Lawsuit: Pre-K spots unfairly allocated

By: By Bob Shiles -

LUMBERTON — The owner and operator of two Robeson County Pre-K centers is a plaintiff in a lawsuit that objects to how spaces for eligible Robeson County pre-schoolers are being allocated.

Robeson County Professional Pre-K Providers Inc., a nonprofit consisting of six private Pre-K centers that include the two that are suring, and center owner Debra Townsend, allege that the slots and state money allocated under the N.C. Pre-K Program, formerly known as the More at Four Program, are not being allocated “fairly and equitably” to the three groups permitted to receive these funds as mandated by law. The N.C. Pre-K Program has specific rules that must be followed in allocating student slots and funding between school systems, private child care providers and nonprofits, including churches and Head Start organizations.

The lawsuit was filed Aug. 21 in Robeson County Superior Court. Defendants named in the legal action include the Robeson County N.C. Pre-K Committee, Robeson County Partnership for Children, Mary Schultz and Leon Maynor, co-chairs of the county Pre-K Committee; and the Robeson County N.C. Pre-K Committee Co-Chair Committee, of which Schultz and Maynor are the only members.

Included in the plaintiff’s arguments is that Maynor, a Lumberton city councilman, and Schultz serving as co-chairs of the county N.C. Pre-K Committee is a conflict of interest because both have ties to the public schools and encourage eligible applicants to be driven to enroll in the school district’s Pre-K centers rather than enroll in private Pre-K centers.

State law requires that one co-chair of the committee must be the school system’s superintendent or his designee, which in this case is Schultz, while the other co-chair must be a representative of the Partnership for Children. Maynor has been affiliated with the Partnership for Children for 10 years and is a former employee of the Public Schools of Robeson County.

The lawsuit also charges that the co-chairs met behind closed doors in May in violation of the state’s open public meetings law and decided at that time that the current sitting Pre-K Committee should be dissolved. Plaintiffs have said that a Pre-K Committee should be a collection of “unbiased” entities, such as the Department of Social Services, that have the skills and qualifications to handle pre-school issues.

The lawsuit alleges that at the next committee meeting members were told that the existing committee was being dissolved as of July 1, and one hour later the co-chairs named the Partnership for Children as the Robeson County N.C. Pre-K Committee.

The Partnership board already served as the contract administrator overseeing such actions as the approval of applications and the filling of slots allocated and funded through the program. As the county’s Pre-K Committee it now has the authority to appoint annually who will be the contract administrator and have oversight of the program.

Maynor called allegations in the lawsuit “not true,” and said all questions should be forwarded to the Partnership for Children’s attorney, Jessica Scott.

By Bob Shiles

Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.

Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.