RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – What happens next with the vacancy on the Guilford County Board of Education is in the hands of the North Carolina Senate.
House Bill 88, introduced by Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett), passed the NC House on a voice vote Wednesday and will be considered in the Senate with the idea of being adopted by the end of the month.
The bill is a scant two paragraphs that correct two mistakes in the bill from 2013 that made the school board partisan in the first place and gave the sitting members of the board the veto they have wielded three times over the nominee proffered by the Guilford County Republican Party.
The school board last week again declined to seat teacher Michael Logan, an outspoken critic of the board who was nominated by the GOP members from District 3 to fill out the term Patrick Tillman vacated in November. Tillman was elected to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners.
All three votes have been along party lines, with only the two Republicans supporting Logan, an automotive instructor at Southern Guilford High School.
Hardister said the bill he and state Rep. John Faircloth (R-High Point) sponsored corrected “errors made by staff.” He said earlier this week that he hopes HB 88 could pass the Senate “maybe by the end of February.”
Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden), whose district includes a large portion of Guilford County, likely would be its backer, Hardister had said. Berger’s spokesperson said Thursday that there has been no decision about who might carry the bill or when it might be heard.
During Wednesday’s debate and vote in the House, state Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) offered an amendment – which was adopted – to ensure that the appointed individual would serve only until the next election, which is consistent with filling openings on other statewide boards.
“My preference is that we not have partisan school boards,” Harrison told the House. “But we do in Guilford County. My amendment is that anyone appointed only would serve until the next election.”
She said in a text message to WGHP that she “just wanted to make sure future appointees stand for the next election as we do with other offices.”
After her amendment was passed, state Rep. Amos Quick (D-Greensboro) rose to ask House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) if the final two votes would be voice votes. Moore indicated most probably that they would be.
“If they are, I figure I would be drowned out, so I wanted to make sure I was heard – no!,” he said to the laughs of many.
The bill addresses general statute GS 115c-37.1, which specifies how seats on partisan boards “shall” be filled. Hardister said that statute was undermined by language in the local bill – the bill applied only to the Guilford County Board of Education and no other elected body – that former state Sen. Trudy Wade (R-High Point) pushed through the General Assembly in 2013.
“There were two errors made by our [General Assembly] staff,” Hardister said. “Mistake No. 1 is when we passed this bill that changed the board, it failed to strike language that should have been stricken. …. The original bill referred to ‘letter D’ in the statute. That’s just a general list of counties. That should have been ‘letter B.’ … It’s a typo.”
By statute, the GOP is responsible for nominating its candidate from the district – Logan was chosen from two suggestions, Guilford County GOP Chair David Gleeson has said – but the conflict emerged because school board attorney Jill Wilson has indicated that the appointment of the person to fill the seat must be approved by a majority of the existing board.
Guilford County Board of Education bill by Steven Doyle on Scribd
A supporting opinion
In drafting the bill, Hardister, the House majority whip, contacted Robert Joyce of the North Carolina School of Government, a nonpartisan arbiter of state law, to get his take on the issue, and Joyce was clear about what the role of the school board should be.
“Yes, I think the board must take a vote to accept the person put forward by the party executive committee,” Joyce wrote in an email to Hardister. “Under GS 115C-37.1(c) the board is to ‘appoint’ the person recommended by the party executive committee.
“I know of no way the board can take the action to ‘appoint’ other than by motion and vote. Since the board is bound by law to vote to make the appointment of the person put forward, I think that a failure to do so would subject them to an action in mandamus for a court order forcing them to.”
But Joyce also reinforced his opinion that Hardister’s bill should rectify the questions about the board’s authority.
“I think that the draft bill resolves this ambiguity and makes clear that the board must fill the vacancy with the person named by the party executive committee,” Joyce wrote to Hardister.
Logan and the controversy
Logan wrote to WGHP in an email after the vote last week that he would continue to attend board and committee meetings.
“It appears that GCS schools are unwilling to follow the motto ‘better together,’” Logan wrote. “My focus is on repairing, replacing and building new schools. I am in support of ‘all’ students in GCS without a focus of one group over another. The focus should be on education and the facilities used.
“So, while our school board is focused on partisan politics, we have parents, students and employees without district representation. We have an area that is being taxed for the schools and being denied official representation with a vote. It is not right.”
Board members who have opposed Logan, long an activist commentator at school board meetings, have cited the fact that he was a teacher or that he had made derogatory posts about board members on social media. He has been called “divisive” by coworkers.
Logan has submitted his resignation pending his appointment to the board. He remains in his teaching position, but he also has been clear in every comment about his intent.
“I will still be the candidate … and, as previously stated, will be running for the seat in 2024,” he has said.