Donny Lambeth, controversial Chairman of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education, announced Friday that he would resign his seat effective Dec. 31, after 18 years of service on the Board. In a tenure that saw successes like joining in partnerships to support the School System with non-profits and corporate entities, Mr. Lambeth also saw his share of controversy, including his initial resistance to implementing a State law on school bullying that included LGBT students’ rights. Some parents and others in the community have admired Mr. Lambeth’s hard-right stands while other parents and teachers have complained that he has been belligerent to them, not listened to their side of issues, and slept during school board meetings.
Partisanship has marked Mr. Lambeth’s tenure, even when the School Board was suppsed to be “non-partisan”. During that time (The School Board does not return to partisan elections until 2014) Mr. Lambeth over saw the School Board replacing retiring Democrat Geneva Brown with Republican John Davenport and just a week ago declared at a School Board meeting that the Republican Executive committee would be choosing his own replacement. That turned out not to be correct.
Mr. Lambeth was elected in November to represent District 75 in the NC House of Representatives after running unopposed. He has served as Chairman of the School Board since he was first elected to the Board in 1994. A Forsyth County Republican regular, Mr. Lambeth easily won his fifth consecutive term on the school board in 2010 (term limits were done away with in 1989.) According to the W-S/Forsyth County Schools spokesman, his successor will be selected by the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners, in spite of the fact that the Board policy on the process is legally questionable.
Lambeth has not always had a pleasant working relationship with the County Commission. In June of 2012, Lambeth told the Winston-Salem Journal that “They [County Commissioners] are out of touch with reality. I’m not sure what planet they are on,” in reference to a bond referendum that the School Board wanted on the November ballot.
County Commissioner Debra Conrad (who is also now headed to a seat in the Republican dominated General Assembly,) shot back telling The Journal, “I have not had one citizen call me or email me to complain that we are not having a school bond referendum. I like the planet I am on — it is the planet of common sense and sanity.” The referendum did not make it onto the ballot.
During his 18 years on the Board, Lambeth was able to get three bond referendums passed which raised almost $500 million for school construction. As a result, the School System built 19 new schools, 8 replacement schools and renovated and added on to numerous others. The School Board also implemented its student assignment plan in the mid-1990s, allowing parents to choose among schools in their residential zones. This change in policy, however, was not roundly beloved, with parents citing economic realities as having a greater effect on their children’s school choice, since transportation is not included to out of zone schools.
Mr. Lambeth leaves the School Board at a critical time. Not only is his own replacement iminent, but the selection of a new school Superintendent is also a concern for parents, teachers, and school administrators.
“My time on the board has been extraordinarily fulfilling,” Lambeth said. “I will leave the board with great sadness, but I believe my experience will make me a valuable part of the General Assembly.”
Lambeth will be honored by the Board at a reception on December 19th.
You can read CCD‘s coverage of the Lambeth School Board replacement HERE.