UNC Board of Governors skips national search, names David Crabtree permanent CEO of PBS NC

David Crabtree

David Crabtree, former long-time reporter and anchor at WRAL, was made CEO of PBS NC Thursday after a unanimous vote by the UNC Board of Governors. Crabtree has served as interim leader of the organization for the past five months.

The board broke precedent in hiring Crabtree, who will make $275,000 per year in his new role, by not conducting a national candidate search. Such a search isn’t required for the organization’s top executive – but it has been standard protocol for decades.

UNC System President Peter Hans told the board Thursday he was glad he could lure Crabtree away from WRAL to take on the interim role in April. The original plan was to do a national search for candidates, but Hans said over the last few months he rethought that.

“As he settled into the role I began to ask myself, ‘Why in the world would we conduct a search for a new CEO and general manager when we have a seasoned manager and pro right here?” Hans said.

The shift in process has some people within PBS NC and state government asking questions.

State Sen. Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford) served on the UNC Board of Governors for nearly a decade, from 2001-2010. She is also a member of the state’s Education/Higher Education committee. Asked about the manner in which Crabtree was hired this week, Robinson said the step away from precedent is troubling.

UNC System President Peter Hans.

“We’ve traditionally done a national search for a position that important to make sure we choose someone who can compete nationally and to be sure that we hire the very best that the market has to offer,” Robinson said. “You can’t get the best candidate if you don’t compare them to other applicants.”

“With the reputation that PBS NC has, I would imagine you would have a lot of people all across the nation interested in that position,” Robinson said.

PBS NC, the four-channel public television network reaching all 100 of North Carolina counties was, until last year, known as UNC-TV. Reaching more than 14 million viewers in North Carolina and surrounding states, is the third-largest PBS member station in the nation and has an annual budget of about $30 million.

According to state statute, the UNC System president recommends the station’s CEO, and the UNC Board of Governors then votes on that person. But for the past 30 years, the system has held national searches for the position. Taking that step reduced the likelihood of cronyism or political patronage in executive level hires, Robinson said.

“You’re looking for the best possible hire that you can get anywhere,” Robinson said. “This shouldn’t be a situation where you just hire someone you know, that you’re comfortable with, maybe someone you are friendly with and who has a good reputation. That’s not how this process should work.”

Crabtree himself did not return calls or emails from Policy Watch this week. Doug Strasnick, his chief of staff, said he was out of town at a public media conference. Crabtree did not attend Thursday’s board of governors meeting.

Jack Clayton, chair of the PBS NC board of trustees did not return calls or emails. UNC System staff said Hans was unavailable to comment on the process until Thursday, after the vote had been taken. Several members of the UNC board of governors declined to comment, citing concerns about personnel privacy.

“There is a reason that there’s been a national search for these positions for so long,” Robinson said. “There’s a history there.” Read more

More ‘low wealth’ school districts to receive state lottery money for construction, renovations

Nine school districts have hit the jackpot and will share $300 million in state lottery money for school construction, renovation projects and other capital improvements, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) announced Wednesday.

Alleghany County, Cherokee, Gates, Greene, Halifax, Hyde, Pamlico, Perquimans and Tyrell county schools will receive Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund (NBPSCF) grant awards ranging from $350,000 to $50 million.

The grants targeting districts in “economically distressed” counties are in addition to the state’s two other lottery-supported capital funds — the Public School Building Capital Fund and the Public School Building Repair and Renovation Fund – from which all 115 districts in North Carolina receive allocations each year.

The awards announce Wednesday will pay for seven new or replacement school buildings, including three high schools, two schools that combine middle and high school grades, an intermediate school for upper elementary and middle school grades and a Career and Technical Education Center (CTE).

Catherine Truitt

“Many students in North Carolina attend schools built decades ago,” State Superintendent Catherine Truitt said in a statement. “These grants are paying for schools designed and built for the 21st century. Today’s students, regardless of where they live and attend school, deserve nothing less.”

Awards are capped at $30 million for an elementary school project, $40 million for a middle school project and $50 million for a high school project.

NCDPI received 164 grant applications from 72 districts across the state totaling more than $2.4 billion.

