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UNC Board of Governors members address reports of Tim Moore seeking ECU chancellorship

Members of the UNC Board of Governors met most of the day Thursday in Chapel Hill for committee meetings. Between discussions of admissions standards and the proper role of boards of trustees in SGA elections, Policy Watch talked with members about reports N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) is seeking the chancellorship at East Carolina University.

Former ECU Trustee Robert Moore publicly said Moore was seeking the position in a resignation letter this week. Other trustees confirmed it to Policy Watch this week along with several members of the UNC Board of Governors, all of whom asked not to be identified so they could discuss confidential conversations about Moore seeking the chancellorship.

Randy Ramsey, Chairman of the UNC Board of Governors.

UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey said he hadn’t spoken to Moore about the position and had no personal knowledge of him seeking it.

“I read the same letter everybody else read — but outside of that, I don’t have any knowledge of it,” Ramsey said Thursday. “I think it’s completely inappropriate for those trustees or anybody on our board to be talking about a chancellor search that is underway. Because it’s certainly going to hurt the chances of the right candidate applying for the job. That’s just the way I feel about it.”

UNC Board of Governors Chairman Jim Holmes, who is not directly involved with the ECU chancellor search, said members of the search committees should not share confidential candidate information — anonymously or otherwise.

“These searches are confidential to protect the candidates, they’re confidential to protect the search,” Holmes said. “If you can’t keep it confidential, don’t be part of the search.”

In November, the UNC system named a 20-member search committee that will recommend finalists to UNC-system Interim President Bill Roper, who will recommend a final candidate to the Board of Governors. The board will then vote on whether to make that candidate ECU’s next leader.

UNC Board of Governors member Jim Holmes.

Members of both the ECU Board of Trustees and the UNC Board of Governors have raised questions about the ethics of politically appointed boards deciding whether to give a highly coveted job to one of the powerful political figures responsible for appointing them.

“There are those on the board who don’t think it would be right to have a vote of the people who the General Assembly appointed to decide if one of the leaders of the General Assembly gets one of the most important leadership positions at ECU,” one of the ECU trustees told Policy Watch this week.

UNC Board of Governors member David Powers said that quote itself — which originally appeared in a Policy Watch story Thursday — reflects a problem with the ECU Board of Trustees.

“The chancellor is not ‘one of the most important leadership positions’ at East Carolina, as the anonymous trustee said,” Powers said. “It is the most important position at East Carolina. The chancellor runs the university — not the board of trustees. Some of the ECU trustees might have an inflated view of their real authority there. Their role is to advise the chancellor. The only powers they have are those that are delegated to them by the board of governors. Trustee boars that embrace their advisor roles tend to be the most effective.”

Powers, who previously told Policy Watch Moore might be a good candidate for President of the UNC System, said Thursday that he wouldn’t discount him as a candidate for ECU chancellor either.

“It’s not my aim to exclude anybody,” Powers said. “There are different skill sets — Speaker Moore certainly has some skill sets that would be very good. Fundraising, the ability to help advocate for the university. He has some skill sets that would fit very nicely into a job like that. So

UNC Board of Governors member David Powers.

I’m not willing to exclude anyone.”

Powers said it is not unprecedented for state lawmakers and political leaders to become leaders in the the university systems of their state.

“I certainly think [Former Republican Governor of Indiana]Mitch Daniels has done an incredibly good job at Perdue [University],” Powers said. “And not just on the Republican side.  [Former Democratic Texas Legislator and current Texas A&M University Chancellor] John Sharp at Texas A&M is a fantastic university administrator.”

One doesn’t even have to look beyond the UNC System, Powers said.

“Erskine Bowles is a great example of  a political figure who made a really good president of the university system,” Powers said of the former Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton who served as UNC System President from 2005 to 2010.

But each of the board of governors members who spoke with Policy Watch about the potential of Moore’s chancellorship at ECU acknowledged his candidacy could be complicated.

“I think it does pose a potential ethics issue,” Ramsey said. “I have said during the presidential search we wouldn’t close the door to anyone. But I do believe it poses a very complicated issue for somebody who is currently seated in the General Assembly to be  named chancellor or president. I think if we come to that bridge, we’re going to have to take a very close look at it from a governance perspective. I think that’s appropriate.”

Powers agreed it could be a complicated — though not disqualifying — issue.

“They do have to be extremely careful about being fair and open,” Powers said. “It means got to treat them like every other [applicant]. I know it’s difficult, but you have to have your procedures in place. You’ve got to have everything set up as you go through the process to make sure they get the same shot everybody else does — not less or more.”

Powers pointed out that the decision will not be solely made by the ECU board of trustees or the UNC Board of Governors. The search committee — which includes students, faculty, staff and community members as well as trustees — will have the first opportunity to narrow the list of candidates that will then move to the school’s board of trustees.

