Allison Backhouse is criticizing Wake County school board member Jim Martin's efforts to help professionals such as his fellow N.C. State professors keep their children's school assignments when they return from sabbaticals.
In a Sunday blog post, Backhouse writes about "the unethical nature of creating a policy to serve his friends and co-workers at the request of his boss." Martin says the provost who made the request to him and others in the school system for an extended family professional leave policy isn't his boss.
Martin also responded to Backhouse that he's "not working to 'benefit my friends.'" Martin writes that "careful attention should be paid to policies that impact any of the County's major employers," such as N.C. State.
Backhouse fires back in her post by pointing back to how Martin had told staff that not implementing a leave policy because transient people have less resources is "defining equity by the lowest common denominator." She charges that "Martin isn't concerned about you and me."
"If you work for a major employer...let's say...NSCU, for example... Mr. Martin will pay careful attention to you and your children," Backhouse writes. "He'll work to create policies to help you to ensure you're happy.
If you don't, well, you know... You're an afterthought."
The issue was discussed at the May 29 meeting of the policy committee that Martin chairs. Martin said the item was added at the direction of board leadership.
For some additional context, here's the June 4 email, with the subject line "Unethical," that Backhouse sent to the board and staff:
How is it not a conflict of interest and completely unethical for Mr. Martin to discuss the possible creation of a policy simply to "help out" his boss at NCSU? Did Mr. Martin actually have the gall to put this item on the policy committee's agenda simply because his friends asked him to? What other decisions of his have been influenced by outside people?
And, why was Mr. Martin willing to spend time discussing solutions to help out his friends at NCSU but not to help others - or, as he so eloquently called them, "the lowest common denominator"?
Board Policy 1005
It is important that a Board member is nonpartisan in dealing with school matters and that he/she not subordinate the education of children and youth to any partisan principle, group, interest, or personal ambition.
Mr. Martin should be removed from this committee immediately due to the flagrant use of his Board position to personally benefit his NCSU employment.
Here's the response that Martin sent back later that evening:
Dear Ms. Backhouse,
I did not ask that this possible policy be placed on the agenda for the policy committee. This was addressed at the directive of the Superintendent, Staff, Chair and Vice Chair. Yes, NCSU contacted the school system, including me. The matters being addressed are not unique to NCSU. They directly impact any college or University, as well as many research businesses in the area. The issues also would impact families undergoing a one-year military deployment, or a missionary assignment, etc.
Furthermore, you clearly do not understand the University employment structure. The Provost is not my boss. As a full professor, I have responsibilities directly to my department, and to my profession, but not directly to the administration of the University.
Please work to get your facts correct before making such accusations.
Here's the June 6 reply from Backhouse to Martin:
Are you purposefully being obtuse? Do you not see the unethical nature of requesting a discussion specifically about creating a policy for the people you work with? I have absolutely no concern about the employment structure at NCSU. I couldn't care less who you report to or whether or not you are a full professor. My concern is that you are using your role as a WCPSS Board member to benefit your friends and colleagues at NCSU.
On another subject, I watched the Board meeting last night. You claimed that you voted against the bell schedule changes initially because Middle Creek was not on the list. Can you please tell me when you first brought that up? I don't recall ever hearing you say that was one of the reasons you voted against it. In fact, I remember you claimed the bell schedule changes were politically motivated. Was this one too?
Please be respectful to all families in Wake County. You don't just serve families from Carnage or those whose parents work at NCSU. Please gain some understanding of what some of our children have been through over the years. We are all in this together yet, for some reason, you and Mrs. Evans don't seem to understand that.
Here's the June 6 response from Martin to Backhouse:
For your information I do not even know the folks at NCSU who were having issues with sabbatical planning. I am not working to "benefit my friends." You must realize that NCSU is one of the large employers of Wake County. It is for that reason that we should pay attention to matters impacting that employer. Careful attention should be paid to policies that impact any of the County's major employers.
With respect to the bell schedule, I voted against the original proposal because all the changes were being made after the end of Choice round 1. I strongly believe any changes to bell schedules needed to have been decided before parents selected their choices. Further I was and continued to be opposed to all shifts of school start times to after 9:00 am. Such changes are costly to families in many ways. I said nothing about the politics of the decision until after the vote when I went back and looked at which schools were allowed to avoid the undesirable bell schedule changes, and which were not. To imply as some have that I opposed bell schedule changes to a school such as Sycamore Creek is disingenuous. The record clearly shows I worked on behalf of those families too. My no vote would equally not have changed their bell schedule. The yes vote selectively saved some schools from change, and forced major change upon others.
I do understand the problems of reassignments, mandatory calendar assignments, etc. I argued against such in the old plan, just like I argue against effectively forced reassignments in this current plan. I do believe there are solutions that can minimize reassignments, maximize opportunities, and ensure all schools are healthy diverse schools. That is what I will continue to work for.