RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – There will be at least one more meeting for members of the Guilford County Board of Education to consider how to fill an open seat before new language in state law will change a process that has been in place for a decade.
State Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett) says House Bill 88 will be voted on Wednesday on the House floor, and if it’s approved, it will become law immediately. The local bill is not subject to veto by Gov. Roy Cooper.
At at 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Guilford County school board is scheduled again to consider the opening in District 3, which has been in place since November, when Patrick Tillman was elected to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners. Board members three times have declined to seat teacher Michael Logan, who was nominated by the Republican members from District 3 to fill out Tillman’s term, which expires in 2024.
The House has the final vote because the Senate had added an amendment and merged HB 88 with three other local bills that addressed similar issues involving school boards.
Introduced by Hardister and Rep. John Faircloth (R-High Point), the bill passed the House on a voice vote two weeks ago and was approved by the Senate last Wednesday, 27-18, with Democrats voting against the bill because they oppose partisan school boards.
Before the Senate’s final vote, Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Buncombe) amended the bill to clarify that a person appointed to fill a seat in a single-member district must live in that district, and this follows amendments passed a week earlier to include Senate Bill 103 for Henderson, SB 150 for McDowell County and SB 59 for Maysville and Pollocksville. Those first two bills would make those boards of education partisan, and the other clears up two election schedules.
No hiccups are expected in the House, but for a while on Monday the legislative calendar had appeared to create a crisis of timing, with the votes by the House and the board both scheduled in the late afternoon/evening hours.
The three earlier votes were along party lines, with only the two Republicans supporting Logan, an automotive instructor at Southern Guilford High School who has been an outspoken critic of the board during public comments and on social media. Democrats object to postings they say are inflammatory and “divisive.”
When the timing appeared to be in question, board attorney Jill Wilson of the Brooks Pierce Law in Greensboro told WGHP she would need to see the final law and read the language included “before I can advise my clients.”
No matter the vote, the board ostensibly could table consideration of the decision – it did so once before during a work session – or it could entertain nominations and vote once again. In any event, the opening apparently will remain in place until at least the board’s next scheduled meeting, which is April 4.
An email to board Chair Deena Hayes in search of clarity about how this might proceed did not generate an immediate response.
Logan, in his response to a query about the situation, sent a list of items on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting that he said “District 3 has questions.” These range from items on the consent agenda, including contracts in the school construction process, to magnet and school choice programs to the naming of sports fields for a former classmate.
“There never has been a need for the legislation to place me on the board,” Logan wrote in the email to WGHP. “Due to partisan politics, the Democrats have refused to seat me. They have another chance to do the right thing and follow the law as it was intended.”
One other issue to consider: Logan is resigning from his teaching role to move to the board, as is required by law, but if his resignation were to be effective in April or May, that would leave Guilford County Schools to fill a niche teaching position with mere weeks left in the school year. That might mean Logan would want to finish the semester and certifications for his students, a concern he had mentioned in November.
“Because of our board’s decisions, we have missed opportunities for a replacement,” Logan said. “I never had any expectation to work after the December meeting other than assisting students to prepare for exams. Due to the nature of the certifications most students have already completed this semester.
“Because of the area and certification of the program the school board is placing a hardship on SGHS that they shouldn’t have to carry. Having a teacher complete the year and prepare for next year would be in the best interest of the students, so the board needs to do the right thing.”
The error to correct
Hardister – the House majority whip who in 2019 filed legislation to return the Guilford County school board to nonpartisan – cited “errors made by staff” with two paragraphs that address general statute GS 115c-37.1, which undermined language in the local bill 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.”
In drafting the bill, Hardister 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.”
Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) whose district includes a large swathe of eastern and northern Guilford County, introduced HB 88 in the Senate and pointed out that in District 3, “the majority [on the board] has refused to take the ‘ministerial act’ they are required to take and vote to seat the person.”
Objections from Democrats
Democrats in the Senate voted against the bill because, as state Sen. Julie Mayfield (D-Buncombe) said, they oppose partisan school boards in principle. “We know this train has left the station and that it is thought that partisan elections offer more information for voters,” she said. “We don’t know that the information is best for deciding who would be the best member of a school board.
State Sen. Michael Garrett (D-Greensboro) has spoken out against the bill. “I don’t know about you, but these kinds of opinions and how you feel about other people don’t belong in public service,” Garrett said. “The board has heard from a lot of parents.
“This is a dispute between the board and the party. We have a judicial branch for that. …. We are wading into that. The board is open to a selection of other names.”
Issues with Logan
The six Democrats who have voted against Logan, with Hayes as their leader, recently published a cosigned letter in the News & Record in which they cited a litany of issues they had with the way Logan has conducted himself and asked Republicans to submit the name of a different candidate.
Logan has had the complete support of Guilford County GOP Chair David Gleeson, who also has discussed legal action. Logan has said his resignation as a teacher is serious and that he would run for the seat when it comes up for election in 2024.
“We have issues and problems within our schools our school board continues to be unwilling to work with someone from within the schools. Why?,” Logan wrote to WGHP. “It isn’t my post’s since none fit the accusations by Deena Hayes-Greene. It isn’t the phone call to the board.
“Where is the evidence? Who was the person? Do we even know if it was a student? If I was under investigation for these statements and they were found to be true then why am I still employed.
“If I was under investigation would they hire me back as we have seen in the latest scenario in the news. Our board needs to accept that I will be installed and do the right thing.”