Business owner, former Buncombe GOP chair appointed to county school board

BOARD ADDITION: Buncombe County Board of Education Chair Ann Franklin, right, presided over a unique vote to appoint a new at-large member to replace Amanda Simpkins, who resigned last month. Also pictured is Superintendent Rob Jackson. Photo by Caleb Johnson

Just in time for the end of the school and fiscal year, the Buncombe County Board of Education appointed a replacement for former at-large board member Amanda Simpkins, who resigned last month.

Former Buncombe County GOP Chair Glenda Weinert, who is a current member of the Buncombe County Schools Foundation, received the most votes on June 6 in the first round of an open-ended series of votes taken by the six sitting members of the board.

“She has a huge heart for children. And I’ve also had the opportunity to watch how she has navigated some really difficult decisions in some other leadership roles that she’s had in the past,” said board member Amy Churchill. “She has a lot of grace.”

Weinert is a franchisee for four area Firehouse Subs locations, owner and president of a business consulting firm and adjunct professor at both Asheville-Buncombe Community Technical College and Lee University, a Christian university in Cleveland, Tennessee, according to her resume.

In addition to the BCS foundation, she currently serves on the Four Seasons Hospice Board’s community advisory committee and the Children’s Welfare League of Asheville Board. She has also served on a wide range of boards and committees for the last 25 years, many related to education and child care.

In 1995, she took over operations of Little Beaver Child Care Center from her mother, growing the company from one to five locations in the Asheville area during her 13 years in that role.

“It is my desire to continue to work to improve the educational opportunities for all students in Buncombe County. Serving on the Buncombe County school board would be a privilege,” Weinert wrote in her letter to the board expressing interest in the position.

Although the school board is nonpartisan, Weinert joins Churchill as one of two registered Republicans on the board.

“I don’t see party partisan agenda [in Weinert]. I don’t see her leaning toward one agenda or the other. But I do see a common thread involving children and a lot of volunteering efforts,” Churchill said before the vote.

Prior to the open-ended series of votes implemented by board attorney Dean Shatley, Weinert was one of three candidates nominated by board members for the position. During each round of voting, board members could vote for one, two or all three nominees, in an effort to build consensus on the six-member board.

“The board wanted to ensure it had a process that gave board members the ability to consider multiple candidates at the same time, much like a vote for the board chair or vice chair,” Shatley explained after the meeting. “The board also wanted a method that built consensus around the selected candidate, instead of individual motions for each nominee, which may lead to no one securing a majority,” he added.

TOUGH DECISION: Buncombe County Board of Education member Kim Plemmons, far right, said the decision to appoint the next at-large member of the board was a tough decision between Gelnda Weinert and Rev. Charles Martin. In the open voting format, she voted for both, and Weinert secured enough votes to win. Also pictuerd is Amy Churchill, left and Peggy Buchanan, middle. Photo by Caleb Johnson

During a special called meeting May 28, the board was split 3-3 on a vote to appoint Pat Bryant to the board. Bryant did not receive a nomination at the June 6 meeting.

Weinert received four votes in the first round of open voting, beating out the other nominees, the Rev. Charles Martin and Osondu McPeters. In all there were 27 applications for the position, although two were received late.

Martin, who was nominated by board member Rob Elliot, finished second with three votes.

Board member Kim Plemmons, who nominated Weinert but also voted for Martin in the first round, said two “influential people” called her to advocate for Martin and encouraged her to look at the decision through a diversity lens. Both Martin and McPeters are Black.

“I’ve said this publicly, and I’ll continue to say it: We do need people who look like our children,” she said.

Ultimately, though, Weinert won the vote, resulting in an all-white board.

Weinert is slated to be sworn in as soon as possible and her first board meeting will be on June 27, said BCS spokesperson Ken Ulmer in a release. She is only guaranteed a seat on the board until November, when her at-large seat will be on the general election ballot. Seats currently occupied by Churchill, board Chair Ann Franklin and member Peggy Buchanan are also up for election this year.

Candidate filing for the county school board opens Friday, July 19, and closes Friday, Aug. 2.

BCS joins lawsuit against social media companies

Board of Education members unanimously agreed to sign on to a multi-district class-action lawsuit at its June 6 meeting, joining districts from across the country suing social media companies.

In a survey conducted over two weeks in May by Buncombe County Schools staff and families, 89% of the more than 1,800 respondents said the district should sign on to the lawsuit.

In an informational booklet on the lawsuit produced by the Florida-based law firm Levin Papantonio Rafferty, the firm alleges that social media addiction in students constitutes a public nuisance with consequences that are paid for by the school districts.

“Excessive screen time is harmful to student’s mental health, sleep patterns and emotional well-being, and schools are being forced to actively address these challenges. Children afflicted by these mental health challenges perform worse in school and are more prone to absenteeism, substance abuse and behavioral problems. Teachers, school counselors, academic advisors, coaches and other staff bear witness daily to the devastating toll these products have taken on their students,” according to the booklet.

Shatley said the suit is similarly structured to previously successful litigation against JUUL brand alternative smoking devices. Buncombe did not sign on to that suit. If this litigation is successful, Shatley said the district would need to apply any winnings directly to help deal with issues related to social media addiction in its students.

It doesn’t cost the district anything to sign on to the suit, Shatley added.

School consolidation feasibility study underway

One of three major visits to the district has been completed by Prismatic Services, a vendor hired by Buncombe County to conduct a state-mandated school district consolidation feasibility study this year.

Prismatic conducted 43 interviews with staff during 21 school visits to both Buncombe County and Asheville City schools in May to observe operations, said Rachael Sawyer, strategic partnerships director for Buncombe County and lead project manager on the study.

The contractor worked with district staff to fulfill a large data request of 220 operational items, from academics to budget, facilities and food services.

Prismatic will submit its findings with recommendations to both school boards no later than the end of 2024, and will present them publicly no later than Jan. 31. Per state law, both the county and city school boards must make their independent recommendations to the N.C. General Assembly by Feb. 15.


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