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Pureza: School board transparent 'as we can legally be'

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Local school board member Pam Pureza

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By William F. West
Staff Writer

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A member of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Board of Education pushed back this week against public criticism that the school board isn’t transparent in its decision-making, saying the board has been “as transparent as we can legally be at this point.”

Pam Pureza, who holds an Inside City seat on the board, noted that she doesn’t always respond to public comments made at board meetings. However, she decided to do so at Monday’s school board meeting, she said, because she felt it important to point out ECPPS board members have to make tough decisions, some of which they’re prohibited by law from discussing with the public.

“Things happen and we have to make hard decisions,” Pureza said. “We make the decisions based on what’s best for children first. ... (Those decisions) may not always make the adults in this community happy. It doesn’t make all of us happy, but at the end of the day, we’re a board and we will act as a board.”

Noting that she and other school board members have children enrolled in the ECPPS district, Pureza also said “there’s not a single person at this table that wants anything negative to happen in this district.”

“There are legally things that we cannot tell you,” Pureza added. “We have been as transparent as we can legally be at this point.”

Pureza was responding to comments from three speakers at Monday’s school board meeting — Pasquotank NAACP President Keith Rivers, school board candidate Ron Payne and City Councilor Johnnie Walton — who claimed the board isn’t transparent enough in its decision-making.

Her comments also came in the wake of former Superintendent Larry Cartner’s abrupt resignation from the district last month, and the school board’s decision to pay Cartner $318,000 to buy out the final two years of his contract. School board members have declined to say why Cartner resigned, and Cartner has not responded to requests for comment. The board named Joanne Sanders, ECPPS’ chief academic officer, to serve as acting superintendent until Cartner’s successor is hired.

During his remarks to the school board on Monday, Rivers reiterated many of the comments he made during last month’s school board meeting. Rivers said he would like to see district records on the salaries of non-certified and certified teachers so he can determine how many are serving as substitutes in vacant teacher positions. He also wants a representative from the NAACP to serve on the search committee that looks for Cartner’s successor.

Rivers also again criticized the school board’s meeting schedule, claiming that holding committee meetings at 2 p.m. on a weekday is unfair to members of the public who can’t attend them. He claimed that it’s at those committee meetings, not the board’s regular meetings held once a month at 7 p.m., where most of the board’s key discussions take place. He also was critical of the board’s regular meeting practice of approving by consent, usually without discussion, items talked about at the work sessions.

“You are elected officials,” Rivers said. “This is a public board. The community needs to know what’s going on. And nobody knows what’s going on.

“You have an obligation to us, the taxpayers,” he continued. “You have an obligation to us and you need to fulfill that obligation. And it starts with transparency. Right or wrong, people need to know. And you all have not responded.”

Noting that some of the board’s members seeking re-election in November are running unopposed, Rivers said what might be needed to get more transparency are “heated races.”

Payne, a former principal at Northeastern High School who is seeking one of two Outside City seats on the school board in November, said he was concerned about the number of staff leaving the school district over the past three years.

“The last couple of weeks we just had another excellent principal leave our school district and I asked why,” Payne said, referring to Sarah English, who left P.W. Moore Elementary for a principal’s job in the Pitt County Schools. “When I was principal at Northeastern High School, we seemed to not have that problem.”

Payne noted that according to the ECPPS website, the district is still seeking to hire elementary teachers and exceptional education teachers at various grade levels, math teachers for the middle and high schools, advanced or intellectually gifted student facilitators and physical education teachers.

Payne accused the school board of lacking leadership and the school district of lacking direction.

“You need to take leadership of whoever ... the next superintendent is and make sure that you have the vision of where this school district needs to go — and what you’re looking for — because right now the community does not think that you have that,” he said.

Walton also criticized the school board’s conduct of its meetings, noting he can’t attend most of them because they conflict with his meetings as a city councilor.

“But when I come to your meetings, I expect to hear some information that I can carry back,” Walton said.

Walton claimed he attended a regular school board meeting that lasted only 18 minutes.

“You come here. You joke a little bit. That’s not taking care of business of the board,” he said.

Walton also criticized the board’s decision not to discuss publicly the reasons for Cartner’s resignation.

“I mean, you pay somebody $318,000 and you said, ‘We couldn’t mention cause and we can’t mention no cause. We can’t speak about it.’ Something’s not right with that picture,” he said.

During her remarks after Rivers, Payne and Walton had addressed the board, Pureza suggested that upcoming elections always seem to generate a lot of interest in the school board.

“As you know this is when we start to get a lot of excitement,” Pureza said. “And I know that we’ve had a lot of excitement about the change with the former superintendent.”

She said she has confidence in the job Sanders and other ECPPS officials are doing.

“I am so impressed with what they’ve done in the last few weeks and the things that they have gotten done,” she said. “They’re tackling the things that you guys mentioned tonight — and we’re moving in a positive direction.”

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