CARTHAGE — The Moore County Schools Board of Education met Monday, July 10, as animosity continued amongst board members.
During discussions regarding the prioritization of the Master Facility Plan projects, emotions seemed to reach a boiling point as verbal clashes between Board Chair Robert Levy and Vice Chair David Hensley increased.
Emotions had been running high between the two Republican members dating back to last month’s meeting when the two engaged in a verbal spout regarding what Hensley saw as an overstep by Levy as the Board Chair struck down three of Hensley’s added agenda items.
The most recent point of contention arose after Levy overrode one of Hensley’s motions, which resulted in the two members breaking out into an argument before a temporary recess was ultimately called.
Following the recess, board members Pauline Bruno and Philip Holmes expressed their growing frustrations with Levy and Hensley.
“We have very, very intelligent people on this board with a lot to give to this community, and this needs to stop right now,” said Bruno. “I have spent this past year going from school to school, going to every single meeting, attending everything to win the trust of this community and these schools because, let’s be honest, we weren’t their first choice, but we’re here and trying to win their respect and their trust is important. And to do this in front of the whole community is awful. What you both are doing is destroying all the work that we have done since we got elected. It needs to stop.”
“If this happens anymore, I’m done today,” Holmes threatened.
The board ultimately decided to return a decision on the organization and prioritization of the Master Facility Plan projects for FY 2024 to the committee to bring a concrete motion before the board at next month’s meeting.
Holmes then presented before the board his findings on what he described as inappropriate material within Moore County Schools’ libraries due to explicit, sexual, and age-inappropriate language and content.
“These excerpts are in our school libraries right now,” Holmes said. “While it doesn’t take into account the whole book, it does point out the titles and the verbiage that are in those books. I didn’t go through all these books one by one nor in depth with what every single perversion is in these books.”
The legal standards for the removal of books as has been set forth by the government involves three criteria: pervasively vulgar, educationally unsuitable, and not age-appropriate. Before a decision is made, it is sent to a committee for review.
“We are not voting to do anything to these books or subsequent books right now,” Levy said. “We are simply moving to refer them to a process that is outlined in the regulation.”
The books that were challenged at both the grade and district level, meaning that they will come before a district committee for review, are as follows: The Kite Runner, Elanor and Park, l8r,g8r, Thirteen Reasons Why, Looking for Alaska, Crank, The Bluest Eyes, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Speak, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, City of Heavenly Fire: The Mortal, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. All books passed by a 5-2 vote, with Hensley and Stacey Caldwell dissenting.
“I’m going to vote against all of these, but not for the reason people would suspect,” Hensley said. “… I’m voting against these because I believe a citizen, not a board member, should be bringing these forth. I’d prefer that a citizen or parent stand up to challenge books.”
“My decision on this is that I want it to be a parent’s choice,” Caldwell said. “If something is saying something nasty in a book, that it needs to be flagged in the library, and then it can be a parent’s decision where the library calls a parent. That’s what I’m basing my votes on.”
The board also approved raising the cost of breakfast and lunch at MCS by $0.50 in order to help cover increasing costs and a $220,000 change order with SFL+a Architecture for design fees for the Vass-Lakeview Elementary, Sandhills Farm Life and Carthage Elementary gymnasiums.
Finally, Hensley made a petition to the rest of the board advocating for the removal of mandatory fees within MCS.
“The North Carolina Constitution states that citizens of Moore County are entitled to a free, public education, and a fee is not free,” Hensley said. “A mandatory fee is equal to a tax. The definition of a fee is a fixed sum charged for a privilege, but attending school is not a privilege in North Carolina; it’s a right. So, therefore, it’s my assertion that you cannot have a fee for a right.”
However, the board ultimately decided by a 4-3 vote – with Hensley, Bruno and Holmes dissenting from the majority – not to eliminate the current fee structure in MCS due to the lack of a plan for how to address that sudden lack of funding.
“We have to plan for this,” Levy said. “One of the things that we have to avoid doing is this Ad hoc type of stuff, where, all of a sudden, we have a good idea, and it goes to the head of the line. We can’t do that. I have to trust our financial people when they tell me that we don’t have enough money for something. I have to trust them because they’re a lot smarter than I am in regard to what we have, what we need, and what we can expend. This is a good idea. There’s no question that it’s a good idea, but it needs to be integrated into a plan.”
The Moore County Schools Board of Education will next meet for a special called meeting on July 19 with the purpose of ‘discussion and motions to correct and improve board civility.’