School board prepares for heavy decisions

Teachers, principals and staff will be getting up to $1,500 in retention bonuses from Moore County Schools as a result of action taken by the school board on Dec. 13. To pay for the bonuses, the school district will use $2 million from one-time COVID-19 relief funds. The state had previously authorized up to $2,800 for separate teachers and staff bonuses.

In authorizing the money, the board removed previously approved school improvement projects intended to be paid for with COVID-19 relief funds. Off the list are capital projects at Sandhills Farm Life Elementary, Pinecrest High School and The Learning Center at Pinckney.

In the sole dissenting vote, board member Robert Levy said, “I know that teachers deserve a bonus. I believe they deserve much more than this board is about to give them. But I do not see us amending our budget in the middle of the year to give our bonuses. We have other projects that the money needs to be used for.”

Responding to a bus driver that spoke during the public comment period, board member Stacey Caldwell urged the board to consider reimbursing the cost of maintaining all bus driver’s licenses. Caldwell cited the need to retain bus drivers and the current shortage as her reasoning.

Superintendent Robert Grimesey said he would bring up funding for school bus driver’s licenses in January as part of the next budget. However, Grimesey pointed to the need for yearly recurring funds to make it happen. “This candy land, with all this federal money, is not going on forever. You are not going to enjoy the kind of fund balance you are enjoying right now.”

The transportation department estimated that the cost of reimbursing drivers for their required licenses would be $2,500. Other school districts offer to pay for the cost of licenses as an incentive, according to a source.

In other matters, while discussing a threat by an anonymous phone caller to the central office’s voice mail on Sept. 7 regarding a school mask mandate, board member David Hensley appeared to violate the established code of ethics by disclosing confidential information in public. It came at the end of the meeting when Hensley ignored attorney-client privilege and bypassed the long-standing practice of submitting information to the clerk of the board in advance.

Catching other board members off-guard, Hensley began to attribute quotes from board attorney Neil Ramee made in a private conversation. For a brief time, confidential material was shown on the overhead screen in the boardroom and on the livestream, recorded session. Despite concerns raised over confidentially, Hensley continued to speak. He was only stopped by a vote by the board to suspend the meeting and enter a closed session.

“There are some quotes, that I cannot validate, attributed to me, that would have been confidential attorney-client guidance to the board,” Ramee said. “The board can choose to waive privilege. I don’t think that is up to an individual.”   

In the past, Hensley has been criticized for violating his oath of office by disclosing confidential information involving students on local radio shows.

After 30 minutes, the board returned to the open session, and Hensley began to recount the timeline leading up to the September board meeting being moved from West Pine Middle back to the central office. This time, Hensley did not disclose any conversations made in confidence.

Sandhills_Sentinel~Written by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter John Patota.

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