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The Marion County Board of Education was standing room only during its special-called meeting Thursday, May 29. A large delegation of current and former MCPS employees, community members and family members of current and former employees of the district were in attendance. And they weren’t there because of their interest in the district’s 2014-15 budget, which was the main item on the board’s agenda. They were there to share their concerns about recent staffing changes within the school district.
Ackie George, a community member, had asked to be included on the board’s agenda as a delegation several days prior to the meeting. She spoke to the board about her concerns regarding the numerous personnel changes that have occurred under Marion County Superintendent Taylora Schlosser’s leadership.
“The mission statement is great, but are we striving for all in the statement?" George said.
George referenced portions of the mission statement, including "maintaining a safe, welcoming school environment."
“I wonder how welcoming faculty may feel, or are they concerned when they walk in the doors – will their jobs be next?" George said.
She referenced another portion of the mission statement, which states: "Nurturing relationships that build active partnerships with students, staff, families and communities."
"Do you really believe that we are doing this with so many people at central office either leaving or forced to change positions?" George said.
George went on to recount the number of staffing changes that have occurred during Superintendent Schlosser’s first year as superintendent, which include the following:
• Lee Ann Divine resigned after leading Glasscock Elementary School for 12 years.
• Marion County High School Principal Stacey Hall resigned to fill a new central office position, director of federal programs. Four months later, Hall unexpectedly announced his resignation from that job.
• Lebanon Middle School Principal Todd Farmer was hired to replace Hall, leaving yet another school searching for a principal. After serving as interim at LMS for several months, Christina McRay was hired to fill that position.
• In April, West Marion Elementary School Principal Benji Mattingly took an unexpected leave of absence. On May 2, he resigned after leading WMES for nine years.
• Also in April, Amber Ervin, who was hired as the special education director in 2012 by former Superintendent Chuck Hamilton, announced she will step down from her position to return to the classroom next school year.
• Nothing official has been released, but it has been confirmed that the district’s finance director, Lisa Caldwell, is not going to be in her current position when her contract ends June 30.
• Personnel Director and Payroll Manager Teresa Osbourn resigned on May 14.
• Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent Pam Spalding was fired on May 16.
George had to stop speaking on several occasions due to loud applause from the crowd gathered at the meeting.
“In all my years never have I known so many changes in the system in such a short time,” George said. “I believe it is a reflection of our leadership of the administration. It has to be. Everything stems from the top and it all trickles down. It takes a good leader. I can’t help but wonder if the visionary leaders in our system will feel secure here or will they leave for a place where they will feel appreciated and respected. I hope you all as a board and as superintendent can take into consideration what’s happened.”
George then asked the board if they would allow Pam Spalding, former administrative assistant to the superintendent, to speak. Board Chairman DeLane Pinkston said the only person listed on the agenda to speak was George. The audience became visibly upset.
“We have to follow the rules,” Pinkston said.
Someone in the crowd responded, “Since when did they follow rules?”
Pinkston went on to thank George for her comments.
“We’re always glad to hear from the public,” he said. “We always listen to what you have to say.”
The audience continued to ask the board to allow Spalding to speak.
Debbie Mattingly stood up from the audience and said she had a question for the board.
“I have no children in the school system. I have two grandchildren that are moving from an excellent school system in Lexington,” she said. “They are going to be coming to this school system… If we have this much turmoil and drama in the office trickling down to the classrooms do I want my grandchildren here or do I want to send them to St. Joe in Bardstown?”
Pinkston told the audience that the delegation portion of the board meeting was over, but Bernard Miles asked to say something before the board took a five-minute recess.
“Several people in this room have called me so I asked them to get on the agenda to speak because I know when Taylora hears from me there is a difference than when you all show up and you speak,” Miles said. “I want to say this, on her behalf, I do think Taylora is the most talented superintendent that we’ve ever had in this district. But we have to get the support back. I don’t know what we have to do. But, we have to work hard to get that done. If that happens I think we’ll be a wonderful district. We’ve got some work to do. I don’t know how we’re going to accomplish that.”
Another member of the audience interjected.
“I understand that, but how in the world are we supposed to do that if the public can not even come in here and address the board?” Amanda Morgeson said. “How are we supposed to work together if the people can not speak? These are our tax dollars so we should have some say in what goes on in here.”
The audience once again broke out into applause.
“You got a chance to speak so we should get a chance to speak,” Dawn Caldwell said from the audience. “You wasn’t on the agenda.”
George addressed the board again from the audience.
“I know she’s [Schlosser] doing a good job in a lot of areas. Maybe it’s people skills that need to be really worked on,” George said. “And how you handle people and what you take into consideration and the way you treat people from Marion County. We love these people. These are our people.”
Alex Beaven, who was in the audience, asked Pinkston when the next meeting was going to be, and how people could get on the agenda to speak. Beaven then asked board members if they would consider having an open forum.
“That’s something we’ll take under consideration,” Pinkston said.
Pinkston adjourned the meeting for a five-minute recess and the audience became very loud. Someone said, “They don’t want to hear from us,” and the majority of the crowd began to disperse.
When the board reconvened, they completed the remainder of their business, including approving the 2014-15 tentative budget in the amount of $36.7 million. The board approved the tentative budget with very little discussion. Miles thanked Finance Officer Lisa Caldwell for her work on the budget.
