Moore County Schools parents, teachers and community leaders took to social media outlets Tuesday night and Wednesday in a rage against an effort to remove Schools Superintendent Robert Grimesey from office.
The Moore Board of Education, in a closed executive session Monday night, held a performance review for Grimesey, after which a split board asked him to resign his post or risk being fired. The board has scheduled an 8 a.m. meeting for Thursday morning at the Central Office to discuss a personnel matter. At least two board members and others with direct knowledge of the situation say the meeting involves Grimesey's future with Moore County.
Facebook, Twitter and local media websites were buzzing with hundreds of comments, photos and pleadings from parents upset at the news that the first-year superintendent could be forced out of office. Many of those people posted copies of emails and letters they had written and sent to school board members pleading for them to keep Grimesey on.
No school board members have publicly said what occurred Monday evening in the closed session, but several others who heard directly from board members or have firsthand knowledge say the board is split 5-3 in favor of Grimesey’s departure.
Mentioned repeatedly as Grimesey’s top failing has been what some have characterized as strained relationships with some top school administrators and principals. Several sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said a key sticking point is that Grimesey had only offered one-year contracts to senior staff.
Board vice chair Kathy Farren and members Laura Lang, Sue Black, Becky Carlson and Ben Cameron are said to have formed a coalition to oust Grimesey. Board chairman Bruce Cunningham and members Charles Lambert and Ed Dennison are said to be supporting Grimesey.
“From the numerous business people and community leaders I’ve spoken to in the past 24 hours, the five members of this coup d’etat may be the most widely hated and despised people in Moore County,” said Southern Pines Town Councilman Mike Fields. “Dr. Grimesey is one of the brightest, most articulate, passionate, committed and visionary leaders I have ever encountered. He truly understands what it takes to build a world-class school system.
“I sure hope this is not a done deal.”
Nick Picerno, chairman of the Moore County Board of Commissioners, said Wednesday that he has received "overwhelming support" for Grimesey in phone calls and e-mails. He vowed that he would not support the use of taxpayers' money to buy out Grimesey's contract.
"As chairman of the Moore County Board of Commissioners, I have one vote," he said. "I would vote to reduce our appropriation to the school board next year by any amount of money used to buyout the superintendent's contract. Maybe they have another way to pay for it that I don't know about. The taxpayers' money of Moore County will not be used for this payout."
Grimesey's salary under a four-year contract, set to expire on June 30, 2018, is $128,148 per year plus an annual supplement of $3,036 for a total of $131,184.
Grimesey's contract reads that in the event of unilateral termination, the board "shall pay to the superintendent, as severance pay, the aggregate salary he would have earned pursuant to ... this agreement for the upcoming 12 months of the agreement or the remaining time of the agreement, whichever is less."
However, a negotiated settlement could cost the county substantially more.
Picerno acknowledged that he has "limited information" at this point and that he has attempted to contact school board chairman Bruce Cunningham for an explanation.
"I cannot support this unless the board can justify this," he said. "Right now I am very concerned. I would like to hear what they have to say in public. Every man is due his fair shot. He has been here a year. They may have just cause. If so I would support them. This may cause irreparable harm to our reputation."
The actions in Moore County have even reverberated in Raleigh. Late Wednesday afternoon, state Rep. Jamie Boles, who represents most of Moore County, posted a message on his Facebook page:
"As your Representative I am deeply concerned with the process in which the Moore County Schools Superintendent position is being tainted. In conversations with past and present board members I have found Superintendent Dr. Robert Grimesey to be respected, honorable and trustworthy. Though I may not have all the facts, I have been assured that this is a 'personality issue.'
"I would like to encourage EVERYONE to attend the 8 am meeting Thursday morning -June 4th at the Central office in Carthage. Show your support for our Superintendent Robert 'Bob' Grimesey."
Grimesey has declined comment and has restricted public appearances. He was scheduled to have appeared Wednesday afternoon at a Kiwanis Club of the Sandhills lunch honoring four outstanding high school seniors but did not attend.
The behind-the-scenes machinations have angered some of the other top political, education and business leaders in Moore County, chief among them Sandhills Community College President John Dempsey and Partners in Progress executive director Pat Corso.
Dempsey said he was "shocked and angered" by what seems to be transpiring.
"I have no idea what goes on internally within the school system, nor is it my business, but I can't imagine any circumstances in which an employee is fired, short of an illegality, without giving that person a chance to be given counsel and to rectify whatever the problem is," Dempsey said. "I have worked with five school superintendents in my 20 plus years at Sandhills, and have liked them all, but I have never worked with one as well as I have with Bob Grimesey.
"I am told that the wish for his departure is not unanimous among board members, but still, if he leaves, it will be a sad day for me personally and for the advancement of educational goals in which Bob is so involved."
Corso, interviewed Wednesday, said such a move to oust Grimesey “poisons the well.”
“It damages the relationship between the college and the school system,” he said. “Who are they going to bring in in this environment? Who is going to want to work with a group that is that dysfunctional? I think this sets us back years.
“This decision makes no sense. I think he’s a teacher’s advocate and God knows we need one. I think the school board should reconsider this action.
