With new schools under construction and a districtwide redrawing of school attendance lines in the works, the Moore County Board of Education has a pivotal year ahead of it.

In a special meeting on Monday, the board agreed to tackle the next year with a full seven members and move forward with filling the vacancy left by longtime board member Bruce Cunningham’s unexpected death last month.

For the next two weeks, the board will take applications from southern Moore County residents interested in serving until December 2020, when Cunningham’s fourth term was set to expire. A revered Southern Pines attorney who had served on the school board since 2004, he died on July 5 while on vacation with his family.

Cunningham represented the school board’s District 5, which covers the southern end of the county — including Aberdeen, Pinebluff and part of Southern Pines. Whoever fills that seat will live in the same area.

“To say Bruce was a huge advocate for the schools is an understatement. He spent countless hours thinking of ways to improve our community and our schools,” said board member Stacey Caldwell.

“He called me up on a Sunday to tell me he was driving around all week to look at the traffic patterns for our bus routes. Another time he was up at 4 a.m. thinking about our redistricting plan. … He would drive by McDeeds Creek and just sit in the parking lot in awe. He was looking forward to the ribbon-cutting on that school, and Bruce was beyond proud of the new schools being built, especially in Southern Pines.”

There is no legal mandate for the school board to fill the vacancy rather than waiting for the 2020 election, but with more than a year to go Chair Helena Wallin-Miller said that the board’s attorney advised against leaving the seat open.

“One thing about process … is that there really is none stipulated by statute. We could use today to appoint someone. Somebody could put a nomination on the floor and we could appoint someone,” she said. “That’s one end of the process. At the other end of the process, we could take months.”

The last time the school board appointed from the community to fill unexpired terms was in 2015, when half the board resigned after the controversial firing of Superintendent Bob Grimesey. All four of the new members appointed at the time — Wallin-Miller, Vice-Chair Libby Carter, Caldwell, and Pam Thompson — have since been elected to full terms in their own right.

On Tuesday, the board elected to open applications until Aug. 20, but did not set a date for a final appointment. Those interested can verify with the Moore County Board of Elections that they’re eligible for the seat based on residency.

“I would like to see us move quickly because I think we have some very major decisions ahead, decisions that will affect those who live in the Southern Pines and Aberdeen district especially,” said Carter. “They’re going to get new schools, and of course those school lines are going to be changing. It would be very helpful for us to have a voice from that region sitting with us on the board and able to provide input from the other folks who live within that district.”

Applicants should submit a resume and letter of intent outlining their interest in the seat and what they would contribute to the board by Aug. 20. Applicantions can be sent either in an email to Helena.Wallinmiller@ncmcs.org or by mail to Moore County Schools’ central office at P.O. Box 1180, Carthage, NC 28327.

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