Just the Facts: CCSS School Board Special Education Audit

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By Dave Freneaux

In its June 28th meeting, (see the SCHOOL BOARD SUMMARY ARTICLE for more meeting details), the Central Community School Board discussed the action plan formulated in response to a Special Education Audit report released in the past week.  The Board also discussed a motion by Board Member Marty Guilbeau calling for an investigation by an independent third party into what the Special Education Audit refers to as “…allegations of improper conduct, including threats of dismissal of employees and firing of central office officials.”  The resolution failed by a vote of 5 to 2.

Presenting “Just the Facts” on issues as involved as these is difficult.  Fortunately, interested persons can view the entire 60 minute discussion of these issues online in the VIDEO.  Viewing the video is the best and most independent report anyone can get of this meeting.  For those that choose only to read, the following are the facts is able to assemble for your review.  These “facts” are primarily limited to reporting, as accurately as possible, what each board member and speaker said at the meeting.

Everyone on both sides of these issues seemed to agree that the June 7th, 2010 placement of Amy McLin as the Director of Special Services and the Action Plan she has assembled to correct the problems in the program speak well for the future of Special Education in Central Schools.  There seemed to be no disagreement that the program is now in the right hands and on the right course.

Board Member Guilbeau made the following request via e-mail on June 20th:  “Ms. Browning, I have read the Special Ed Audit and I have several questions regarding both the findings submitted and some items omitted from the report. Therefore, I would like to add an agenda item to discuss the Special Ed Audit Report at the next School Board Meeting. Since most of the questions would be best addressed by the Auditor, I would like to have Mrs. Delaune at the meeting if possible. If Mrs. Delaune is unable to attend, I have some questions for the Administration that I would like answered. Regards, Marty Guilbeau”

The School Board Agenda Item 14 read “To receive the Proposed Special Education Quality Audit Action Plan.” The wording of the agenda item precluded the actual Audit from being discussed.  The only discussion allowed was that which related to the Action Plan, and not the Audit itself.  Mr. Guilbeau then made a formal request during the Board Meeting to have discussion of the Audit added to the agenda for the next School Board meeting.

In the Special Education Audit conducted by the law firm of Hammonds & Sills reference is made to “…allegations of improper conduct, including threats of dismissal of employees and firing of central office officials.”  Based on this information, Board Member Guilbeau offered a resolution to hire an independent third party to conduct an investigation into these allegations and report the findings of the investigation to the school board.

School Board member Jim Gardner states “This happened a long time ago. Were some things wrong? Probably. Are they being fixed?  Absolutely.  We just got through going there.  I see absolutely no reason for us to have another investigation and get into this. Let’s move forward now and get this thing fixed, and I think we’re headed in that direction.”

Mr. Guilbeau said: “Who is responsible for threatening our employees for doing their jobs?  That is the question this Board should be asking.  The bottom line is that it is the Board that has failed, not our administration.”

Board Member Ruby Foil expressed concern that to delve into this issue might be considered “micromanaging”, to which Board Legal Counsel Sheri Morris stated that she did not feel that this was micromanaging, but instead would be to gather information.  Mrs. Foil further stated “Some felt like it was resolved a year ago and you know for us to just bring out all the negative stuff when we are on this really positive move forward, it concerns me if we’re not getting into micromanaging administration.”

Board Member Russell Starns said: “I guess my biggest concern would be if there were teachers that had a grievance that may not have come forward because of the fact that we did not have an H.R. (Human Resources) person, and we are addressing all of these issues and I totally agree with that, but if there were teachers that were intimidated that are no longer here, they don’t have a voice.”

CCSS Athletic Director Sid Edwards, the parent of two children in the Special Education Program in Central Schools shared, “I think there is an awful lot to this that we don’t know as parents … I’m with the Board though, we are trying to move forward … But, as a Dad, I’d like to know the whole story … Our main concern is, I think I’m speaking for some of the parents out here in the audience, and some of the teachers, is that our children do have a voice and we’d like to know everything.”  Coach Sid added “Marty, I especially want to thank you for not being scared to step up.”

Rodney Bonvillian spoke and asked the Board to do this as a “Root Cause Analysis” to determine what happened so that it will not happen again.  And added “If there are some things under the rocks that we haven’t uncovered that may be beneficial and may prevent us from stumbling down the road we may want to consider looking at those.”

Mike Stephens spoke and asked the Board to look fully and immediately into all of the issues brought to light in the Audit.

Ted McCulley expressed concerns that these discussions would involve employment issues which should likely be handled in executive session, and that the upcoming qualifying for School Board Elections would add more pressure to the issue.

Jamie Clark, a CCSS Special Education Employee, asked the Board to look fully into these allegations as a show of support for the employees and stated “There were employees that came and said those things and whenever it was asked, why did those employees not file grievance procedures? It was out of fear, and that was clearly stated,…. I am trying to be a voice for those, as you said, who are scared to have that voice, and so I am asking you, for them, to please look into it for those employees and let them know that you are supporting them.”

Board Member David Walker stated that he wanted to hear from the auditor before he could vote on the matter of an investigation.

Special Education Teacher Tracy Greely stated she has felt no threatening whatsoever in the past year.

Board President Sharon Browning stated, “I think as a new school system there are going to be bumps in the road for any program.  We are working very, very hard as a Board to rectify this problem.”

The parents of a Special Needs child both spoke and shared concerns about the high rate of turnover resulting in their child having had four different teachers in the past four years.

Ron Erickson, an area pastor and the president of the Central Chamber of Commerce, encouraged the Board to continue the progress being made to improve the Special Education program, but to consider also pursuing the issue of correcting the Human Resource problems because the program may improve but the employment issues will not resolve by themselves.

Teacher Susan Lewis shared that she never felt threatened and has recently dealt directly with Mr. Faulk and felt very comfortable doing so.

Amy McLin shared that the Board should proceed with caution because “I think all the controversy is detrimental to the System, and not just Special Education.”

A roll call vote was taken on the resolution and it was defeated by a vote of 5 against and 2 in favor.  Voting Yes were Guilbeau & Starns.  Voting No were Browning, Easley, Foil, Gardner and Walker.