PEMBROKE — The Public Schools of Robeson County Board of Education, faced with a lawsuit, voted unanimously tonight to rescind its offer to hire Thomas Graves as superintendent.
After nearly an hour in a closed session, the board undid its action of a week ago in regards to the appointment Graves. The firing of former Superintendent Tommy Lowry stands.
The meeting room at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s building at COMtech, which was filled with parents and teachers, rippled with applause when the motion made by board member Charles Bullard to withdraw the offer passed unanimously. In a second motion, Bullard moved to extend the contract of interim Superintendent Shanita Wooten until Feb. 15, or the board’s next meeting.
Last week, Bullard along with board members Dwayne Smith, Randy Lawson, Brian Freeman, Peggy Wilkins-Chavis and Steve Martin voted to oust Lowry and buy out his contract. The six then voted to hire Graves, a move that violated the board’s on policy requiring the position be advertised.
“It was just a mistake we had overlooked at the last meeting,” Bullard said. “We just wanted to correct it. It was improper what we did at the meeting, we didn’t know it at the time, so we had to come back and straighten it out.”
Several board members said that the superintendent’s position will be discussed at the February meeting and that a full search would likely begin after conversations with the state Board of Education and the North Carolina School Boards Association.
Veteran board member John Campbell said that it is unlikely that a full-time replacement would be found during the current school year.
“Realistically, in the middle of a school year who we would like to lead would likely be under contract elsewhere until at least June,” Campbell said. “So I don’t see us getting anybody for some time.”
He added that the decision “was the culmination of a whole week of outrage from the citizens of the county.”
The meeting was delayed by about 10 minutes as the six board members who voted to hire Graves last week were served with the temporary restraining order a Superior Court judge signed this afternoon that forbid them from executing a contract with Graves.
Attorneys representing a group of concerned citizens filed suit allege that his hiring was done in violation of state open meetings laws. Superior Judge Jack Hooks agreed, and a full hearing is scheduled for next week. It is unclear if the lawsuit will move forward.
Bullard said that the lawsuit did not affect the board’s decision.
“We were going to rescind it anyway because it was illegal and I did not want to be a part of anything illegal,” Bullard said.
The lawsuit alleges that the six board members colluded in violation of open meetings law, and also named them individually, meaning they could be put at financial risk and could not use the board attorney’s in their defense.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly