Hodges elected chairman

Published 1:11 am Thursday, August 18, 2011

F. Mac Hodges listens to a presentation at Tuesday’s meeting of the Beaufort County Board of Education. He was chosen to succeed Robert Belcher as board chairman. (WDN Photo/Betty Mitchell Gray)

F. Mac Hodges, who could be the county’s longest-serving elected official, was chosen Tuesday to lead the Beaufort County Board of Education for the remainder of the year. Hodges, who was the board’s vice chairman, was elected by acclamation to succeed Robert Belcher, who resigned his post as board chairman after the board opted not to pursue legal action against the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners over cuts in the Beaufort County Schools’ construction budget.
Board members chose Cindy Winstead to succeed Hodges as vice chairman of the board in a 6-1 vote. Board member Eltha S. Booth cast the sole dissenting vote.
“It’s going to be challenging,” Hodges said in an interview after the meeting. “But with the help of the board and the central office staff, we’re going to do the best we can.”
Hodges, who serves as a district field representative for the N.C. Farm Bureau Federation, was first elected to the school board in 1984. He is a native of the Old Ford community.
Winstead, a teacher in the College of Nursing at East Carolina University, is serving her second term on the board.
Hodges takes over the helm of the board in a year when the county’s public schools face increasing financial challenges, including cuts in state and local funding, reductions in staff and increasing scrutiny from county leaders and the public.
“It’s going to take a team effort,” Hodges said when asked about the challenges ahead of school leaders this year.
It was concerns about the effects of those dwindling county appropriations on the BCS construction budget and the lack of support by the board for new legal action against the county that led Belcher to resign his post.
“I maintain that the only way for our board to challenge such actions is from a position of strength, invoking our statutory right to mediation and, ultimately, the courts, if necessary, in order to maintain the integrity of the capital process,” Belcher wrote in a July 19 letter to BCS Superintendent Don Phipps and board members. “By not invoking this privilege, we fall back on negotiation as our only means of reconciliation. Negotiation and attempts at consensus or relationship building are futile when dealing with the ruthless manner in which the county commissioners conduct themselves toward the schools in the budget making process.”
In late June, the board approved a pared-down construction budget to reflect the funding cuts, but there were differences between the BCS construction budget and the one approved by the commissioners.