NEW HANOVER COUNTY — Three new members, along with one incumbent, will be sworn in to the New Hanover County Schools Board of Education on Tuesday; however, questions remain on who will be elected board chair.
The board’s current chair, Stephanie Kraybill, told Port City Daily she’s leaving her position open for new leadership.
“I am not interested in serving another year” she said.
Kraybill, who took over from Stefanie Adams as chair in 2021, has led a board that has faced frequent criticisms for infighting and ignoring rules of decorum and Robert’s Rules of Order.
In March 2022, Kraybill also was censured by the GOP party for not “aligning with Republican values.”
The chair did not identify a desired successor, saying she does not plan to nominate anyone at Tuesday’s meeting.
On Election Day, four Republican candidates — incumbent Pete Wildeboer, Melissa Mason, Pat Bradford and Josie Barnhardt — shut out four Democratic candidates, including two incumbents. The red-tide turn caught the county’s GOP leader, Will Knecht, happily off guard.
“I’ll be honest, it was a bit of a surprise,” he told Port City Daily last month after the election. “It was our objective, no doubt about it, but I think you understand how hard it was to achieve that, how much time and effort and money it took to support our amazing candidates to make that happen.”
Newly elected Pat Bradford said the results did not shock her. Instead, she said they indicate voters are looking for a change to the current board configuration.
“We need clear, bold, decisive leadership,” Bradford said. “And I think the voters made that clear that that’s what they wanted.”
Bradford chose not to share her plan on nominating someone for either the board chair position or vice chair spot. She also did not answer if she would accept a nomination.
“If I know how the vote will go, you’ll find I’m not one of those people who’s going to talk in advance about what I’m going to do before I do it,” she said. “That’s just not who I am.”
With Tuesday’s induction, the board will swing to the right, 5-2, and Wildeboer will become the Republican with the most board experience.
He told PCD he wasn’t 100% certain on what action he’ll take during the chair and vice-chair election. He also didn’t shut down interest in stepping into a leadership role.
“I would be honored to be considered,” he said. “I think no matter who is elected board chair and vice chair, I think we have a strong group. So any — any and all of them — would be very, very strong.”
If elected to the top seat, Wildeboer said his focus would be to unite first and foremost as a team.
“I think we need to become a cohesive unit,” he said. “I think we need to work together, which I haven’t seen a lot of all that much recently.”
Wildeboer has been a proponent of the board’s review of Robert’s Rules of Order, which the board last assessed Oct. 18. He added that other priorities would then fall on the focus of ensuring school safety, mending academic performance, and providing parents with more opportunities for their voices to be heard.
Outgoing board member Nelson Beaulieu, who served as vice chair from 2020-2021, stressed the value of having an effective board chair to act as liaison for the entire group. The board chair must be an advocate for New Hanover County Schools in front of local and state governing bodies, Beaulieu said, especially with the upcoming budget season.
The board struggled to agree on a budget last fiscal year after its request for more money from the county was rejected. The county approves and allocates funds for the to the district. Outgoing member Judy Justice and fellow Democrat Stephanie Walker wished to return to the county with another request for more money. Their goal was to fund pay raises for staff without having to cut positions.
Beaulieu said he thinks it’s important to elect a leader who has experience.
“There’s a lot that goes into being a board member; there’s a lot that goes into leadership,” he said. “I think that if [a new member] is trying to do it all at once, it can be a pretty daunting task.”
“Pete would be the logical pick, although Stephanie Walker has the most experience since she was vice chair,” Justice said. “They are both capable and good people.”
PCD reached out to all board members, including newcomers Barnhart and Mason, and current board members Stephanie Walker, Hugh McManus and Stefanie Adams, who did not respond by press.
After New Hanover County’s new school board members take the oath and elect its leaders, the board will convene to discuss multiple budget amendments, next school year’s calendar, and school improvement plans for low-performing schools. The meeting takes place at 5 p.m. in the Board of Education Center at 1802 S. 15th Street in Wilmington.
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at email@example.com