Thursday, July 25, 2024

Local NAACP questions superintendent’s firing, GOP praises school board

The superintendent parted ways with New Hanover County schools district, after the school board voted 5-0 Tuesday night in a late-night session to terminate his contract. (Port City Daily/File)

WILMINGTON — Multiple organizations are responding to the school board’s decision to terminate the contract of the superintendent earlier in the week.

READ MORE: NHC school board fires Superintendent Foust

ALSO: ‘We accomplished so many great things’: Foust responds post-termination

In a 5-0 vote late Tuesday night, the New Hanover County School Board fired Charles Foust, the district’s first Black superintendent who was on the job for almost four years.

The New Hanover County NAACP sent a letter to its members and the New Hanover County School board denouncing the move, calling it “opaque.” Alternately, the New Hanover County GOP released a statement praising the Republican school board members in its efforts to stop what they perceive as a left-wing ideology permeating the district. (Scroll to the end of the article to read both.)

Both were released July 3, with the NAACP asking for clarity and full disclosure from the board for letting go of Foust. 

“As advocates for equity and justice, the NAACP firmly believes that states and local authorities must eliminate all forms of inequities and barriers to ensure equal educational opportunities for minority groups,” NHC NAACP President LeRon Montgomery wrote. “The public deserves to know the reasons behind Dr. Foust’s termination, especially since it was made without all board members present and with virtually no transparency … As the esteemed writer George Orwell once said, ‘In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.’”

The board did not provide a reason for his termination after Pat Bradford read a motion to unilaterally terminate Foust’s contract around 11 p.m. on July 2. The motion received a unanimous vote, despite two board members, Stephanie Kraybill and Josie Barnhart, being absent (Kraybill was on vacation and Barnhart had a scheduling conflict, both of whom informed the board chair ahead of the meeting). Republicans Bradford, Pete Wildeboer, and Melissa Mason, and Democrats Stephanie Walker and Hugh McManus all voted in step. 

Montgomery stated Foust’s firing has financial implications on taxpayers, something Kraybill also is concerned with. Per Foust’s contract, the school board has to pay out the remainder of his quarter-million salary. Yet, it also has to cover his vacation accrual and benefits. 

“So it’s more than just the $259,000 salary — or whatever the number is,” Stephanie Kraybill told PCD Friday.

The payout comes as the district faced a budget deficit of $20 million this year and asked the county for $10.1 million to help fill the gaps. It settled on $9.2 million instead, passed in the witching hour before the budget was to go into effect on July 1.

“We can only use operating expenses, money that has not been previously allocated,” Kraybill explained. “So only the money that is in our fund balance, which is depleting.”

PCD reached out to county commissioners Friday to ask if they supported the school board’s move and had thoughts on its economic ramifications and asked if it would approve of the county stepping in again to help with the financial need. 

No one responded by press; however, Kraybill said commissioners have told her and all school board members they would not foot the bill on paying out the superintendent’s contract. 

Many school board members have been pushing for Foust’s removal — such as Bradford and Mason, both of whom campaigned for their seats on his dismissal. Yet, Bradford voted to continue Foust’s contract last August, before asking earlier this winter if it could be rescinded after the superintendent announced Mosley would close (it ended up not happening).

PCD reached out to every school board member to ask how it will pay out Foust’s contract as the search for a new superintendent begins. It also will have to fund that search, which Kraybill said could be upward of $25,000, as well as pay the acting and interim superintendent salaries.

Walker deferred questions to the chair who did not respond to PCD by press. McManus responded but didn’t address the questions.

Kraybill said she put forth her own list of questions to the board chair and acting superintendent Chris Barnes as well, which have yet to be answered:

  • How are we going to fund the superintendent’s contract buy-out?
  • How will this buy-out affect our disposition with keeping employees’ jobs intact in the midst of such a huge financial crunch? 
  • How are we going to afford paying the buy-out, paying the interim, and paying for the permanent superintendent search simultaneously? 
  • Developing the timeline for selecting an interim superintendent (this is free and we could have searched for this person before firing the superintendent) and selecting a permanent superintendent (this takes months). 
  • Hearing a presentation from NCSBA as to how to proceed with the searches.

