GPSD board responds to MDEBy JERI BORST JBORST@DDTONLINE.COM,
Greenville Public School District responded to a letter from the Mississippi Department of Education on April 16 a regrading alligations of board members interfering in day-today operations of the district.
The letter, from board attorney Dorian E. Turner, explains board members’ actions pertaining to the allegations mentioned in the letters from MDE.
According to the letter, board member Doris Thompson denies that she “publicly instructed the superintendent to disregard policy and afford certain rights to individual employees, specifically to allow teacher resignations despite district policy and superintendent recommendations."
“Dr. Thompson did not intend to, nor would she have any reason to, ‘instruct’ the superintendent to allow an employee to resign because the superintendent has no such authority,” Turner writes.
The superintendent may make recommendations, but board members may vote against recommendation.
Turner said remarks made by Thompson during board deliberations on whether or not a teacher will be allowed to resign is not interfering in day-to-day operations.
“Dr. Thompson was fulfilling her legal responsibility under both law and District policy to adjudicate those issues,” Turner writes, noting Thompson believes “that employees who don't want to work in the District ought to be allowed to freely resign because the District is better off without reluctant, unmotivated or resentful employees.”
Though Thompson questioned the superintendent's denial of personal leave to a school administrator, she did so during board discussions conducted when the administrator filed two grievances that were appealed to the board.
The appeal occurred after the superintendent denied the administrator's request for personal leave and docked the pay of the administrator when she took one of the days anyway, Tuner wrote.
“The board had multiple, protracted discussions about this situation over the course of October, 2018, through February, 2019, when the grievances were finally board acknowledged that it was the superintendent's decision to grant or deny the administrator's request for personal leave, but it was the board's decision to determine if the superintendent followed board policy in granting or disallowing the leave request and in docking the administrator's pay,” Tuner explained.
The board ultimately determined that the superintendent did follow policy and the board denied the administrator's grievances.
Board member Emmanuel Edmond a received a call from a parent regarding a bullying complaint and directed the matter to the superintendent to handle.
Edmond asked the superintendent to report back to him. The allegation states the time frame of “two hours” was given, however, Edmond responded to the alligation in Tuner’s letter.
“While not remembering his exact words, he may have stated that, from his experience on other boards, he would expect some kind of report within a couple of hours,” Tuner explained. “Mr. Edmond believes the complainant(s) have grossly mischaracterized his tone and intent throughout the allegations directed against him in the complaint(s).”
Turner said in the response Edmond did not interfere with day-today operations of the district through those actions.
“Referring the matter to the superintendent was the exact thing he should have done in accordance with Standard 1 and did not constitute interference in day-to-day operations,” Turner explained.
Questioning employee’s pay
Board Edmond agrees that he questioned the superintendent's decision to dock the pay of an employee. Mr. Edmond's question arose in the context of the same matter discussed in the second bullet point of this response. As with Dr. Thompson, Mr. Edmond questioned the superintendent during Board deliberations on the employee/administrator's grievances, which were appealed to the Board for a final decision. Additionally, expressing concern for the impact of a financial penalty imposed upon an employee does not constitute interference in day-to-day operations. When an employee's misconduct leads to the imposition of discipline, such as a financial penalty, there is no Standard 1 violation in a board member expressing sympathy for the employee, even as the board member upholds the imposition of the discipline.
Edmond remarked during a meeting regarding a licensed employee's resignation request, that he had information on the matter from outside sources.
Turner explained to MDE that does not constitute interference in day-to-day operations.
“All board members bring to their service their outside knowledge and information, expertise, and experience,” Turner said. “There is no problem with this so long as the outside knowledge or information does not improperly influence or bias board decision-making, and use of personally acquired information or expertise in decision-making does not constitute interference in day-to-day operations.”
Response to Mosley’s Alligations
On Feb. 22, 2019, John Mosley, a former teacher in the district forwarded a letter to board members with the subject matter, "Fidelity and Greenville Public School District Concerns," which raised questions regarding potential testing irregularities in the District.
Shirley Cartlidge, board president at the time, contacted Turner upon receipt of the letter.
“I advised her that she should forward it to the superintendent to look into and make a report to the board as to her findings, particularly given the potential seriousness of the allegations,” Tuner writes.
The superintendent reported to the board on the matter during executive session of the next regular meeting.
“Dr. (Janice) Page-Johnson informed the board that she had previously looked into the matter, that the allegations did not concern state testing, and she and her staff were addressing and handling any potential problems,” Turner wrote.
“Given the seriousness of Mr. Mosley's allegations, it was not out of line for the superintendent to be asked to address the matter to the board.”
Turner points out that Edmond was not the only board member to seek information regarding the matter.
“Neither Mr. Edmond nor Mrs. Cartlidge violated Standard 1 by asking the superintendent to look into the matter and report to the board,” Turner said. “To the contrary, that's exactly how Standard 1 contemplates that the matter should be handled, and it's certainly not unexpected or improper that board members would expect the superintendent to report to and keep them informed of events that might have a serious adverse consequence to the district.”
Executive Session Breach
Turner wrote that Edmond denies using his phone to allow non-board members to listen to discussions held during executive session.
A Serious Matter
Tuner said board members “take very seriously that MDE has now twice contacted the board regarding its governance activities and potential Standard 1 violations.”
Board members spoke about this at length at the March regular board meeting.
“(They) have committed, individually and collectively, to make every attempt to avoid future problems and misunderstandings,” Turner said. “To that end, board members have directed me to proactively monitor board discussions and board member comments and intervene when they start to impinge on operational issues.”