School & District Management A National Roundup

Governance Troubles

By John Gehring — August 30, 2005 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

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
Curriculum Webinar
Strategies for Incorporating SEL into Curriculum
Empower students to thrive. Learn how to integrate powerful social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies into the classroom.
Content provided by Be GLAD
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
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.

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 Grad Rates Soared at a School Few Wanted to Attend. How It Happened
Leaders at this Florida high school have "learned to be flexible" to improve graduation rates.
8 min read
Student hanging on a tearing graduate cap tassel
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
School & District Management Opinion Don’t Just Listen to the Loudest Voices: Resources for Ed. Leaders
These resources can help school and district leaders communicate with their communities.
Jennifer Perry Cheatham & Jenny Portillo-Nacu
5 min read
A pair of hands type on a blank slate of keys that are either falling apart or coming together on a bed of sharpened pencils.  Leadership resources.
Raul Arias for Education Week
School & District Management The Harm of School Closures Can Last a Lifetime, New Research Shows
The short-term effects on students when their schools close have been well documented. New research examines the long-term impact.
5 min read
Desks and chairs are stacked in an empty classroom after the permanent closure of Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy in Brooklyn borough of New York on Aug. 6, 2020.
Desks and chairs are stacked in an empty classroom after the permanent closure of Queen of the Rosary Catholic Academy in Brooklyn borough of New York on Aug. 6, 2020. A new study examines the long-term effects on students whose schools close.
Jessie Wardarski/AP
School & District Management Video 'Students Never Forget': Principals Call for Help After School Shootings
School leaders are lobbying Congress for more financial support for schools that experience gun violence.
2 min read
Forest High School students console one another after a school shooting at Forest High School Friday, April 20, 2018 in Ocala, Fla. One student shot another in the ankle at the high school and a suspect is in custody, authorities said Friday. The injured student was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
Forest High School students console one another after a school shooting at Forest High School Friday, April 20, 2018 in Ocala, Fla. One student shot another in the ankle at the high school and a suspect is in custody, authorities said Friday. The injured student was taken to a local hospital for treatment.
Doug Engle/Star-Banner via AP