In a joint session of the House and the Senate, Republican legislators rejected two of the three nominees for the State Board of Education to the confusion of Democrats.
Legislators overwhelmingly approved Reginald Kenan’s reappointment to the state education board, but a partisan split prevented Sandra Byrd and John B. Buxton from earning the necessary votes for confirmation.
Gov. Roy Cooper nominated Kenan, Byrd, and Buxton on May 2, 2017, to serve an eight year term. The board has 19 members, 14 nominated by the governor.
While Kenan’s confirmation was approved without contention, Republicans rejected Byrd and Buxton.
Sen. Chad Barefoot, R-Wake, urged legislators not to approve Byrd’s nomination citing the recent power struggle between state board and state Superintendent Mark Johnson.
“Opposition to her nomination is not personal, it has to do with the recent spate of litigation losses that the SBE has suffered at great expense to the taxpayers of North Carolina,” Barefoot said. “All of the education stakeholders in the state have shown themselves to be reasonable and willing to reach a consensus with the exception of the State Board. I’m afraid with Byrd’s nomination we cannot help but expect more of the same.”
Byrd was also one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging the Opportunity Scholarship program. Barefoot said she is free to sue, but doing so means she is not fit to serve on a board that is seemingly eager to litigate.
Democrats disagreed with Barefoot’s reasoning.
Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe called for confirming Byrd’s nomination.
“I have known Sandra Byrd for many years. I have known her to be a sincere and ardent supporter of public education,” Fisher said.
Sen. Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe, said there should be a diversity of opinion on the board.
“By taking the position that Sen. Barefoot is taking, we are sending a chilling message that all we want on our board of education is someone who will work in lockstep with the superintendent,” Van Duyn said. “To exclude people with valid, passionate convictions because they don’t agree with yours, I think is a very poor reason not to permit someone to serve who so deserves this.”
Byrd’s confirmation failed with a total tally of 107 voting no and 56 voting to confirm.
While Republicans provide a reason for rejecting Byrd, no such explanation was given for Buxton.
Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne urged lawmakers to vote no for Buxton, but didn’t elaborate as to why. When Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange rose to ask Bell a question, Bell didn’t yield.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have been offered no explanation as to why it would be inappropriate to support this nomination for J.B. Buxton for the board of education,” Meyer said.
Buxton previously served as deputy state superintendent of North Carolina public schools and was an education adviser to former Gov. Mike Easley. Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, said Buxton has served both Republicans and Democrats.
“I am baffled and perplexed as to why we are voting down this nomination,” Chaudhuri said.
Meyer said he fears purely partisan politics was at play for denying Buxton’s nomination. Before the joint session, the Senate endured a tense debate over the proposed Voter ID amendment.
Current board members Tricia Willoughby and Wayne McDevitt, whose terms expired in March 2017, will have to continue serving until replacements are confirmed.