Districts awarded grants for the fiscal year 2022-23 include:

  • Alleghany County / Alleghany County Schools will receive $47 million to build a new high school. The school will replace the district’s only high school.
  • Cherokee County / Cherokee County Schools will receive $50 million to build a new high school. The school will replace three existing high schools.
  • Gates County / Gates County Schools will receive $9.8 million for additions and renovations at Gates County High School.
  • Greene County / Greene County Schools will receive $50 million to replace the district’s existing high school.
  • Halifax County / Weldon City Schools will receive $50 million to build a new 6-12 school. It will replace two existing schools.
  • Hyde County / Hyde County Schools will receive $8.3 million for additions and renovations to Mattamuskeet, a PK-12 school.
  • Pamlico County / Pamlico County Schools will receive $50 million to build a new 6-12 school that will replace two existing schools.
  • Perquimans County / Perquimans County Schools will receive $36.9 million for a new 3-8 intermediate school. The school will replace two existing schools.
  • Tyrrell County / Tyrrell County Schools will receive $350,000 for a new CTE center to serve the county’s high school and early college.

NCDPI noted in its news release that some grant recipients are those hardest hit by recent natural disasters such as flooding and an earthquake.

Alleghany, for example, was hit by a magnitude 5.5 quake in 2020, damaging more than 100 homes and other properties. Meanwhile, Hurricane Dorian caused severe flooding in Tyrell County after dumping several inches of rain on eastern North Carolina in 2019.

Wednesday’s announcement comes a little more than four months after NCDPI announced $400 million in NBPSCF awards to more than two dozen schools. The grants were the largest annual allocation under the program created by the General Assembly in 2017 from state lottery revenues.

Over the last six years, the Needs-Based Public School Capital Fund has awarded a total of nearly $1.2 billion dollars to local school districts, providing funding for 69 new K-12 construction projects, including 39 new schools, 10 new buildings, and the replacement of 55 existing schools.

“As a former superintendent of a rural school district, I know how important these dollars are to the communities receiving them,” said Robert Taylor, deputy state superintendent for School and Student Advancement. “It’s an investment by the state that will pay dividends into the future for many thousands of students and educators.”

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From election conspiracy theories, to shortchanged teachers, to the truth about NC’s bungled disaster relief program: The week’s top stories on Policy Watch

Click here for the latest radio interviews and commentaries with Policy Watch Director Rob Schofield.

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UNC-Chapel Hill students discuss free expression on campus in public forum

As both students and faculty wrestle with speech issues on campus, a panel of undergraduates came together this week for a discussion on free expression and the environment on campus at UNC-Chapel Hill.

The “Can We Talk?” panel, organized and co-sponsored by the Program for Public Discourse and the university’s Political Science department, was instigated by a recent report on speech issues on UNC-campuses. Mark McNeilly, a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill’s business school and a co-author of the report, gave a brief run-down of his team’s research before moderating the panel.

The four students on the panel said their experience largely lined up with the report’s findings – including not feeling pressure from faculty to conform to certain political views but recognizing their fellow students might judge or socially shun them for their views, leading some to self-censor.

Still, the students said, socializing and debating with those with whom they disagree is an important part of their college experience.

“I just think it’s a good exercise and it helps you get better,” said Cho Nikoi, a history major. “Whether it’s your critical thinking skills or your ability to present arguments. It’s just a good thing to do that, especially as students in school, where we’re doing that every day.”

Maddux Vernon, a double-major in Political Science and Peace, War & Defense, said she finds it helpful to talk – and even debate – with people with whom she disagrees, as long as it remains constructive.

“The best way to do it is to make these conversations normalized and know when to end the conversation once it becomes not productive,” Vernon said. “I think far too many students self censor because they know… it will get into an ugly dog-fight that may lead to them losing friends, may lead to their peers having a lower opinion of them. Which I don’t think is productive.”

Much of her generation isn’t great at coming to compromises, Vernon said, which can be essential to having healthy conversations and leaving the topic when it’s clear disagreements aren’t going to be resolved.

See the entire panel discussion here.

The Program for Public Discourse will hold its next discussion on October 6 as part of its Abbey Speaker Series. The panel discussion, on intellectual diversity in higher education, will be moderated by Dr. William Sturkey, associate professor in UNC-Chapel Hill’s History department.

Details on that event can be found here.