The North Carolina School Boards Association will offer its services to find an interim for free, since the NHC school board is a member. 

While financial questions remain, the New Hanover County GOP is singing the praises of the Republican-led school board for taking the measure to part ways with the “Democrat Superintendent.” Party chair Nevin Carr III wrote in a statement that terminating Foust’s contract was a “pivotal moment” to change the culture in the school system and shift how kids are educated. 

“As we look across the country we can see the priorities of radical Democrats running school systems,” Carr wrote. “We see flags representing radical gender ideologies replacing the American flag. We see kids being taught to be racist, that your skin color defines you as an oppressor, or oppressed. We see the teaching of history and love of country being replaced with hateful leftist propaganda. And never forget the ridiculous policies that were forced on our kids throughout COVID with the endless masking, social distancing, and forced vaccinations.”

PCD reached out to Carr to ask if the party thought Foust’s firing was also fiscally responsible, given the nature of the district’s financial woes and how it’s one of the Republican party’s values.

Also put forth was a question about the board being held as responsible as the superintendent, since teachers and staff had negative responses for both in the recently released climate survey. Nearly 2,000 teachers and staff took issue with the district, superintendent and school board, saying they didn’t feel valued, there was lack of mutual respect and trust, and feared expressing as much due to retaliation. 

The school board was presented the findings before voting to terminate Foust’s contract Tuesday. Results indicated they received greater scrutiny in a lot of instances for its leadership measures.

“So in ways this action feels like a deflection,” Kraybill said, “from the negative feedback the board received.”

The politicization of the school board was brought up consistently in surveyor comments, roughly 80% thought the board was out of touch with the needs of teachers and classroom settings.

Walker, who presented the findings to the board, responded to PCD she especially valued the feedback and took to heart a few suggestions. Teachers suggested their input be taken more seriously and to “regularly evaluate programs with real data” in order to gauge how well they’re working.

“And even piloting new programs before they are put into effect and allowing some teacher autonomy when it comes to customizing programs for all learning levels,” Walker continued. “I am looking forward to including feedback from staff and the community as we move forward with leadership.”  

In Montgomery’s letter to the school board from the NAACP, he wrote “fairness and accountability” needed to be at the center of the board’s actions. More so, he questioned their move as good governance.

“The residents of New Hanover County, who are directly impacted by these decisions, deserve to be treated with the respect and dignity that comes from open and honest communication,” he wrote.

GOP party chair Carr called for “hats off” to Wildeboer, Bradford, Mason and Barnhart for their representation and “incredible work.” The statement blatantly left off Kraybill, a Republican who was censured by the party in 2022 for not aligning with its values.

“I just think this could have been planned better,” Kraybill said, “with a financial plan for a contract buy-out and a succession plan in place, before we voted to terminate Foust’s contract.”

She suggested they could have used the superintendent’s annual evaluation, “already underway,” as a means to discuss performance instead of blindsiding him in a public forum. Foust told WECT after the school board vote he was unaware it was going to happen.

“This board was unhappy about his communication on several issues, so we turn around and do the same thing to him?” Kraybill asked. “Perhaps a closer scrutiny of the [survey] responses pertaining to board leadership should have been considered.”

PCD reached out to every school board member to ask if they personally take responsibility in the climate survey results as they did holding the superintendent responsible. Walker agreed the board should bear as much of the burden.

“Speaking for myself, I will say that I took the results to heart and will work hard for the last five months I have on this board to honor the feedback we received,” she said. “I always try my best to listen to staff and do what’s best for our students. Students are the reason I serve. I look forward to our next teacher town hall that is scheduled for August.”

It’s for educators only and will take place Aug. 13, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the board of education.

Statements from NAACP and NHC GOP:

Shea Carver
Shea Carver
Shea Carver is the editor in chief at Port City Daily. A UNCW alumna, Shea worked in the print media business in Wilmington for 22 years before joining the PCD team in October 2020. She specializes in arts coverage — music, film, literature, theatre — the dining scene, and can often be tapped on where to go, what to do and who to see in Wilmington. When she isn’t hanging with her pup, Shadow Wolf, tending the garden or spinning vinyl, she’s attending concerts and live theater.

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