“I just want to thank Lisa for putting the budget together under the circumstances,” Miles said. “I really appreciate that. It looks like you did a wonderful job.”
Once again, the audience broke out into applause.
Caldwell came under fire recently from the school board after a special audit of the schools activity funds revealed sloppy accounting practices, specifically at Marion County High School. As referenced earlier in this article, nothing official has been released, but it has been confirmed that Caldwell will not be returning to her current position when her contract ends June 30.
After the meeting, the Enterprise asked Superintendent Schlosser if she had any comments to make regarding the things that were said by George and other members of the audience at the board meeting.
“My only comment would be that I will continue to focus on Marion County's big dreams, finishing the year strong, and supporting our staff as we plan and prepare for the 2014-15 school year,” Schlosser wrote in an email.
Ackie George’s statement to the board and superintendent
Thank you for allowing me to speak tonight. Of course I do not have anyone in the school system but I love my and care about our community, the children and those who work in our school system. For the record, I know everyone knows I have a niece Coury Osbourne who teaches at Marion County High School and I want you to know she has never spoken about anyone who works in the system.
Recently, I was at function and it troubled me that so many different groups were talking about the most recent employee at the central office that was fired. I listened and to hear teachers, leaders of our community and everyone in awe of all the changes. I guess you could say that was the icing on the cake and why I wanted to speak tonight.
Now I realize that you cannot talk about personnel. I understand and would not want you too and that is not why I am here. I want to express what I feel in my heart.
The mission statement is great but are we striving for all in the statement? ‘Maintaining a safe, welcoming school environment.’ I wonder how welcoming faculty may feel or are they concerned when they walk in the doors - will their jobs be next? ‘Nurturing relationships that build active partnerships with students, staff, families and communities.’ Do you really believe that we are doing this with so many people at central office either leaving or forced to change positions?
This all started when the principal at WMES took a leave and then later resigned. I have never heard anything negative about that principal and believe he was one of the most respected and experienced principals in our system. Then the person in the position of finance officer/treasurer considered not qualified but yet was in this position prior to the new job description of December 2010. Over 20 years as a CPA, in my opinion, is far more qualified than someone with a masters degree in math. I think those years of experience should really count for something. You have someone in that position now that I know is a lady of high integrity, honesty and more than qualified. Of course I know she was offered another job as teacher's aide, which I would consider an insult.
Then just my opinion the icing on the cake was when the administrative assistance was fired. I know her as I probably know most of you, through either church, school as her daughter went to St. A, or talked to her when I called the board in previous years. I was absolutely shocked that someone who has been employed with the board for 19 years, and worked as an assistant for five superintendents, could have done anything to cause her job to be terminated. Pam has always gone beyond and out of her way to help people. She is caring, honest and in my heart she does not deserve to be terminated. When I heard the talk I did call Pam and offer my support because I felt she needed to know the people in this community was upset. I also spoke with Tammy Newcome and a few board members expressing my dissatisfaction.
A very crucial position pre-school/special education director is vacant and how can we achieve our big dreams of focusing on early childhood education. Why would someone leave that position to go back in the classroom if they had the actual support of leadership. Add to this all the other positions open I think it becomes a serious issue.
It is my understanding that just last week Marion County public schools lost two $2,500 donations from a prominent manufacturing company in our community because of the negativity going on. I think our school system could have used $5,000. That’s awful.
When individuals and industries consider to re-locate to a community the school system in a vital part of their decision making process. I can't help but think that all this ongoing turmoil in the system is hurting our ability to attract people to this wonderful community.
All of this is not a positive image for the community and I understand there may be reasons that cannot be disclosed to the community but in all my years never have I known so many changes in the system in such a very short time. I believe it is a reflection of our leadership of the administration. It has to be. Everything stems from the top and it all trickles down. It takes a good leader.
I’m not judging or anything like that but this is how I feel. That’s not in my notes but it’s in my heart.
I can't help but wonder if the visionary leaders in our system will feel secure here or will they leave for a place where they will feel appreciated and respected. I hope you all as a board and as superintendent can take into consideration what’s happened.
Editor’s note: The Enterprise asked Superintendent Schlosser about George’s comment regarding two $2,500 donations from a prominent manufacturing company in Marion County that the school district has allegedly lost “because of the negativity going on.” Schlosser said she has not been notified about this and is unaware as to what George was referring to in her comment.
Board to meet again June 10
The next meeting is at 6 p.m., Tuesday, June 10, at central office. The following information explains how the public is allowed to participate in open school board meetings.
The public and the news media are permitted to attend all open meetings of the Board. No person may be required to identify himself in order to attend any such meeting.
The chairman may impose conditions upon attendance at a given meeting only if such conditions are required for the maintenance of order.
Persons wishing to address the Board must first be recognized by the chairman. Individuals or groups shall contact the Superintendent in writing no less than 10 working days in advance of the next regular meeting in order to be placed on the agenda.
An individual or groups promoting the same position on an issue and granted the privilege of being heard at any regular or special meeting shall appoint a spokesperson. The spokespersons must identify themselves, state their positions with their organizations (if applicable) and state their reasons for speaking. The chairman may rule on the relevance of the topic to the Board's agenda. The chairman may also establish time limits for speakers as may be required to maintain order and to ensure the expedient conduct of the Board's business.