LEE COUNTY SCHOOLS: Bryan is sworn in as superintendent

Smith, Akinosho will serve in leadership roles
Jul. 10, 2013 @ 09:44 AM

Andy Bryan was sworn in as the new superintendent of Lee County Schools on Tuesday during a meeting in which the Lee County Board of Education also made a slight change in its own leadership.

Mark Akinosho was elected vice chairman of the school board, succeeding John Bonardi, who didn't seek the position. The board elects new leadership every July. Dr. Lynn Smith was unanimously re-elected chairman. Akinosho also leads the board's Finance Committee.

Smith said he's excited for at least four years of Bryan's leadership — the length of his $180,000-per-year contract — and Bryan said he was excited to work with his fellow educators in moving the county forward.

"Our teachers are great, and they do a great job every day with the most important resource we have, which is our children," Bryan said.

However, some of those teachers could be at risk of losing their jobs. Bryan reported that the N.C. Senate's proposed budget would cut about $2.5 million from Lee County Schools, mandating where the cuts must occur. Officials have previously said that budget would force them to eliminate 42 teaching positions. The N.C. House's budget also would cut about $2.5 million from local schools, Bryan said, although it would allow local officials to decide where to cut.

The district is also losing $500,000 next year from the Lee County government, which had been used mostly for teaching assistants, and Bryan said the federal government will also cut the district's Title I and Title II funding due to the sequester. Those funds can be used to hire teachers, teaching assistants or tutors, buy supplies and support professional development or beginning teacher mentoring programs.

In addition to the funding cuts, the board is also involved in four political battles, three of which are ongoing and one — switching school board elections from nonpartisan races to partisan ones — which it has already lost.

The board opposed the election bill, which also applied to the Sanford City Council, which also opposed it. The bill failed to make it out of committee once but was back up for consideration soon afterward with Lee County Commissioner Jim Womack, who has said he requested local Rep. Mike Stone to craft the bill, in attendance to show his support. It passed that second time — but not without controversy, said Tamara Brogan, who has been acting as the school board's liason to the legislature.

Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, a Democrat who represents Orange and Chatham counties, motioned in committee to amend the bill to let the citizens of Lee County vote on whether they wanted the races to become partisan. But Stone then spoke against it, Brogan said, adding that what happened next seemed nefarious.

"To me and most people in the room, it sounded like the 'Yeas' had it," Brogan said. "But the chairman (Sen. Tommy Tucker, a Republican from Waxhaw) gave it to the 'Nays.'"

When the bill reached the Senate floor, Kinnaird tried once more to add the amendment requiring the changes to be approved by Lee County voters, but it failed along party lines. The bill then passed, also along party lines, becoming law.

"This was a bad bill, and it's going to have a negative effect on our children," Brogan said.

Added Bonardi: "Mr. Stone is more concerned with party control of education than he is with sufficient funding of education, and that's just disappointing."

The other bills affecting the school board, which are still in committee — all of which the board has opposed and which were submitted by either Stone or local Sen. Ronald Rabin — would transfer control of school property to the Lee County Commissioners, would transfer control of school resource officers to the Lee County Sheriff's Office, and would take away the school board's four appointments to the Central Carolina Community College Board of Trustees and give them to the Lee County Commissioners, who already appoint four trustees to the 16-member board.

The board also:

* Approved grant applications for federal Title I and Title II aid.

* Approved revised calendars with the correct amount of school days.

* Congratulated Carol Chappell, director of K-5 instruction, and Tina Poltrock, director of secondary education, for putting together grant-funded programs to teach elementary and middle school teachers more about math and science. This summer, the instructors will take lessons in teaching chemistry and astronomy.