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‘Grandstanding’ commissioner had months to reach out, Craven says

Without mentioning him by name, School Board Chairman Blair Craven on Monday responded to Henderson County Commissioner Michael Edney’s suggestion that the county block funding to local K-12 schools unless the School Board rescinds its decision to flout state law and order a school start earlier than the law allows.

Craven referred to a “particular commissioner” when he said he had no intention of changing the calendar the school board approved in a four to three vote earlier this year. The calendar begins classes on Aug. 14, two weeks earlier than state law allows.

The School Board’s decision to begin classes earlier than is legally allowed came as a “direct result of parents begging and asking us to do this. So, we listened. Our parents are still emailing us to this day,” Craven said during the board’s regular monthly meeting. “I have no intention of changing the calendar.”

Craven said he also welcomed having a discussion with anybody about the issue.

The chairman was the only school board member to directly mention Edney’s threat. During a discussion about plans for a partnership with Blue Ridge Community College that will offer more classes with college credit to high school students, board member Jay Egolf seemed to also have the calendar on his mind.

“It helps to be on the same schedule,” he said.

In an interview Tuesday, Craven told the Lightning he did not know how the School Board might respond if the county were to withhold its allocation, adding that he thought Edney bringing the issue up so many months after the vote was not proper.

“The first time we heard about it was when he was grandstanding in public,” Craven said. “He’s threatening to withhold folks’ paychecks. He had six months to reach out and have discussion. I would welcome a discussion at any point in time.”

The board took no action on the calendar on Monday and has not discussed it in several months.

Craven said he thought it would not be right for the School Board to consider going back to the later start this late in the year given that families have made vacation and summer camp plans.

“We are here to serve the kids in Henderson County,” he said.

Edney recommended blocking funding for the school system last week during a regular meeting when commissioners adopted the 2023-24 budget.

“This board cannot condone an intentional violation of state law,” he said, “and by funding their school board and doing so, it’s assisting them in a violation of the law that violates our constitutional oath and duty and our moral duty not to tell the world that we’re going to condone a violation of the law.” Edney said he thinks the earlier start is a good idea, too, “but it’s not up to me. It comes from Raleigh.”

Although Edney urged the board to make the order a condition of the budget, other commissioners said they were not prepared to vote on it. The board is expected to take up the proposed funding freeze on July 19. The new county budget allocates $50.6 million to K-12 public schools.

Commissioner Daniel Andreotta made it clear last week that he’s a no vote if Edney’s idea comes to a vote.

“You may be aware of a recent decision by the Henderson County Board of Education to amend the calendar for the upcoming 2023-2024 school year,” Andreotta said in a statement. “This decision, which was not unanimous, contradicts the calendar dictated by the North Carolina School System.”

In fact, Andreotta’s daughter, Alyssa Norman, was one of three board members to vote no — along with Shelia Dale and Kathy Revis — when the School Board voted to defy the state law and start early.

“Our school students are the most important element in education. All this being said, I wish to make it clearly known that I do not support the withholding of funds from the Henderson County School System,” Andreotta said in the statement. “While I understand the frustration regarding the school calendar, and while I appreciate all views on the recent local course of action, I do not believe that the withholding of funds is the appropriate response.”