Lowry buyout to cost Robeson schools $180K

Federal, state money can’t be used

By Mike Gellatly - mgellatly@civitasmedia.com

LUMBERTON — The buyout of former Public Schools of Robeson County Superintendent Tommy Lowry will be a minimum of $180,000, according to his contract, and all that money must come from local sources.

Lowry, who was fired on Feb. 10, will be due his full annual salary of $180,000 in a lump sum. The contract does not provide for him to be paid until his contract would have expired on June 30, 2018.

Federal and state money cannot be used for the buyout.

Section 12 of his contract, which covers “unilateral termination by the board,” says if Lowry is fired without cause “the board shall pay to the superintendent, as severance pay, the total annual salary he would have earned under this employment contract.” Lowry’s contract included his annual salary of $180,000, health benefits, a “late model automobile,” smart phone, home fax machine, home internet access, and a laptop and printer.

The contract makes no mention of health benefits being included in a buyout. Calls to school board Attorney Grady Hunt were not returned Wednesday.

School board members Charles Bullard, Brian Freeman, Randy Lawson, Steve Martin, Dwayne Smith and Peggy Wilkins-Chavis voted on Jan. 10 to buy out Lowry’s contract and hire Virginia-based educator Thomas Graves. The job offer to Graves was rescinded during an emergency board meeting last week, coming hours after a Superior Court judge issued a temporary order forbidding the hire.

The six school board members are currently defendants in a lawsuit filed on behalf of two Robeson County elementary school students.

The school board has called a special meeting today at the system’s temporary headquarters at COMtech during which the board is expected to consult with Hunt and the attorney representing the six members individually. The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at 115 Livermore Drive, near Pembroke.

The search for a new superintendent is expected to begin following the school board’s Feb. 14 regular meeting. The board has asked representatives from the North Carolina School Boards Association to attend the meeting to offer advice on the search, according to Allison Schafer, policy director for the association. The cost of previous searches has been estimated at about $30,000.

Schafer expects a full search for a superintendent will take about six months. Graves has said that he plans to apply for the job after it is advertised.

The board on Jan. 10 violated its own policy by voting quickly to hire Graves without first advertising the position.

Assistant Superintendent Shanita Wooten is serving as interim superintendent.

Lowry’s hire in 2015 was not without controversy. The board at that time had offered the job to Rick Watkins, a longtime educator from Hamlet, but he withdrew his candidacy after some members of the school board publicly criticized him The vote to hire him had been 6-5, with Chairman Mike Smith breaking the tie.

Lowry was then offered and signed a three-year contract even though he had not originally applied for the position. He had served as interim superintendent following the retirement of Johnny Hunt.

Federal, state money can’t be used

By Mike Gellatly


Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or on Twitter @MikeGellatly

Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or on Twitter @MikeGellatly

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