Bryan Hanks: Calling all women in LCPS District 3
If I told you there was an organization or group in Lenoir County that was made up of 79 percent of a certain gender or race but had no representation on a board that helps govern it, would you be surprised?
If your answer was in the affirmative, get ready to be shocked.
According to data provided by Patrick Holmes of Lenoir County Public Schools, 1,018 of the 1,291 full-time employees – 78.9 percent – of LCPS are female.
Yet, the board that governs it – the Lenoir County School Board – has no female representation.
It must be the same with the school boards of county’s surrounding Lenoir, right?
Pitt County: Six of nine members are women, including the chair and vice-chair
Greene County: Three of five members are women, including the chair
Craven County: Four of seven members are women
Wayne County: Two of seven members are women, including the chair
Duplin County: One of five members are women
Jones is the only bordering county that has no women on their school board.
According to research by Lenoir County Board of Elections Director Dana King, there have only been four – FOUR! – women who have served on the school board since the county schools and Kinston City Schools merged in 1992.
How is this possible? A deserved nod certainly goes to Linda Rouse Sutton, Connie Mintz, Leigh McNairy and Rita Hodges, the only women who have served on the board in the past 26 years.
Whose “fault” is this, if we were to try to assign blame? It’s not the current or past school boards themselves – all those public servants have done is run for and win their bids for office.
Is it our society? Possibly, but I’d like to think that in 2018, women (who make up 54.5 percent of the electorate in Lenoir County, by the way) don’t feel like they can’t serve on the school board.
Sutton served on the county school board for two years before her term was cut in half by the merger in 1992. She was elected to two more terms before serving as an officer for the State Employees Association of North Carolina. She is currently in her third term as a Lenoir County Commissioner, where – ironically – she is the only female representative of the seven members of that board.
Sutton said she is perplexed by the lack of women on the school board, but can understand why it happens.
“When you’re a female, you have to work twice as hard to be heard and acknowledged,” she said Thursday afternoon. “It is sometimes really frustrating.”
That frustration – combined with the desire to spend more time with her children and grandchildren – is the reason why she’s decided not to run for reelection in 2020, when her term expires.
Is she worried about leaving the Board of Commissioners without female representation?
“Yes, certainly I am,” she said. “But as I mature, I’m getting more selfish with my time. I’m ready to slow down.”
Back to the current school board: This is an election year and there are three seats on the ballot: the new chairman, Keith King in District 2; Billy Davis in District 1; and W.D. Anderson in District 5. However, no one filed to run against incumbents King, Davis and Anderson, so all three men will have their seats for four more years.
There is an opportunity to rectify the lack of women on that board, and it can happen much sooner than November. There is currently an opening with the resignation of former board chair Jon Sargeant after he was named a district court judge by Gov. Roy Cooper.
The school board is currently soliciting letters of interest from residents in Sargeant’s district, which includes the fourth and ninth precincts of northwest Kinston and the Vance and Institute precincts to the north of them. By North Carolina rules, you must be a registered Democrat (Sargeant’s party) for at least 90 days, a resident of Sargeant’s District 3 for at least 30 days, be 21 years old and be qualified to vote in North Carolina.
The board is not accepting letters postmarked later than Friday, Aug. 10; all those individuals who submitted letters and met eligibility requirements will be given five minutes each to make a presentation to board members in open session on Tuesday, Sept. 4.
I’m certainly no feminist – actually, I consider myself more of a humanist – but it’s common sense that our county needs some female representation on our school board. Women look at issues much more differently than men do, and in some cases, have a kinder, gentler disposition towards issues that we self-professed he-men don’t always display.
But there won’t be a female on our Lenoir County School Board unless someone steps up to fill the void.
You could be the one.