who do not represent the collective as a whole. Until you do that, nothing will ever change,no matter how bad you want it to. This will be my last post because I know things will never change, and people will always try to justify their actions because it fits their particular narrative, and they actually believe they are better than everyone else. It’s sad. So, have a great life everyone, may you be successful in all your endeavors. I hope you find happiness, love, and prosperity throughout your lives, or whatever you are seeking. And since I am a Republican and Conservative I say Merry Christmas, not Happy Holidays. So Merry Christmas everyone!
Blah, blah, blah. Speaking of racism. The only African American candidate for School Board came in dead last. Look at the current School Board. Not one person of color. 37% of Lee County High School students are Hispanic, 37% of students are White, 20% of students are Black, 5% of students are Two or more races, and 1% of students are Asian. These fine Christians that came out and voted in our new batch seem to not be color blind. The DEM black candidate was not an incumbent so he should not have been penalized for the mask mandate or any other grievance the voters had against the incumbents.
I see the Christian Taliban are very active in Sanford.
No you’re wrong, nobody here is venting about Republicans as a whole, just the jackasses that reside on Steele Street. Unless you live under a rock nobody could make up the crap that these people have pulled over the time that the Womacks have been involved in the party.
Really, with all of the details that has come to light about the January 6th coup, I can not understand how some elected officials who attended that Trump rally on January 6th with the intent of overthrowing our government , should be allowed to hold any office. Especially school board, or county commissioner!
The Womacks have no business in politics or school function. They’re weak minded idiot cultist. God damn them.
Wasn’t she investigated for violations for the school board policy in regard’s to the Jan 6th insurrection? How was she able to stay on board? That was not a protect several people were hurt and some lost their lives. She is problematic.
Sherry Womack and the newly elected ‘perform’ for the new School Board. I see you Allen.
Click my ID for the video (lol).
It’s sarcasm, not an endorsement in ANY way. Thank you!