School board should listen to Fairley-Ferebee

We don’t know if the 11 members of the Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson are capable of cleaning up the mess they have made.

Our school system, which serves 24,000 students, is a month away from the first day of classes and is without leadership at the central office and — we are sure — absent a solid prospect as well. Administrators and teachers will go to work well in advance of the start of classes with a blank line at the top of the organizational chart.

The board’s options are limited, and not promising. It will probably have to look to find someone who will come in and act as an interim for a year, perhaps a former superintendent who has retired, and then try again with a fresh batch of candidates.

Remember that this is the second straight search the school board has flunked, with eight of its members part of the process in the summer of 2015 when the candidate offered fled after being criticized publicly by some of them.

We do believe, however, if each of the 11 members or at least a bunch of them would demonstrate the kind of self-reflection that Brenda Fairley-Ferebee, a 21-year veteran of the board, did in an interview with staff reporter Mike Gellatly for a story today that the school board might at least begin fixing its mess instead of adding to it.

Fairley-Ferebee spoke frankly — and for the record, which we found refreshing. Most board members lack that courage. She didn’t blame The Six or the Five, but all 11, and herself among them. It appears she is ready to exit the board when her seat is up for re-election, but we will have to see if that sentiment sticks.

We have had similarily frank but off-the-record conversations with other members of this hopelessly divided board, and noticed a change in tone, from defiance to resignation, that they are beginning to understand the damage they are inflicting on the school system and the county as a whole, and that they feel inept to fix it.

But it gets worse.

The dysfunctionality of the board is apparent, but its degree is not fully realized by the public. Board members tell us of the open hostility exhibited in closed sessions, a fascination with race, name-calling, and even veiled threats. One board member told us privately that she or he was actually worried for their own safety.

What happens in closed sessions are not forever concealed from the public, but see sunlight only when it is determined that no damage can be done by disclosure. This newspaper will begin a process of trying to take a look of what has happened in closed sessions, but we know the process will be tedious and there will be resistance at every turn.

We will be honest. We began this Our View not exactly where it would end, not unlike what the six members of our school board did when they made a decision to fire Tommy Lowry while the system remained ravaged by Hurricane Matthew.

We aren’t sure what is left to say. We have pleaded with board members to do the right thing, saying if they can’t be part of the solution at least remove themselves as part of the problem.

But we don’t expect that they will listen to us.

Maybe they will listen to Brenda Fairley-Ferebee and understand their role in all of this.