Council hears nominations for new school board

Published 10:00 am Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Four of the seven immediate past members of the Franklin City School Board were re-nominated to serve on the board during a public hearing at the Franklin city council’s regular scheduled meeting on Monday.

Former board members Bob Holt, Jeanette Austin, Will Councill and Dr. Andrea Hall-Leonard were each nominated to represent wards six, five, one and three respectively, and were also nominated to fill the vacant at-large position. Also nominated were Ron Rusenack for ward six or at-large; Rebecca Jester for ward one or at-large; Amy L. Phillips for ward two or at-large; Carrie Johnson for ward two or at-large; Blanche Hicks for ward three or at-large; and Susan Carawan for ward two or at-large.

Holt received nominations from Deanna Walton, Bobbie Sherman and Faith Atkinson. Austin nominated herself. Councill was nominated by Ann Williams. Hall-Leonard nominated herself and was also nominated by her son, Ruben. Rusnack was nominated by Norwood Boyd. Jester was nominated by Lauren Parker. Phillips was nominated by Pam Lease. Johnson was nominated by Daniel Johnson. Hicks nominated herself, and Carawan was nominated by Bobby Tyler.

In her nomination of Councill, Williams cited Councill’s repeated inquiries into whether the school division would have sufficient funds to complete the school year during his previous tenure on the board. Boyd’s nomination of Rusnack cited his managerial and budgetary experience.

“Ron does not have a background in education; Ron has a background in business,” Boyd said. “He wants to see the school system run as a business and in light of the current situation with the school budget, I believe he would make an excellent addition to the school board.”

Parker’s nomination of Jester cited her academic and professional background in business administration, including her experience as CFO of Highground and auditing experience with Burgess & Company.

Lease’s nomination of Phillips centered on her having children in the school system, her experience volunteering with elementary students and service to the Parent Teacher Association, as well as her being a graduate of Franklin High School and Paul D. Camp Community College.

Johnson’s nomination focused on her 15 years experience in education, teaching at Ghent in Norfolk and J.P. King Jr. in Franklin. She also has two children in Franklin’s school system: one in 10th grade and one in sixth grade.

Holt’s numerous nominations highlighted his “laser-like focus,” his past experience on the board and as chairman from 1993 through 1999, during which time Franklin High School was designated a blue ribbon school, and his academic background as an adjunct professor of business at Paul D. Camp.

“During the last two years, he was frustrated at times, but was accountable to his ward,” Atkinson said. “When The Tidewater News called school board personnel, Mr. Holt never responded ‘no comment.’ He did the best he could with the limited information he had at the time. He is also very knowledgeable of federal and state laws pertaining to education.”

Hall-Leonard’s self-nomination highlighted her experience as a speech language pathologist, doctoral degree in Christian education and her previous experience as chair of the board.

“In my previous role as chairman of the board, the district faced many challenges and is still facing challenges these days,” Hall-Leonard said. “I am not one to make excuses. I believe the responsibility lies with all of us.”

Hall-Leonard also cited her recent recognition by the Virginia School Board Association for effective school board governance during their Fall 2016 conference.

Austin’s nomination of herself cited her being a graduate of Franklin High School and her record as a customer service employee of JC Penney’s.

“I am a dedicated customer service representative and recently received an ward from my company for being the most outstanding [customer service representative] for my region,” Austin said.

Tyler’s nomination of Carawan cited her academic background in special education, her volunteer experience at Southampton Memorial Hospital and her retirement from Franklin City Public Schools in 2013 after teaching in Franklin since 2008.

City council will begin interviewing nominees next week. According to City Mayor Frank Rabil, all candidates nominated will be given equal consideration regardless of whether or not they have previously served on Franklin’s school board.

“They will go through the same vetting process as the other nominees,” Rabil said. “At this point in time everyone is on equal footing. I was really pleased with the caliber of all the candidates. I think we have a good group to choose from.”

Rabil added that those candidates who are the sole nominees for specific wards of the city will not necessarily be automatically appointed to the board due to lack of an opponent.

No candidates were nominated for the vacant ward four seat on the school board. As a result, this seat will remain unfilled until council decides to hold another public hearing to consider nominees for this seat. Austin was the only person nominated for ward five.

All current school board vacancies will expire June 30 of varying years. The current ward one term will expire in 2017; ward two in 2019; ward three in 2017; ward four in 2018; ward five in 2019; ward six in 2018; and the at-large position in 2018.