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The Marion County Public School System has big dreams.
That was evident during the district’s strategic planning summit last week at Centre Square, where school staff, site-base decision making council members, local officials and community leaders discussed the future of Marion County.
The MCPS leadership, particularly Superintendent Taylora Schlosser, should be commended for collaborating with the community to achieve lofty goals, such as creating an early childhood center for all 4-year-olds in the county and ensuring all high school graduates are college or career ready. We look forward to following the progress toward achieving these dreams.
Before we get to that, however, it seems to us that the district has a more basic problem to resolve. Earlier this year, we wrote that one of our New Year’s wishes was for more stability in our local school system.
That hasn’t happened, at least, not yet.
Instead, MCPS seems to have put in a revolving door for its leadership positions. People are coming and going so fast we can hardly keep up. As a result, the community is confused and concerned, as are we.
The school system is the second-largest employer in the county (behind TG Kentucky), so some turnover is inevitable with promotions and retirements. Yet, we feel uneasy about the number of school leaders and staff members who have been suspended, left the district for other jobs or resigned during the past year.
Soon after Schlosser was hired as superintendent, the district found itself searching for principals at Glasscock Elementary School and Marion County High School. Lee Ann Divine resigned after leading GES for 12 years. She is now the principal at Mercer County Elementary School. At the 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.
In late December and early January, the staff for the high school’s Functional Mental Disability (FMD) classroom was overhauled after parents complained to the administration. The Enterprise received several phone calls from parents and staff members (none of whom wanted to be identified) about alleged incidents that took place involving the mistreatment of students in the FMD classroom.
We have been told by several sources that these incidents might lead to legal action, but no lawsuits have been filed (as of press time).
Back to the MCPS revolving door, in April, Benji Mattingly, who has been principal at West Marion Elementary School for almost nine years, took an unexpected leave of absence. On May 2, he resigned.
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.
And, while nothing official has been released, numerous sources have told the Enterprise that the district’s finance director, Lisa Caldwell, is not going to be in her current position when her contract ends June 30. She recently came under fire from the school board after a special audit of the schools activity funds revealed sloppy accounting practices, specifically at Marion County High School.
In addition, 11 employees have been suspended since Superintendent Schlosser took the helm of MCPS. That seems a bit excessive to us. We filed an open records request to find out how many school district employee suspensions have occurred in the past 15 years. All employee suspensions are supposed to be recorded in the school board minutes, however the board minutes from 1998 through June 30, 2010, do not reflect any employee suspensions. Meanwhile, there were only two suspensions recorded per year during the 2010-11, 2011-12, and 2012-13 academic years.
Schlosser has suspended more employees in her first year than were suspended during the past three years, and possibly the past 15 years. Why?
Well, we asked her. Schlosser explained that each case is unique, and each case is also confidential. Therefore, she’s at a disadvantage because she’s not legally allowed to release any details. So, we only hear one side of the story. We only see what’s in black and white in the board minutes. We aren’t privy to what really happened. But, according to Schlosser, she’s fair yet holds people accountable for their actions.
“I can assure you, I want to be fair and firm and consistent,” Schlosser said. “I want to treat people fairly and the exact same way I would want to be treated.”
But, to be frank, the school system has been in a constant state of flux for years. That creates an unhealthy climate for the school system and its students, not to mention the district’s employees, many of whom feel uneasy or downright scared that their positions could be the next ones modified, rearranged or eliminated.
We’re all for having big dreams and working to achieve them. But, from our vantage point, MCPS needs to steer its ship into calmer waters before it starts speeding off to its next destination.