Holmes said that ultimately, whether the question of a powerful political leader’s candidacy comes before a board of trustees or the board of governors, it is up to the members to act ethically and professionally when they make their decision.

“Would it be influential in how I would make my decision?” Holmes said. “The answer, candidly, is no. They appointed us to do a job. We do that job to the best of our ability and it should be based on our independent thought. I feel like they appointed us because they felt like we’re capable and they’re confident we can lead. I’ve never had anyone try to sway us otherwise.”

Powers agreed.

“I don’t know if the speaker’s interested,” Powers said. “That’s certainly his business. There’s certainly nothing I would do to say ‘No, you can’t do that.’ He’s got to make his case, just like anybody else.”


State Superintendent Mark Johnson says survey results show North Carolinians oppose Common Core standards

Superintendent Mark Johnson said Thursday that 78 % of people responding to a N.C. Department of Public Instruction survey want Common Core removed from North Carolina standards.

More than 71,000 people completed the controversial survey, Johnson said in a news release. That means 55,380 of them indicated they oppose Common Core.

“These results affirm what I have been hearing across the state for years,” Johnson said. “Most North Carolinians do not want Common Core used in our public schools.”

Johnson was  criticized after he sent the survey to hundreds of thousands of parents and educators in text messages and email messages.

Charlotte educator Justin Parmenter and others filed ethics complaints against Johnson with the N.C. Ethics Commission. They contend Johnson’s email blast and text blast were politically motivated.

Johnson is a Republican candidate in a crowded field for lieutenant governor. He has voiced opposition to Common Core on the campaign trail.

The primary election is March 3.

“Mark Johnson’s fake Common Core outrage message to hundreds of thousands of parents and educators is nothing more than an attempt to swing uninformed voters his way in the primary for lieutenant governor,” Parmenter said. “It’s unethical for any elected official to use state resources for personal gain.”

Chelsea Bartel, a school psychologist who lives in Durham, also filed an ethics complaint against Johnson.
“I believe Mr. [Mark] Johnson’s mass email and text sending on Feb. 11 constitutes a violate of the State Government Ethic Act, specially the part that prohibits use of public position for private gain,” Bartel said.

Bartel was critical of the quality of the survey. The survey would not be approved for research purposes, she said.

Superintendent Mark Johnson

Johnson said North Carolina should consider following Florida, which eliminated Common Core earlier this month.

“There is a path forward, and we are carefully reviewing the process followed by the Florida Department of Education to ensure any review of standards dedicates sufficient time for diligent review and includes the views of all stakeholders.,” Johnson said. “I think it is well past time that education leaders in Raleigh listen to all educators and parents on this important issue.”

The State Board of Education in Florida has adopted new Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (B.E.S.T.) Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics to replace Common Core.

The new standards will apply to students in grades K-2 beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. They will apply to all students the following year.

Common Core is a set of academic standards in mathematics and English language arts that define what K-12 students should learn by the end of each school year.

The North Carolina State Board of Education adopted the Common Core standards for math and English language arts in 2010 and re-approved revised standards in 2017.

Some educators argue Common Core is mostly removed from North Carolina standards.

Johnson disagrees.

“Many states, like North Carolina, were ‘changing’ standards by making tweaks to Common Core and then calling it by a different name,” Johnson said in a Feb. 6 statement.


The role of race and HBCUs in improving NC teacher recruitment and retention

There’s a lot of talk this week about what is needed to improve our public schools following the release of the Public School Forum’s new Top Education Issues 2020 report.

Understandably, the number one issue follows up on the Leandro/West Ed report and calls for “immediate and intentional actions to meet our constitutional obligation to provide each child a sound basic education.”

Outside of school finance, the Forum lists educator compensation, recruitment and professional development strategies as a key priority for our state.

Last week, NC Policy Watch sat down with State Board of Education member James E. Ford to discuss teacher attrition, compensation and efforts to attract more teachers of color to the profession.

Click below to hear our full interview with Ford and his thoughts on improving equity in education following the Leandro recommendations.

To read more from the Public School Forum’s Top Ten List, click here.

Higher Ed, News

Second ECU trustee resigns in wake of scandal

Resignation letter takes apparent swipe at N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore

Robert Moore, the East Carolina University Board of Trustees member censured as part of an SGA election scandal earlier this month, has resigned from the school’s governing board.

Former ECU Trustee Robert Moore.

In a letter to N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) Monday, Moore said his resignation would be effective immediately — and appears to have taken a swipe at the House speaker on his way out.

“In closing I want to again thank you for the opportunity to serve the institution that I have come to adore and love,” Moore wrote to the Speaker. “I would also like to wish you the very best of luck in your continued pursuit of the position of Chancellor at East Carolina University.”

Tim Moore has for months been rumored to be pursuing the UNC System presidency. Moore has repeatedly denied the rumor, though his denials have become less emphatic.

