Council cuts school board field despite teacher, community concerns

Pepi Acebo, Kate Fisher and Libby Kyles
THREE OF A KIND: Asheville City Board of Education hopefuls Pepi Acebo, Kate Fisher and Libby Kyles, left to right, enjoyed significant support from teachers and community members but were among the eight candidates cut from consideration by a Feb. 9 Asheville City Council vote. Acebo photo by Virginia Daffron, Fisher photo courtesy of Fisher, Kyles photo courtesy of YWCA Asheville

In a decision that caught local teachers off guard, Asheville City Council voted Feb. 9 to eliminate half of the 16 contenders for three open seats on the Asheville City Board of Education. Eight hopefuls, including incumbents Joyce Brown, James Carter and Patricia Griffin, will now seek Council’s appointment to the five-member board.

The slate of candidates passed on a 5-2 Council vote, with members Kim Roney and Sage Turner in opposition. Among those cut from the running were a trio of candidates supported by multiple community members in emails and phone calls to elected officials.

During a meeting of the city’s Boards and Commissions committee earlier on Feb. 9, Roney had advocated for allowing those candidates — Montford North Star Academy Parent-Teacher Organization President Pepi Acebo, longtime Asheville City Schools volunteer and parent Kate Fisher and former YWCA Asheville CEO Libby Kyles — to advance to the full Council for consideration. Vice Mayor Sheneika Smith and Antanette Mosley stood against the move, and the committee voted 2-1 to recommend a different group for the full Council to confirm.

Daniel Withrow, president of the Asheville City Association of Educators, says that his organization had been preparing to make its first-ever endorsements for school board seats this year given the high community interest in the process. He explains that Council’s initial timeline for appointments had scheduled the narrowing of the candidate field for early March and that the ACAE had planned its own work accordingly.

No Council members contacted ACAE regarding their intention to trim candidates on an earlier schedule, Withrow says. And Council largely ignored a letter from the group, read by Roney immediately prior to the Feb. 9 vote, asking for all candidates to be kept in the pool until the teachers could make their endorsements.

Mosley did not respond to a request for comment regarding her votes. However, she said during a Jan. 12 Boards and Commissions Committee meeting that she favored reappointing the existing school board members after speaking with unspecified ACS representatives and hearing no “negative feedback” on their leadership. (As previously reported by Xpress, the current board has guided the system into a period of financial distress and worst-in-state racial achievement disparities.)

Smith also said on Jan. 12 that the recommendation of school board Chair Shaunda Sandford to reappoint the incumbents should be “the guiding post for our decision.” But she walked back that comment in a Feb. 11 conversation with Xpress, saying, “I don’t think their reappointment is the center of what we did with our process.”

And the vice mayor took issue with the language of the ACAE’s letter. “I would consider their recommendation if I felt that it was on process alone. But I feel like their recommendation for us to pull our decision this late in the process is because they didn’t like the candidate pool,” Smith said. “It’s questionable how they would know the individual activity and the level of activity of those candidates.”

Although Withrow emphasizes that ACAE as an organization has yet to choose its favored candidates, several notable teachers have thrown their weight behind Acebo, Fisher and Kyles. ACAE Vice President Susanna Cerrato wrote in an email to Council that the three have “all worked for years, tirelessly, to advocate for transparency, accountability and equity.” And Jessica Jackson, the district’s 2019 teacher of the year, wrote that the trio “should absolutely be considered as candidates.”

Besides the incumbents, the remaining candidates include juvenile court counselor Stephen Blount, urban education graduate student Michele Delange, UNC Asheville Dean of Students Jacquelyn Carr McHargue, Buncombe County Recreation Services Director Peyton O’Conner and Homeward Bound of WNC executive George Sieburg. Council is tentatively scheduled to make its final appointments Tuesday, March 23.

Meanwhile, the ACAE will continue with its own endorsements — with its process considering the entire pool of 16 candidates, not just the eight chosen by Council. “That does mean we may end up endorsing candidates who are not part of that smaller group, and so we’re really going to encourage Asheville City Council to stay open to everyone who applied,” Withrow says.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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8 thoughts on “Council cuts school board field despite teacher, community concerns

  1. Stiff

    Maybe the teachers would be consulted more if they did their jobs. Virtual Learning is not the same. Shame on the teachers and the bloated administrative staff. You left the most vulnerable children alone.

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    • Enlightened Enigma

      the EVIL NEA and the NCAE are largely responsible for all the reopening of screwls…they control the EVIL Roy Cooper.

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    • DreadT

      Teachers didnt decide to teach virtually, someone else made that decision. They are doing the best they can to teach with the limitations provided. Shame on you for suggesting teachers don’t want to teach and dont care about the welfare of their students. Maybe if more parents were engaged in the education of their children before the pandemic, they wouldnt feel so overwhelmed now. This situation is difficult for students, parents and teachers. Implying teachers want to turn their backs on their obligation to make our society better by educating the youth is a distasteful lie.

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      • Bliss

        Private schools are thriving with few issues. No excuses. They don’t feel safe because the like the situation they are in.

        • DreadT

          Private schools typically have a population of students and parents that are engaged with learning and value their education. I don’t think the same can be said for public schools. A majority of students and parents are apathetic about education.

  2. Mike R.

    Can someone give me three good reasons why Asheville City Schools should not be merged into Buncombe County Schools? Two? One?

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    • Enlightened Enigma

      Cannot get an answer to this question from anyone in the city nor the county…nor ACS nor BCS…not ONE HUMAN in the whole county will assess this. WHY NOT ?

      How many millions$$$ could be saved per year with an ALL ONE system for maximum equality ???

    • indy499

      There are only bad reasons to be given. Essentially, taking it from the top, if there is only 1 district, there is only one school board to be doled out by politicos, one superintendent job and so on and so forth.

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