NC superintendent: Halifax school board 'dysfunctional'

Posted August 11, 2015 5:02 p.m. EDT
Updated August 11, 2015 6:43 p.m. EDT

— The State Board of Education had no choice but to take over financial management of Halifax County Schools, state Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said Tuesday, calling the local school board "dysfunctional."

State Board Chairman Bill Cobey sent a letter Monday to the Halifax County Board of Education to inform them of the move, saying the board was "unable or unwilling to make sound financial decisions in order to sustain a financially viable school district."

The state has been working with Halifax County Schools under a court order since 2009 to improve student performance there. Atkinson said that students are showing progress but that the school board has become an obstacle to further improvement.

"We believe, without some sort of direct intervention with adult issues in Halifax County, Halifax County will not be able to sustain the progress they have been making over the last few years," she said. "Sometimes, the board has difficulty distinguishing what is the role of making policy versus telling a teacher in the classroom or principal that, 'You do not need to listen to leadership. You just take your orders from me.' That's dysfunctional."

Annual teacher turnover in the district is 25 to 29 percent, she said, making it difficult for students to have consistency in the classroom.

"We are concerned too many teachers are leaving because of interference from board members," she said. "We are always starting over, and we want to have a stable environment for the teachers and principals in Halifax County so they will want to stay in Halifax County and continue to help children."

The district has until Aug. 21 to turn all district- and school-level budgets over to Atkinson. State officials would then have the power to adjust the budget as needed to meet the instructional needs of various schools.

"Without some intervention, we are very skeptical there will be money to last the entire year to educate the children," Atkinson said.

Halifax Superintendent Elease Frederick declined to comment on the state takeover until she has had a chance to speak with Department of Public Instruction officials. School board member Claude Cooper also declined to comment, and other board members couldn't be reached for comment.

In addition to financial control, the State Board of Education will have final approval on all new hires in the school district. Also, all high school students will be required to enroll in the North Carolina Virtual Public School for any course required for graduation if the district doesn't have a qualified teacher for the course.

Atkinson said the unprecedented state intervention will continue as long as necessary to ensure the district is headed in the right direction.

"We, first and foremost, are concerned about the children of Halifax County. They deserve an opportunity to learn," she said. "We do not want adult issues that will not move Halifax County forward to continue to be in the forefront. We want children and teachers and principals to be in the forefront of all decisions made."