Robert Moore’s suggestion that the Speaker is pursuing the chancellorship of East Carolina University comes while that school is beginning the search for its next leader. Its last full-time chancellor was forced to resign by the UNC Board of Governors — and no reason was ever publicly given. Interim Chancellor Dan Gerlach resigned the position after it was alleged he drank heavily with students in bars near campus — and then drove home.

As revealed in a UNC investigation of the Gerlach affair, several figures close to the scandal suggested the Speakers’ office was involved in attempts to make damning photos and video of Gerlach publicly available.

Earlier this month Robert Moore and fellow ECU Trustees Phil Lewis were brought before the Board of Governors after they were recorded trying to convince ECU student Shelby Hudson to run for SGA president. The two told Hudson they could arrange for a professional campaign manager and finance her campaign as long as she kept the source of the money secret. Hudson recorded the lunch conversation without Moore or Lewis’ knowledge.

On the recording the two trustees disparaged the current ECU student government president, Colin Johnson, who is a voting member of the board of trustees. Lewis and Moore have opposed a number of Johnson’s votes, going back to a contentious meeting wherein he was the swing vote in the election of a new of board chair. Vern Davenport, the current board chair, won the position 7-6 on the sharply divided board. On the tape, they told Hudson they had voted for a student fee increase to “punish” Johnson and suggested she could be an SGA president more in line with their vision for the board and the school. They also made disparaging remarks about ECU leaders and the UNC Board of Governors.

Lewis abruptly resigned his position at a hearing on the matter earlier this month before the Board of Governors could vote on whether to remove him from the board of trustees.

Because Robert Moore was appointed by the N.C. House, that body would have had to remove him.

His resignation Monday came before that debate could take place.


Superintendent Mark Johnson hit with ethics complaint over email, text message blasts

Charlotte educator Justin Parmenter shows ethics complaint letter on his Facebook page.

A language arts teacher from Charlotte has filed a complaint with the N.C. Ethics Commission over email and text messages State Superintendent Mark Johnson sent to educators and parents asking them to take an online survey about Common Core standards.

Justin Parmenter, a frequent critic of the superintendent who blogs at Notes from the Chalkboard, contends the messages were politically motivated. He said they were sent to aid Johnson in his bid to become the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor.

“Mark Johnson’s fake Common Core outrage message to hundreds of thousands of parents and educators is nothing more than an attempt to swing uninformed voters his way in the primary for Lieutenant Governor,” Parmenter said. “It’s unethical for any elected official to use state resources for personal gain.”

Parmenter said he believes as many as 10 other people filed complaints against Johnson on Thursday. He expects more people to do so over the next few days.

Chelsea Bartel, a school psychologist who lives in Durham, confirmed that she was among those who filed a complaint on Thursday.

“I believe Mr. [Mark] Johnson’s mass email and text sending on Feb. 11 constitutes a violate of the State Government Ethic Act, specially the part that prohibits use of public position for private gain,” Bartel said.

Bartel was also critical of the quality of the survey, contending it would have never been approved by school districts for research purposes.

She noted that the Wake County Public School System requires research studies to be approved by a federally approved Institutional Review Board. Such studies must also be reviewed by the Office of Data and Accountability, Bartel added.

“Having access to hundreds of thousands of North Carolina citizens’ personal phone numbers and email addresses, as Mr. [Mark] Johnson does, is not reason enough for using that access to conduct research that has not in any way been vetted,” Bartel said.

Johnson reportedly sent 540,000 text messages and 800,000 email messages to parents and teachers asking to them take the five-question, online survey.

Policy Watch was unable to reach N.C. Department of Public Instruction spokesman Graham Wilson for comment late Thursday afternoon.

But Wilson told The News & Observer the ethics complaints are another “disingenuous attempt to discredit Johnson’s efforts to listen to actual parents and teachers, instead of Elitist Insiders.”

Johnson’s text messages and emails received an avalanche of criticism on social media Tuesday shortly after he sent them to educators and parents.

“Shame on you for a disgraceful political stunt,” retired educator Phyllis Eubank West wrote on Johnson’s Facebook page. “If you were so interested curriculum, you would have initiated surveys etc. 3 years ago and not 3 weeks before a primary. BTW, the survey is poorly designed.”

In his message to teachers and parents, Johnson said he is opposed to Common Core. If elected lieutenant governor, he could work from that post to rid the state of Common Core because he would serve on the State Board of Education.

“Opposition to Common Core from educators and parents is what I hear about the most across our state,” Johnson said in the statement. “I strongly disagreed with the State Board of Education’s decision to keep Common Core in place in 2017. But now there’s a clear path we can replicate in North Carolina to remove Common Core, and I encourage the State Board to closely examine this new option with us.”

The clear path Johnson mentioned runs through Florida. That state eliminated Common Core last week.

The State Board of Education in Florida on Wednesday adopted new Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (B.E.S.T.) Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics to replace Common Core.

The new standards will apply to students in grades K-2 beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. They will apply to all students the following year.