School & District Management A National Roundup

Governance Troubles

By John Gehring — August 30, 2005 2 min read

Gail Heath, the chairwoman of the school board in Durham, N.C., is feeling cautiously optimistic that the climate at meetings will improve.

Then again, the district has nowhere to go but up, after a tumultuous period that saw residents shouting at one another at board meetings.

In the past six months, critics have hurled profanities at the board, members have screamed openly at one another, and police have hauled several people off to jail. At a July meeting, a critic stood up to recount a dream in which someone shot three board members.

The spectacle prompted The News & Observer newspaper in Raleigh to call the sessions “one of the most notorious government meetings in the state.” The paper dubbed the meetings “must-see cable-access TV.”

“People were getting up and demanding resignations of principals and making accusations about individual teachers,” Ms. Heath said last week. “When I go to school board conventions, I hear, ‘It could be worse—we could be Durham.’ ”

The roots of the discord date to more than a decade ago, when the largely white Durham County schools merged with the predominantly black Durham city schools. In an attempt to ensure diverse representation, the county is divided into six school board voting districts, and one member is elected at large.

The board, made up of four white and three black members, voted along racial lines in March to restrict public comment at meetings to agenda items only. The decision angered African-Americans, who felt the move was intended to silence them.

Durham Mayor Bill Bell dressed down the school board in June for the change, and said the board needed to recognize how the acrimony was affecting race relations in the city. Since then, the North Carolina legislature has passed a bill requiring all elected bodies to allow 30 minutes of public comment on items not listed on a meeting agenda.

A citizens’ group and a local Realtors’ association, meanwhile, campaigned to change entirely to at-large board seats. But a petition drive to collect the 15,000 signatures needed to qualify for a referendum on the idea failed in July.

This month, Ms. Heath announced new rules in an attempt to clean up behavior. People will line up single file in the hall before entering the meeting; yelling or uttering profanities is forbidden; and the lectern for speakers has been moved in front of board members, instead of near the audience, to discourage grandstanding.

Related Tags:

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Education Funding Webinar
From Crisis to Opportunity: How Districts Rebuild to Improve Student Well-Being
K-12 leaders discuss the impact of federal funding, prioritizing holistic student support, and how technology can help.
Content provided by Salesforce.org

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Video Education Week Leadership Symposium: Resource Center
Resource Center for K-12 education’s premier leadership event.
1 min read
School & District Management Cash for Shots? Districts Take New Tacks to Boost Teacher Vaccinations
In order to get more school staff vaccinated, some district leaders are tempting them with raffles, jeans passes, and cash.
8 min read
Illustration of syringe tied to stick
Getty
School & District Management National Teachers' Union President: Schools Must Reopen 5 Days a Week This Fall
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten wants five days a week of in-person school next fall.
4 min read
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, talks during a news conference in front of the Richard R. Green High School of Teaching on Sept. 8, 2020.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, talks during a news conference in front of the Richard R. Green High School of Teaching on Sept. 8, 2020.
Mark Lennihan/AP
School & District Management Principals and Stress: Strategies for Coping in Difficult Times
Running schools in the pandemic has strained leaders in unprecedented ways. Principals share their ideas for how to manage the stress.
6 min read
Illustration of calm woman working at desk
Getty