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Payne: Reassignment result of 'intimidation' by then superintendent

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Ron Payne, a candidate for one of two Outside City seats on the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Board of Education, answers a question at a candidates forum at the Pasquotank County Courthouse, Tuesday, Oct. 16. Payne, a former high school principal in the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools, claims he was reassigned after a parent made up a story about him that the former superintendent believed without asking him about it.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Board of Education candidate Ron Payne claims the way his departure from Northeastern High School was handled points to a larger problem in the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools: school staff are intimidated by administrators and the school board lets it happen.

At least one of his opponents, however, said Payne should be more transparent about how the departure happened.

Payne was principal of Northeastern High School from 2012 until the end of the school year in 2016, when he was placed on administrative leave and later reassigned. No details of what led to Payne’s departure as principal were ever released by either the school district or Payne.

This week Payne provided no additional information about the situation except to say it was abrupt and amounted to “intimidation” by then-Superintendent Larry Cartner.

“That was his way of showing people who was boss,” Payne said of Cartner’s handling of his personnel matter. “And our school board allowed it to happen. I'm eating dinner in a restaurant and the next thing I know I'm being put on administrative leave.”

Payne said that in his case a parent who didn't like him made up a story about him.

“I was absolutely shocked,” Payne said of learning he had been placed on administrative leave.

Payne said then-Superintendent Cartner sided with the parent “and he didn't even ask me what had happened at all.” He said taking the parent’s side reflexively was “the way the superintendent was from day one.”

“The superintendent had a policy: 'when it comes to the parents, the answer is always yes,'” Payne said. “That is a quote.”

Payne said other principals also heard the superintendent say that parents were always right.

“He would back a parent every single time no matter what the situation was,” Payne said.

Cartner, who resigned Aug. 15, could not be reached for comment on this story.

Payne said his candidacy for Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Board of Education has nothing to do with his being placed on administrative leave two and a half years ago.

“I just did not like the direction that the school district was going,” Payne said of his reason for filing for one of two Outside City seats on the ECPPS school board. He said because of his experience as an educational administrator he has a lot to offer the board.

Payne’s opponents include George Archuleta, a first-time candidate, and Sharon Warden, chairwoman of the ECPPS Board of Education who is seeking re-election to a second term.

Warden said she could not comment on why Payne is running for a seat on the board.

“I cannot speak to Mr. Payne's motivation,” Warden said.

Payne said the board was out of touch with what was going on not just in his case but in other cases in which principals were removed or left the school district.

“When I was put on administrative leave I did ask three school board members if they knew or understood why I was put on administrative leave and they said they did not know,” Payne said. “It goes back to what I've always said: our board does not have a feel for what's going on within the walls of the school district that they would allow the best principals in the district to be put on administrative leave.”

Warden would not address either Payne’s allegation that Cartner sought to intimidate principals and teachers or Payne’s view that board members are disconnected from personnel matters.

“Because of confidentiality requirements imposed by state law, I cannot and will not discuss any particular situation,” Warden said. “As board of education members, we take an oath to govern according to a strict code of ethics as well as North Carolina statutes that address personnel-related matters.”

Archuleta said he agrees with Payne that the school board should exercise more oversight in major personnel matters.

“I think if it’s just a teacher getting a reprimand or getting written up — that’s all — I feel the superintendent should be able to handle it,” Archuleta said. “But if it involves a dismissal or a transfer because of a disciplinary problem, I think the board should be involved with it. I think we’re all in this together, the board with the superintendent.”

But Archuleta said that since Payne is a candidate for a seat on the school board he should inform voters about what led to his departure from Northeastern.

“If Mr. Payne is going to ask the other board members to be transparent then he needs to be transparent about this,” Archuleta said. “He does need to say what happened and why it happened.”

Archuleta said he can’t comment on what led to Payne’s departure because he doesn’t know what happened.

“When it comes to Mr. Payne I have heard a lot but for me to make a statement would not be right because I don’t have the facts,” Archuleta said. “Hearsay is hearsay. I don’t know what the facts are.”

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