Cooper Board of Education Picks Deserve Scrutiny

Earlier this month, Governor Cooper announced his three picks for the state’s Board of Education were Reginald Kenan, John (J.B.) Buxton, and Sandra Byrd.

All three appointment picks to the State Board of Education must be confirmed by the legislature. All three deserve serious scrutiny.

A brief bio of each Board of Education appointee choice was included in the Governor’s press release:

Reginald Kenan as second education district representative, a reappointment. Kenan is a native of Duplin County where he practices law and serves on the county school board. He is a graduate of Guilford College and Campbell University and is active in his church and community.

Sandra Byrd as eighth education district representative. Byrd lives in Asheville and is a retired Associate Professor of Education from UNC Asheville, where she served as Assistant Provost. She previously taught high school and was Buncombe County Teacher of the Year. She is a graduate of Salem College, Western Carolina University, and the University of South Carolina.

John B. Buxton as at-large representative. Buxton lives in Raleigh and is the founding principal of Education Innovations Group, an education consulting firm. Previously, he served as Deputy State Superintendent of North Carolina public schools, an education advisor in the Governor’s Office, and coordinator of special programs for NC Teaching Fellows. A former high school teacher, Buxton is a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and Princeton.

Are these profiles representative or a 30,000-foot view?

Cooper’s Board of Education picks deserves more scrutiny than a fly-over bio.

Kenan was appointed to the Board of Education by former Governor Bev Perdue in 2009 would, therefore, be a re-appointment.

That leaves Byrd and Buxton to examine. Both are Democrats and both have education-related backgrounds.

Sandra Byrd: Anti-School Choice Champion and NCAE Leader

Sandra Byrd is currently working as an ‘independent education consultant‘. However, further digging revealed that, unsurprisingly, Byrd mirror’s Governor Cooper’s anti-school choice position.

Evidence of this position is found in an op-ed she penned in the Asheville Citizen-Times.  Byrd singles out and attacks Darrell Allison, the president of Parents for Education Freedom in North Carolina, and other pro-choice non-profit school groups.

Byrd also dismisses the idea that parents in the state want more choice, stating in the article that, “Factual examination reveals no parent revolution that ordinary families are leading.”

Yet Byrd gives no evidence for that claim and instead proceeds in her attack on Allison, school choice, vouchers and online schools. Everything that is not a traditional public school is apparently suspect to Ms. Byrd.

Ms. Byrd clearly hasn’t done a factual examination of the steadily increasing numbers of charter schools, the exponentially growing demand for Opportunity Scholarships and the sharp increase in homeschooling in North Carolina.

Byrd adamantly opposes the Opportunity Scholarship Program. So dispises parental choice much so, she joined the 2013 lawsuit over the program claiming it violated the state constitution (Hart v State).

Co-plaintiffs included the NC Association of Educators (NCAE) and the progressive left non-profit, the NC Justice Center.

The NC NAACP also joined in, filing an Amicus Curiae over the program, even though the scholarship program mainly benefits low-income and minority students.

After a back and forth fight in the courts, in 2015 the NC Supreme Court heard the case, overturned the lower court decision, ruling that the program was constitutional:

“Our review is limited to a determination of whether plaintiffs have demonstrated that the program legislation plainly and clearly violates our constitution. Plaintiffs have made no such showing in this case. Accordingly, the trial court erred in declaring the Opportunity Scholarship Program unconstitutional. We therefore reverse the trial court’s order and final judgment.”

In other words, the NCAE, Byrd and the other multiple plaintiffs lost.

It will be interesting to see the legislature confirm someone to the Board of Education who in the past has sued them.

J.B. Buxton – The Z. Smith Reynolds Connection

J.B. Buxton is the only one of the three with relevant education experience with the Board of Education and issues at the state level, as he is a former deputy superintendent at the state Department of Public Instruction.

Buxton garnered a salary of $149,604 for that position.  That figure is much higher than the State Superintendent was paid.

Class size has been a big issue this legislative cycle. Back in 2008, Buxton refused to grant Wake County Public schools a waiver for extra-large class sizes, potentially forcing hundreds of elementary students to change teachers mid-year.

At the time, Buxton was cited by the News and Observer as saying it was ‘up to Wake County schools’ to decides how to reduce class size and suggested withholding part of Superintendent Del Burn’s salary as a partial fix.

“The board doesn’t feel they can continue to give more waivers to deal with the problem,” said Deputy State Superintendent J.B. Buxton.

While acting as Deputy Superintendent, Buxton offered no pushback when in 2009 Bev Perdue attempted to make up for budget shortfalls by withholding lottery funds for schools.  That move cost school districts statewide $42 million in funding.

Buxton along with Marshall Stewart were primary challengers to former State Superintendent of Schools June Atkinson in 2004. Buxton came in third.

A Dark Chamber of Progressive Influence

Buxton’s campaign team included Tom Lambeth, the former executive director of the liberal Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation. Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation has been responsible for a large amount of funding for BluePrint NC, the liberal organization which penned the now famous attack memo outlining the ‘crippling and evisceration of Republicans in North Carolina.

Lambeth wasn’t the only one on board with far left ties. Buxton’s donors in 2004 included far-left billionaire, George Soros, who gave the campaign $2,000.

Buxton’s 2004 campaign also had issues in filing the proper disclosure paperwork according to records at the NC State Board of Elections.

It took the Committee to Elect J.B. Buxton campaign three years after the campaign ended to submit a signed disclosure cover for three reports after prompting from the Board of Elections. In addition to the prompting, two follow-up warning letters were sent after the campaign did not respond.

In 2009, an audit of the campaign’s disclosure forms revealed several problems, such as not properly disclosing donations and contributions to PACs/candidates that were listed as expenditures. The issues were eventually corrected before the account was closed in May 2009.

Buxton was also an education advisor to former Governor Mike Easley but now runs Education Innovations Group, an education consulting outfit which is, “focused on state education strategies for Pre K-12 and post-secondary public education.”

Buxton, unlike Byrd, appears to be interested in more charter schools – so long as they are his PAVE Charter schools.  Interestingly, Sandra Byrd’s op-ed didn’t mention Buxton, his charters or his education consulting firm.

The Southeast PAVE school made news this month after firing a bus driver and monitor for failing to notice they left a 6-year-old child alone on one of their buses.

About A.P. Dillon

A.P. Dillon is a reporter currently writing at The North State Journal. She resides in the Triangle area of North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_ Tips:
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