Restoration NewsMedia

School board might be grasping at straws

Ronald Johnson’s fellow school board members are trying to have him removed from office. Screen capture

The Johnston County Board of Education has asked District Attorney Susan Doyle to determine whether evidence exists to charge board member Ronald with “willfully and corruptly” failing to discharge the duties of his office. But the board, we suspect, is grasping at straws as it tries to oust Johnson, whom it sees as a disruptive force distracting from the business of educating children.

It would certainly appear Mr. Johnson performs his duties, attending monthly meetings, voting on board motions and sometimes proposing policies, as he did in offering a policy on divisive teachings, one the board adopted.

That’s not to say Mr. Johnson hasn’t violated school board norms or the board’s code of ethics. He readily admits to taping conservations with board members. And while he denies it, a principal and parent say Mr. Johnson tried to interfere in the school assignment of two autistic children.

But we doubt Mr. Johnson is the first school board member to try to interfere in a student assignment; some might even have succeeded. Granted, Mr. Johnson might have done so to get back at a former friend, but isn’t a board member who tries to help a friend just as guilty of crossing the line? Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

As for recording conversations with fellow school board members, again, Mr. Johnson might not be the first. More broadly, school boards, this one especially, spend too much time behind closed doors. They’re supposed to record minutes of such meetings, by the way, and release them when the matter discussed behind closed doors is no longer sensitive. But in nearly four decades of covering school boards, we’ve yet to see minutes from a closed session. So if a school board member provides even a snippet of what happened, we doubt the public considers that a sin.

Board member Terri Sessims suggests the board might have a better chance of removing Mr. Johnson through an amotion hearing. Boards hold such hearings when they think a member has become a liability or broken the public’s trust.

But we think the board would be hard-pressed to prove that Mr. Johnson is a liability. The board, after all, continues to function, and we see no evidence, for example, that Mr. Johnson is discouraging teachers and principals from applying for jobs here. One could argue that he broke the public’s trust by trying to intervene in a student assignment. But as Mr. Johnson notes, that’s hearsay, and in any event, no student was reassigned.

Mr. Johnson is no doubt a thorn in the sides of the six board members who asked him to resign. But the people best equipped to decide his fate are the voters of Johnston County, not the courts and certainly not a school board with an obvious bone to pick.