Glenn Womack, new Bulloch County Board of Education member from District 1, says he is ready to attend Thursday’s regular 6:30 p.m. monthly work session in-person. He was sworn-in via Zoom while under COVID-19 quarantine during the board’s Jan. 14 organizational meeting.
Womack was elected by a slim majority of voters in District 1, which contains roughly one-eighth of the county’s population, in the nonpartisan general election held along with the party primaries June 9. He and another candidate vied for the seat after then-BOE-member Cheri Wagner decided not to seek election to a third term.
Judge Lorna DeLoach of the Bulloch County Probate Court attended the beginning of the school board’s Jan. 14 meeting to administer the oath of office to Womack, as well as to three board members who were re-elected last year. Continuing members Maurice Hill of District 8, Heather Mims of District 7 and Stuart Tedders, Ph.D., of District 3, raised their hands in front of DeLoach, face-to-face.
But going first, Womack was seen raising his right hand on the video screen and verbally affirmed the oath of office. Interviewed this week, Womack said he and DeLoach are friends and that he had been looking forward to being there in person.
“I had been looking so forward to that, but both my wife and daughter contracted COVID, so out of safety precautions I did the full 14-day quarantine and, thank the Lord, I haven’t gotten it yet,” Womack said Tuesday. “I just actually came out of quarantine Monday. So I get to go to my first live meeting this upcoming Thursday.”
Actually, he actively participated in real time, but virtually, in the organizational meeting, even nominating the board chair for 2020.
An adult daughter was the first in Womack’s family to test positive for the novel coronavirus, and then his wife came down with it about a week later, Womack said. Both experienced flu-like symptoms and have since recovered.
Glenn Womack was never tested for COVID-19, but he never experienced any symptoms, he said. He noted that current protocols, including those used by the schools, do not require testing if someone quarantines longer and never has symptoms.
Since Bulloch County Schools started a second semester with both in-person and virtual learning pathways three weeks ago but with many more students now attending face-to-face, COVID-19 remains a concern for the board and administrators. In fact, the school system just last week, Jan. 17-23, saw its highest number of new coronavirus cases yet in a single week, 60 confirmed positive cases among students and employees, and reported that 1,152 individuals were in seven-, 10- or 14-day precautionary quarantines from school as of Tuesday.
“Nobody anticipated where we are just with COVID,” Womack said. “It’s difficult because things can change on a daily basis.”
Womack, now 58, has been a Bulloch County resident all his life. He graduated from Portal High School and then from Georgia Southern with a bachelor’s degree in business management, and now operates his family’s timber and property business. He and his wife, Windy Ellis Womack, have four children, who have graduated from, and three grandchildren, who attend, schools in the Bulloch County system.
Womack completed, in December and early January, 15 hours of board member training, provided online by the Georgia School Boards Association, or GSBA.
Chair & vice chair
During the Jan. 14 meeting, Bulloch County BOE members also elected their chair and vice chair, from among themselves, for the year. With District 6’s Jimmy “Jay” Cook Jr. absent, the board had seven members present, and nominees did not vote for themselves.
In fact, groupings of just four of those seven members re-elected District 2’s Mike Sparks to continue as chair and Mims, from District 7, to continue as vice chair, but not without signals of protest from two other members
Hill first nominated Womack for chair. But Womack then nominated Sparks, and Hill cast the lone vote for Womack to become chair in his first meeting.
District 4 April Newkirk didn’t vote for either of them, and made a statement before members voted publicly by show of hands.
“I think Mr. Sparks has done a good job of leading us. I will say that in the two years that I have served, the role of the board chair has changed significantly. … ,” Newkirk said. “The governing power of the board chair has increased in the last year. There were several times when I asked for executive session, as is my right as a board member, and was denied.”
An “executive session” is a session closed to the public, as can legally be done only for a few topics, such as discussion of individual personnel decisions.
Newkirk said there were also times when she was denied information she had requested as a board member representing the community.
“That right was not denied my first year, so I was very concerned with how that doesn’t necessarily align with GSBA expectations,” Newkirk said.
Tedders, Womack, Mims and District 5’s Glennera Martin voted for Sparks.
It was Tedders who placed Mims’ name in nomination for another year as vice chair, and there were no other nominations. Tedders, Sparks, Martin and Womack then voted for Mims. But Newkirk and Hill did not vote.
Sparks, Newkirk, Martin and Cook did not need to be sworn-in, since they are in the middle of their four-year terms.
The board unanimously set its meeting calendar for the year, continuing the pattern of two regular meetings each month, on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m.
The second meeting each month is called a “work session” but the board can vote on matters then as well. It just doesn’t include a time for public input. Superintendent Charles Wilson mentioned the 2021-2022 school calendar as one topic for this Thursday’s session.