“I’m really struggling with this process as a parent, as a councilor,” said Asheville City Council member Sage Turner, as her colleagues considered how they would appoint three members of the Asheville City Board of Education. “I’m really struggling with us not listening to teachers.”
Nevertheless, Turner joined all Council members save Kim Roney in a Feb. 23 vote to request essays and interviews from only seven of 15 school board applicants. That approach is significantly more limited than a parallel process by the Asheville City Association of Educators, a local teacher group, which will endorse candidates after sending all 15 hopefuls a detailed questionnaire.
In light of the ACAE’s work, Roney had also asked Council to request essays and interviews from all 15 candidates. “I suggest we take a moment to listen and lead in a way that’s going to make space for inclusion, with the intent to promote healing,” she said, before introducing a motion to that effect; none of her colleagues offered a second.
Council’s pool of candidates is already one fewer than had previously been agreed to in a Feb. 9 vote. In addition to the three school board incumbents — Joyce Brown, James Carter and Patricia Griffin — Council had planned to interview five newcomers: 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.
However, as of Feb. 16, Blount had withdrawn his application, and Council members did not move to fill his slot with another new candidate. Speaking with Xpress on Feb. 18, Blount said he had pulled out after “persons in the community who were supporters of individuals who didn’t make it” questioned the address he had listed on his board application.
Per city policy, all school board members must live in the Asheville City Schools district. Buncombe County property records show that the address on Blount’s application is located in the district and owned by his parents. Although the 26-year-old Blount provided Xpress with a phone bill listing his name with that address, he repeatedly refused to confirm that he resided there.
Council members are expected to interview the seven school board candidates on the morning of Tuesday, March 23, with appointments made during their regular meeting that evening. State law requires all appointments to be effective by Thursday, April 1.
According to City Attorney Brad Branham, Council could still reopen its approach to consider more candidates should members wish to include the ACAE’s input. “You are not required at this point to continue the same process or limit yourself on who you vote for at the end of the day,” he explained. “You have one and one only obligation in this regard, and that is to make those final appointments.”