“Parents, teachers, business leaders and community leaders are all weighing in on this, and they’re not on the school board’s side. So what kind of hubris is driving this kind of action? It makes no sense. The school board should be held accountable for this decision because it’s having a detrimental effect on our community.”
The strongest outrage, however, came from parents, teachers and even former board members.
Pinehurst attorney Jennifer Garner, herself a former school board member and chairwoman, posted a letter she sent to board members:
“First, I am very upset with the time you have chosen to hold such a meeting. You know this is the week of major testing in your schools,” Garner wrote, voicing the concerns many parents have expressed about an early morning weekday meeting during the week virtually all students are taking end-of-year tests. “Students, staff and parents are already stressed to the max this week. Teachers and support staff cannot leave their school positions to come to central office to be seen and heard in their support of their superintendent.
“As you can imagine being a former board member myself, I have heard from all kinds of community members and school staff and kept up with all social media posts and news reports, I have yet to see ANY posts supporting the firing of Dr. Grimesey. Not one. You will have a lot to answer for especially come election time. We have lost enough teaching staff in this system already and you are about to lose many more over this decision.”
One Facebook site that has been extremely active in the last 24 hours has been Parents for Moore, a public group normally reserved for routine school matters. Parents have taken to it in droves to express their ire and frustration at this week’s turn of events.
Also on Parents for Moore, Katrina Denza posted her letter to board members:
“After Dr. Spence resigned, I spoke before you urging you to consider teacher attrition while looking for the right candidate. I urged you to find the person who would support and respect our teachers, treat them like the professionals they are, allow them to concentrate on teaching rather than perform extraneous duties that add little benefit to the educational system as a whole. I urged you to find the person who would bring the Moore County School system back to the wonderfully progressive entity it once was.
“After seeing Dr. Grimesey in the position for this past year, I felt confident I was heard and my request was considered.
“I have served as a Key Communicator for two years, an AIG Parent Advisory Council member for two years, and this last year I served as a Parent Advisory Council member. Although I have always felt as if my opinions have been heard, this last year with Dr. Grimesey as superintendent, was the first year I felt not only was my feedback heard, but that it was important, and when there were concerns such as with the Chromebook Rollout, those concerns were taken seriously and steps were taken to rectify the issues.
“Teachers are leaving and have left this county because of misguided policies and unhealthy working conditions created by a central office staff member. These were excellent, highly educated teachers we have forever lost. I, along with many, many other parents, was counting on Dr. Grimesey to help the county with this serious attrition problem.
“The political environment statewide has made teaching here unattractive. My youngest son has had too many substitute teachers lately. We simply cannot afford to lose any more teachers.
“I know you realize we live in a different time and social media allows for a transparency never before experienced. Parents know and understand a lot more about the goings on in central office than ever before. Every decision you make will not only affect every child in this county but will also be held up for scrutiny. It is imperative you make the right decision tomorrow.
Please. I urge you to reconsider. Moore County Schools cannot afford to lose an asset like Dr. Bob Grimesey.”
Parent Mary Lovett: “I can personally tell you that in all the school systems I have been in (many because we are a Military family) I have never had a superintendent come and TALK to students and see how they are feeling and what their concerns are. And this man really means it! He wants to know what they are feeling and how school is going for them. He wants to know about all the ridiculous testing that these children are put through and what they think about it.
“Dr. Grimesey has been the one small hope for this school system. He is personable and he cares. My heart is breaking for the students and teachers.”
Parent Kate Tracy: “Dr. Grimesey and I had one interaction this year. Bus route troubles on my children's first day this year caused me to write an angry email. Many parents have done such a thing at one time or another.
“For kicks, I cc'ed Dr. Grimesey, never expecting his involvement in such a small issue (huge to my family but small nonetheless). This Superintendent emailed me back almost immediately. His response was apologetic, sensitive, and professional. The next evening he emailed again, to find out if the troubles were resolved. This depth of responsibility was surely not limited to checking in with me. That interaction, and the positive publicity received by Moore County Schools throughout this year, led me to regard Dr. Grimesey as a competent, active, and well-respected leader.
Teacher Ashley Peschieri: “Since starting in 2010 I have seen not one, not two, but three superintendents. Out of all of the superintendents I have ever encountered as a teacher I have never seen someone so passionate as "Dr. Bob." He actually listens to the community (teachers, students and parents).”
From former Moore County teacher Susanne Cooper: “Dr. Grimesey was brought into this school system to improve morale and move our system forward. He has been quite responsive to communication from me regarding several issues, and he took it upon himself to accept an invitation to the Moore County Invitational Swim Meet, the first superintendent to show up on a holiday weekend to cheer on Pinecrest and Union Pines swimmers. He has taken the time to listen and get a feel for our schools and an understanding of our system’s issues and challenges.”
Parent Laura Rubin: “Last month, I was honored to have been Volunteer of the Month for MCS. Dr. Grimesey has played a large part in inspiring me to want to do more for my daughter's school. He created a Parent Advisory Committee, and with it a forum for parents to ask questions and be involved on a new level. I found this energizing, causing me to search for new ways to serve my school and community.”