A school improvement resolution labeled as nonpartisan has divided the Board of Education.

School board members failed Monday in their attempt to approve “Resolution to Improve Student Learning Conditions” after one board member tried to amend it to include language opposing the teaching of critical race theory and The 1619 Project.

District 9 representative Benjie Forrest said the resolution, presented by the Pitt County Association of Educators, was not truly nonpartisan. Forrest first questioned whether or not the resolution was partisan in nature in May when PCAE President Lauren Piner first presented it to the board at a workshop meeting.

Piner, a teacher at South Central High School, said members of the North Carolina Association of Educators were working to have similar resolutions approved by school boards and county boards of commissioners across the state. The resolution was scheduled to be presented to Pitt County’s Board of Commissioners this week.

The resolution makes no mention of either critical race theory or The 1619 Project. It deals primarily with funding concerns, calling on local legislative representatives to support the following: increasing per-student spending; expanding funding to hire more school nurses, counselors, social workers, psychologists and instructional assistants; increasing the minimum pay of school employees to $15 an hour over a three-year period; and reforming the salary scale to provide a salary increase and subsequent cost of living adjustments for active and retired educators.

The resolution also calls for restoring educators’ longevity and masters pay, along with health-care benefits for retirees; approving a statewide K-12 school construction and renovation bond; and expanding funding for broadband, high-speed internet. It urges lawmakers to freeze funding for the private school voucher program at current levels and to require private schools accepting vouchers “to meet the same academic, financial and transparency standards as are other institutions receiving public funds.”

“These are things that I think we can all agree to support,” Piner said on May 17, adding that the legislative goals of the resolution were similar to those of the state School Boards Association.

District 6 representative Worth Forbes said last month that there were aspects of the resolution that he could not support. On Monday, Forbes, who is a pastor, said he did not agree with the resolution’s position on vouchers for private schools.

“I believe that Pitt County Schools, as well as all public schools, needs competition,” Forbes, a former principal, said.

“When you pull those vouchers out, you’re hurting the kids that may not can afford a private school or an alternative,” he said. “I believe all kids, our low socio-economic kids, deserve a choice just as much as any other child.”

Forrest asked that the resolution be postponed indefinitely until a neutral group of faculty and staff could produce a resolution “that’s not proposed by a partisan organization such as the North Carolina Association of Educators.

“I feel like there’s a lot of good things in the resolution,” he said. “It’s just coming from a partisan group under the guise of nonpartisanship.”

After his attempt to postpone the resolution failed, Forrest moved to eliminate the resolution’s recommendation on freezing voucher spending and replace it with “prohibits the teaching of critical race theory and The 1619 Project as developed by the New York Times magazine.”

Chairwoman Melinda Fagundus questioned whether or not the board could amend the resolution.

District 7 representative Caroline Doherty, who led the effort to have the resolution approved, said she was not comfortable dictating what resources teachers used.

“We’ve never made a habit of doing that in Pitt County,” she said. “We’ve always let our professionally trained educators, to choose the teaching materials and learning resources that they think best fit the curriculum and the Standard Course of Study.”

Forbes said there is concern in the community about the teaching of critical race theory and The 1619 Project.

“I do think as a board we do have to be careful of allowing just any type of curriculum to be allowed to be taught to our kids,” he said. “I think as a board we have to look at what is being taught and making sure that it is the best for our community and for our students. I do think we as a board have that responsibility.

“I just have some concerns with not at least making a statement as a board on how we feel,” Forbes said. “At least with a motion like this, everybody’s on record on how you feel about it.”

Only Forrest and Forbes supported the amendment. Doherty, District 1 representative Tracy Everette-Lenz and District 3 representative James E. Tripp Jr. voted to approve the resolution as written, which failed, 4 to 3.

Amy Cole of District 2 and Don Rhodes of District 4 voted with Forbes and Forrest against the resolution.

District 5 representative Anna Barrett Smith did not attend Monday’s meeting.

Contact Kim Grizzard at kgrizzard@reflector.com or call 329-9578.