The first action taken by the new Union County Board of Education on Dec. 2 showed a solidarity missing since the board’s controversial vote in March to redistrict the schools.
After newly elected members were sworn in and photographed, they sat down to tackle the next item on the agenda: electing the board’s new chairman and vice chairman.
Only one person was nominated for each position – John Collins for chairman and Leslie Boyd for vice chairman – and each was approved unanimously in separate votes with no discussion.
At-large member Michael Guzman nominated Collins, who has represented District 5 for 10 years. At-large member Christina Helms nominated Boyd, who was elected in November to the board’s third at-large seat.
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The other new board members are: Sharon Harrell, District 1; Melissa Merrell, District 4; and Gary Sides, District 3, who won former Chairman Richard Yercheck’s seat in the election.
Incumbent Marce Savage, re-elected to represent District 6, also participated in the swearing-in ceremony. There was no mention of the former board’s decision to censure Savage and ask the Union County Sheriff’s Department to investigate allegations she improperly requested travel reimbursements from the state and county.
Savage did not address the board during the meeting. Instead, the new board began its term on a positive note, reinforced by comments from the newly elected chairman and vice chairman of the Union County Board of County Commissioners.
The school board successfully sued the county commission last year, and the $91 million verdict is currently under appeal.
During public comment, Commissioners Chairman Richard Helms stood at the podium to say his agenda is to improve communications between the two boards and build a better working relationship. His comments were followed by Commissioners Vice Chairman Stony Rushing, who said he is “eager to work to keep our schools among the best in the state,” and that he wants to work on a better plan for the future and serve the taxpayers of Union County.
Their comments were followed by remarks from Jennifer Harris, who said she was representing a group of parents with special-needs children. She criticized the school system for not doing more to meet the needs of special-needs students and said the individualized education programs for students were “nothing but a bunch of boxes getting checked off.”
Sides, who identified himself as the parent of three special-needs children, said he would like to work with the school system’s special-needs advisory council to address these concerns.
At the end of the meeting, time was allotted for board members to make comments; most expressed gratitude for the opportunity to serve and spoke of their desire to help the board better serve constituents.
Collins thanked fellow members “for the solidarity of voting me the chair,” and said, in a joking tone, that he was sure they would let him know “if I don’t live up to expectations.”
After the meeting, Collins said, “It’s always a surprise to see your peers want you to lead them.”
He praised his fellow board members and said he was “blown away” by the show of support from Commissioners Helms and Rushing.