The normally courteous and polite discussion at a Moore County Board of Education meeting was replaced with board members trading barbs over procedural matters like the deadline for submitting items to be considered on the agenda, revisiting talking points from the recent election campaign and debating which performance measures should be used to determine student success. In the end, each motion made Monday night passed by a unanimous 7-0 vote.
In an unusual move, Moore County School Superintendent, Dr. Bob Grimesey, read a public statement during the meeting concerning the school board’s decision to award $200,000 to settle a lawsuit that alleged an inappropriate relationship between a school resource officer (SRO) and a Pinecrest High School student.
Such matters are considered confidential and normally only discussed during a closed session of the board. Board attorney, Neal Ramee, urged board members to “exercise great caution” when making public comments to protect confidentiality laws.
Criminal charges did not lead to a conviction of the SRO in 2017, but after a civil lawsuit against Moore County School, the board of education settled the case in late November. The decision came just after the election that saw three new board members elected.
In reading what was titled Potential Explanation of Recent Lawsuit Settlement, Dr. Grimesey said, “The settlement agreement specifically states that Moore County Schools denies any negligence, liability, or wrongdoing and that the purpose of the settlement is to avoid the expense, disruption, and inherent uncertainty of litigation.”
Dr. John Dempsey, president of Sandhills Community College, spoke on the success of the Sandhills Promise. The program offers Moore County residents free tuition to residents who graduate high school.
“The great thing is I can look anybody in the eye, and I can say you can go to Sandhills for free,” said Dr. Dempsey. “It is all made possible by the Sandhills College Foundation.” According to Dr. Dempsey, a capital campaign undertaken by the college raised $15 million a year ago, part of which was used to create an endowment to support the Sandhill Promise program.
Old Southern Pines Elementary School
In other matters, the board unanimously approved a contract that will allow Moore Montessori Community School to purchase the old Southern Pines Elementary School. The school on South May Street is no longer in use after the recent opening of a new school on South Carlisle Street.
The board also voted to hire Village Appraisers to conduct a second appraisal of the Southern Pines Primary School before deciding what to do with the soon-to-be surplus site. The appraisal will cost $10,000 and take no more than 45 days.
During the public comment period which begins each meeting, Mr. Lowel Simon spoke. “I would like to use my time to address the unprofessional and likely illegal behavior of two of our board members,” he said. “As we all witnessed this past Wednesday, words matter. The use of an elected position to proffer misinformation and misrepresentation has proven to be even more dangerous than we feared.
“The use of a public forum to intentionally make malicious and libelous statements, imply the disclosure of confidential information and to stifle intelligent discourse is not only immoral and illegal but a clear violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution.”
Simon was referring to a January 5 Facebook post by board member David Hensley, later justified by board member Bob Levy, that accused Chair Libby Carter of “improper/illegal actions regarding adding items to the official board meeting agenda.
In his closing remarks, Levy spoke on what he sees as the new tenor of the board.
“This is not going to be the same kumbaya board that maybe we have had in the past,” Levy said. “These are going to be diverse people. A businessman, a lawyer, people from different backgrounds, and we are going to ask different questions, and we are going to seek different answers, but in doing so, we will do the best job we possibly can for our students in Moore County.”
Feature photo: Screenshot of Jan. 11 Moore County Board of Education’s virtual meeting.
~Article and photo by Sandhills Sentinel Reporter John Patota.