Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Brunswick school board postpones redistricting timeline, legality of closed session questioned

The Brunswick County School Board voted to delay its redistricting timeline to provide and gather additional information and public comments at its second redistricting special meeting Tuesday. But the board's decision to enter closed session was met with immediate scrutiny.

Brunswick County School Board member and chief deputy of the Brunswick County Sheriff’s Office walks out of Tuesday’s special meeting on redistricting while WWAY’s news director objected to the board’s decision to enter into a closed session. (Port City Daily photo/Johanna Ferebee)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Brunswick County School Board voted to defer redistricting its northern elementary and middle schools after a contentiously-held closed session Tuesday.

The meeting was the second of two special meetings, advertised as “informational meetings,” called to discuss proposed changed to Brunswick County’s northern middle and elementary school assignments.

Related: Redistricting proposed in northern Brunswick County middle, elementary schools

Redistricting was first presented to the board — and the public — at a March 19 Brunswick County Schools Operations Committee meeting. There, Brunswick County Schools (BCS) staff identified overcrowding at Belville Elementary as the most pressing concern. Before Tuesday, the board sought to reach consensus at a future meeting on new elementary school assignments for as early as the upcoming 2019-2020 school year.

Closed session

At the end of Tuesday’s public comment period, BCS board member Harry Lemon, Jr., motioned to enter a closed session — an item that was not on the agenda. Lemon did not state the reason for calling the closed session, as required by state law. BCS’ attorney, Rick Green, only shared the reason after WWAY’s news director interjected.

Green offered General Statute § 143-318.11 (3) as the purpose of the meeting. State law permits public bodies to enter into closed session about personnel matters, property acquisitions, economic incentive, awards and to preserve attorney-client privilege. The statute Green offered refers to preserving attorney-client privilege. However, public bodies cannot conceal general policy matter discussions from the public:

“General policy matters may not be discussed in a closed session and nothing herein shall be construed to permit a public body to close a meeting that otherwise would be open merely because an attorney employed or retained by the public body is a participant,” according to the statute.

When the board returned from its closed session, BCS board member Charlie Miller motioned to “defer the redistricting plan for next school year.” The board approved the motion. Again, Kevin Wuzzardo, WWAY’s news director, objected, stating he believed the board entered into a closed session illegally. BCS board adjourned and exited the Commissioners Chambers while Wuzzardo explained his objection.

(View live streams of both public meetings on the Facebook page Leland Public Schools, organized by parent and activist Emily Donovan)

Wuzzardo and Miller debated the board’s decision outside the chambers following the meeting. He told Wuzzardo the board’s closed session discussion did not qualify as a “policy” matter since BCS maintains no redistricting policy.

“I don’t have to tell you nothing,” Miller said, before telling Wuzzardo to discuss legal questions with the board’s attorney.

Public concern

After the meeting, BCS chairwoman Catherine Cooke further explained the board’s motion to defer the plan.

“Using what information we had, we’ll just add to it, get more research done, more community input and look at a more long-term situation for everybody,” Cooke said.

Cooke clarified no elementary school reassignments will take place during the 2019-2020 school year, as first proposed.

At the first public meeting, held Monday evening, about 100 people attended and over 25 spoke, according to BCS spokesperson Daniel Seamans. Nearly all speakers Tuesday also spoke out at the board’s meeting the previous evening.

Sue Rutledge, BCS’ chief operating officer, shared a brief summary of three redistricting proposals at the start of Tuesday’s meeting. Maps were also on display at both meetings (view the plans below).

“We’re here today for an informational meeting and yet there is no information,” Sam Henson, a father of elementary-aged students told the board. “It’s a temporary fix to a problem that has been coming to the surface for five-plus years.”

Rutledge confirmed redistricting had not been publicly mentioned in a meeting before March 19. However, she said BCS Operations Committee was presented with a demographic study last month. Staff worked on redistricting information, including new bus routes, for several months prior to the pair of public meetings, Rutledge said.

“I’ve got three pages of questions,” Rutledge said. “We’re going to answer it in writing.”

More details, including capacity numbers and dozens of answered questions, will be forthcoming. Seamans said he anticipates releasing an informational update by the end of the week.

View BCS’ proposed middle school re-assignments, designed to include the new Town Creek Middle School. The new school is expected to open by August 2020.

Middle school reassignments in Brunswick’s northern district would make room for Town Creek Middle School, expected to open in 2020. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Brunswick County Schools)
Middle school reassignments in Brunswick’s northern district would make room for Town Creek Middle School, expected to open in 2020. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Brunswick County Schools)

View one of BCS’ two elementary redistricting proposals below. The second is not yet publicly available. 

Elementary school assignments in Brunswick’s northern district would alleviate crowding at Belville Elementary School. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Brunswick County Schools)
Elementary school assignments in Brunswick’s northern district would alleviate crowding at Belville Elementary School. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy Brunswick County Schools)

Send tips and comments to Johanna Ferebee at johanna@localvoicemedia.com

Related Articles