Superintendent's outburst causes outrage

Incident underscored tensions between schools, local GOP
Jan. 02, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

Editor's note: In the second installment of The Herald's countdown of the top five stories in 2012, Fallout from allegations of obscene conduct during an October political forum.

 

It may or may not have ever happened, but nevertheless, an alleged outburst from Lee County Schools Superintendent Jeff Moss was one of the year's biggest stories — one that highlights the tensions between school officials and the county officials who provide much of their funding.

At an October forum hosted by the Council for Effective Actions and Decisions, Lee County Board of Commissioners candidate Frank Del Palazzo accused the school system of illegal financial manipulations. Moss argued with him and then returned to his seat, exchanging words with a group of GOP supporters in the crowd along the way.

Moss later admitted his conduct toward the audience members was unprofessional. Although several witnesses originally claimed he could be heard saying "F--- you" and using other vulgar language on a cell phone video taken of the incident, that was later posted online, he denied that the video contains any proof of those allegations — which some critics did acknowledge later, although they said they still believe he said it.

Moss offered to sit down and talk with Brian McRae, the man at the center of the allegations, but McRae said neither he nor Moss have reached out to the other. McRae has attended both Lee County Board of Education meetings held since the incident to voice his displeasure with Moss and the school board, which held a failed (3-4) vote to convene a special meeting about the incident shortly afterward.

In failing, the vote illustrated the board's reluctance to address the matter publicly, instead citing "personnel matters" and conducting all discussions about Moss' behavior in meetings closed to all but a small group of school officials who could face legal trouble if they reveal what was said.

McRae said he sent an email to School Board Chairman Lynn Smith and the rest of the board asking for more transparency, which stated, "(N.C.) Statutes allow the Board of Education to discuss personnel matters in public when the Board deems it necessary to ensure the integrity of the Board," but he said he never received a response from Smith.

At the board's November meeting, McRae began reading a speech to the board deriding Moss' alleged behavior, but Smith had him stop after he repeatedly violated the board's rules for public speakers. He prepared a speech for the next meeting but never gave it publicly, citing the likelihood that he'd be asked to stop again.

In a copy of that speech provided to The Herald, he accused the board of losing sight of its integrity by hiding discussion from the public, writing: "You are doing so at the expense of the Board of Education's respect in the community."

However, private discussions have prevailed thus far. And for all the attention the incident garnered, the incident is only one example of ongoing discord between the schools and some local Republican political figures. While campaigning, Del Palazzo said he wouldn't like to give local schools any money at all, and current commissioner Kirk Smith listed "competent schools" as one of the main challenges the county is facing.

And while some statistical measures, such as SAT scores, do fall at or below state averages, there have been many improvements in the four years since Moss came to Lee County — in areas such as graduation rates, elementary and middle school test scores and participation in Advanced Placement classes — as well as programs such as the public-private The Head of Class program, which is being used as a statewide model.