School board continues search for new superintendent, attorney as district deals with COVID-19 fallout

Updated: Mar. 17, 2020 at 9:54 PM EDT
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NEW HANOVER COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - The New Hanover County Board of Education met for an interim session Tuesday night amid the district’s ever-evolving response to the novel coronavirus.

The meeting was held under the CDC’s latest guidelines for 10 or fewer people at any gathering. Six of the board members attended, with one calling in, and staff reportedly rotated in and out of the room to comply with the 10-person limit.

Media watched the meeting via livestream from the lobby.

Burns gave board members an update on how the district is handling the changing situation with regard to COVID-19.

“I’m sure there’s some things we’re going to have to change,” Burns said.

In particular, Burns addressed expectations for faculty and staff as students remain home for at least the next two weeks.

Each school day is considered an “optional workday,” the much same way an inclement weather day would be, Burns said, because he said the system is bound by existing leave policies.

Teachers and staff have the choice of using paid time off or unpaid time off if they choose not to report to work, Burns said, but they are ramping up the options for employees to work at home.

“The fact that we have to follow the existing rules for leave make it a bit of a challenge, but we are going to make ourselves available and do what I can,” Burns said.

He said after a lengthy teleconference with district principals they have identified a work from home policy going forward.

Staff who are able to work from home will be able to apply through their supervisors who will determine the expectations.

For those who would not be able to work from home under any circumstance due to the nature of their job, such as bus drivers, custodial staff or cafeteria workers, Burns said they can report to a site and the principal will determine work for them to do.

Board Member Nelson Beaulieu asked about those employees who are immunocompromised, and what can be done to keep them safe and healthy without them facing hardship from using paid time or losing a paycheck.

Burns said they are taking those situations on a “case by case basis.”

Board business included a budget work session and closed session regarding a pending civil suit, as well as working to find replacements for two high-level staff.

The board formally accepted the resignation of Wayne Bullard, the now former board attorney, who announced he would resign on March 10.

Bullard referenced the controversy regarding his filming of speakers during the public comment period, and while he maintains he is innocent of no wrongdoing, said he felt he would not have the support of the board in defending himself.

As the board looks for a replacement, they voted to retain the services of Tharrington Smith, a law firm the district has worked with frequently, including for the pending civil case brought by the victims of Michael Kelly.

Board members also voted unanimously to continue using the services of the North Carolina School Board Association, which assisted in finding Interim Superintendent Del Burns.

NCSBA will handle the heavy lifting when it comes to advertising the vacancy and coordinating applicants, but the board got to tailor the job listing by deciding what preliminary questions would be asked.

A deadline of May 11 was set for applications for the replacement of Tim Markley, who departed the district in February amid the ongoing school sex scandal.

Beaulieu questioned if that date was still possible and prudent given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and the representative said those interested should have more free time to devote to applying.

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