By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on February 5, 2020
The Dare County Board of Education unanimously voted on Feb. 5 to appoint Kitty Hawk resident Harvey Hess to fill the temporary vacancy on the board left when former member Ben Sproul took office as Kill Devil Hills mayor in December.
A former teacher in Dare County Schools and owner of Capt’n Franks in Kitty Hawk, Hess was one of four candidates who interviewed with the board during the Feb. 5 meeting. He will serve in the District 2 seat until that term expires late this year. Democrat Jen Alexander and Republican Susan Bothwell will vie for that four-year seat in the upcoming Nov. 3 election.
The November race will mark the second local partisan school board election since the N.C. General Assembly passed the 2016 bill that requires Dare County and eight other counties to hold such partisan races. Partisanship in the appointment to the Sproul’s vacated seat was not to be considered a factor, however, since Sproul was elected prior to the bill’s adoption.
Both Alexander and Bothwell were among the applicants seeking to fill the temporary spot on the board, along with Kyle Eaker. Dawn Edwards had also applied to fill the vacancy, but eventually withdrew her application. In selecting Hess, the board members avoided the potentially tricky situation of selecting either Alexander or Bothwell and giving one of them the opportunity to run as an incumbent in November.
“I am a firm believer of recruiting and retaining teachers,” Hess asserted during his interview, which included allotted time for each candidate to respond to a series of 13 questions provided to them in advance of the meeting. Questions posed to candidates ranged from asking about their vision for education and areas where they thought the district could improve; to their experience in budgeting and other skills they felt qualified them for the position.
Hess largely focused on the difficulties local teachers face when it comes to housing and the cost of living. “I’ve seen a number of teachers come and go,” he said, adding that the district needs to find ways “to improve the situation so we do not have a revolving doorway.”
During his interview, Hess also said that teacher pay needed to be addressed in North Carolina. The most pressing issue facing Dare County Schools, he said, is “finding a path to getting and retaining really good teachers…It’s an embarrassment to live in a state [where teacher pay] is way below the national average.”
A former member of the Kitty Hawk Town Council, Hess said he was knowledgeable about the budget process, touted himself as a “good negotiator” and said he was “always willing to listen. I never learned anything with my mouth open.”
After board members thanked the applicants for their responses and following some discussion, Board Member Mary Ellon Ballance made the motion to appoint Hess. “Harvey checks all the boxes,” she said, noting his budgeting expertise and teaching experience. Board Member David Twiddy seconded the motion.
While several board members said they struggled with a decision, they ultimately threw their support behind Hess, who was sworn in shortly after the vote.
“It’s a very difficult position to be in,” said Board Member Frank Hester of the selection process. “It’s a short [period] of time before the seat is permanently filled. Harvey’s got the knowledge… and will be good for us.”
The process of selecting a candidate to the temporary vacancy became more complicated in January in the midst of allegations that an illegal private meeting among board members was held to discuss various applicants for the appointment.
The contention surfaced after Jan. 14 school board meeting in which discussions of the vacancy appointment was on the agenda. Ultimately, School Board Chair Bea Basnight called a special meeting days later, on Saturday, Jan. 18, in order to review the process and ensure transparency.
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