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School board hopefuls address Cartner payout, transparency

George Archuleta Pasquotank School Board Candidate
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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Monday, September 10, 2018

The three candidates vying for a contested seat on the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Board of Education this fall hold different views on the board’s $318,000 agreement to buy out Superintendent Larry Cartner’s contract and how much the board should say about Cartner’s resignation.

George Archuleta, who is seeking one of the two Outside City seats on the board, told board members at their Aug. 27 meeting that the payout to Cartner may have been “the lesser of two evils.” However, paying Cartner $318,000 still seems excessive in light of the economics of the area and the salaries paid to teachers, he said.

Ron Payne, a former principal at Northeastern High School who also is seeking one of the Outside City seats, said he considers Cartner’s resignation in the past. He believes it’s time for the school board to focus on the future.

“It is what it is,” Payne said. “It’s unfortunate that it turned out that way. But to me that’s history and we need to move forward.”

Citing what she described as the “legal parameters that always become a factor when discussing personnel issues,” school board chairwoman Sharon Warden, who’s seeking re-election to her Outside City seat, declined to discuss Cartner’s payout. She instead referred a reporter back to statements the school board made previously about Cartner’s resignation agreement when it was announced Aug. 20.

Warden also cited a statement by school board attorney John Leidy pointing out that the school district’s total costs, including taxes and retirement contributions, could have been $650,000 had the board terminated Cartner without cause. The agreement between the school board and Cartner “recognizes the resignation as a voluntary resignation by Cartner that was accepted by the board,” Warden said.

She also cited a previously published statement by Leidy that the agreement contains a provision that neither Cartner nor the school board will discuss its details.

The three candidates also addressed the issue of the school board’s transparency. At the same meeting where Archuleta spoke, Keith Rivers, president of the Pasquotank County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, criticized the way the board conducts its meetings. Rivers noted the board holds most of its discussions about key issues during committee meetings that are scheduled at 2 p.m. on a weekday.

In his remarks at the Aug. 27 meeting, Archuleta told the school board he’d like to see greater transparency by its members. With Cartner’s departure coming so shortly before the beginning of the school year, he said it’s hard not to see the resignation’s timing and conclude “there had to be something up.”

Citizens understand that no one is perfect, and if the board has made a mistake it should accept responsibility for it, Archuleta said. Admitting mistakes and being transparent will help restore confidence with teachers and parents, he said.

Payne took a moderate view of the board’s overall transparency, including the way meetings are run. He said he’s worked with a number of different school boards and each one has its own procedures and practices.

“The board moves through the meeting very quickly,” Payne said of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank board. “Each board is run differently.”

But Payne said he agrees the board’s committee meetings should be scheduled for a time other than 2 p.m. Not only is it difficult for many members of the public to attend meetings then, it’s also not a convenient time for teachers or many school administrators, Payne said.

Warden said she expects the board will discuss the ways meetings are handled — including possibly the question of when committees should meet — when it meets later this month.

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