Called Board Meeting on April 7, 2022 — My Thoughts

Called Board Meeting on April 7, 2022 — My Thoughts

We held a called board meeting on April 7th. You can view the meeting here (on the Richland One website) or here (on YouTube).

Executive Session

The board spent almost 2 hours in executive session addressing parent appeals of student discipline. Obviously, I cannot go into any details about those appeals. However, I do want to acknowledge how difficult those decisions can be and how thoughtfully, I believe, the board addresses them. I’m not sure we’ll get it right every time, but I certainly feel confident that we’re getting pretty close.

Principal Hires

We promoted several folks to the position of principal. As usual, the district only provided us with the CVs of those the district was recommending. I was surprised to learn that no teachers and no one from the Teaching and Learning department were on the interview panels. Dr. Long claimed that teachers provide input on principal applicants though it was clear from his answer that this is haphazard at best. And I can say that I was certainly never included in the process when I was a teacher. I believe teachers would have incredibly thoughtful questions to pose to potential principals. Similarly, I think someone from Teaching and Learning would be well-positioned to assist. In short, excluding these folks weakens this process.

I abstained from these votes because I do not believe we have enough information to decide, and I do not think the right people are included in the process. Chairwoman Harris noted that I approach these differently than our teacher hires, which I have approved. I can certainly understand why someone would think I was being inconsistent. Because, at least in my experience, principals and teachers are involved in vetting new teacher hires, I feel more comfortable acting as a rubber stamp in that process. But, to be honest, I do not think the board provides anything useful in this process. When was the last time we didn’t approve a new teacher hire? When was the last time we didn’t approve a new hire for principal? If we are simply going along with the administration each time, we aren’t adding anything.

State Department of Education Meeting

Near the end of the public portion of our meeting, Chairwoman Harris indicated that she had an announcement. This begins at the 16:30-minute mark in the video. She noted that she and Dr. Witherspoon met with the State Department to discuss the issue of purchase card fraud. I’m not going to summarize what she said. Please listen to it yourself. I left that meeting without a clear understanding of what she was talking about, but she sure made it sound like the State Department was impressed with all the policies and controls the district has in place.

As it turns out, this announcement was not entirely accurate. I learned from this news article that in late March, Superintendent Spearman sent a letter to the district announcing that she intended to place the district on “fiscal watch.” Indeed the news article includes a copy of the letter. That was the first time I had seen that letter or heard anything about it. As usual, I encourage you to read the article for yourself.

As the news article points out, the State Department has some questions. As I have stated previously, I do, too. Like the State Department, I have also questioned whether there were issues in the hiring process that we need to examine. Moreover, I have questioned why this fraud was not uncovered sooner. From what I understand, the former employee used someone else’s P-card in November 2020. That should have been caught when that credit card statement was reviewed the next month. It wasn’t. Indeed, that fraudulent activity was not discovered until over six months later. Finally, after the district allowed this guy to resign, it waited around six months to make a law enforcement referral. I have stated that I believe the board has an obligation to get answers to these questions. So far, my requests for more information and answers to these questions have been ignored. I don’t think that’s okay.

The fact that the board was not informed of the letter from the State Department or the meeting with the State Department is, I believe, inexcusable. We cannot provide real and robust oversight of the district when we are kept in the dark. Maybe that’s the point.