Questions continue on BOE’s hiring

Published 5:30 pm Friday, July 29, 2011

Questions surrounding the Decatur County Board of Education’s approval of personnel recommendations continue, as one board member’s daughter may be caught up in the controversy.

Further investigation into school board member Winston Rollins’ lone ‘no’ vote not to renew Superintendent Fred Rayfield’s contract has uncovered an ethical complaint against a Bainbridge High School administrator.

During the regular meeting on July 21, citizens Doris Cosby and Sandra Gordon addressed the board levying accusations of unfair hiring practices relative to minority applicants. Gordon called for the resignations of Rayfield and Linda Lumpkin, assistant superintendent for Human Resources.

Neither Cosby or Gordon stated whether their issue dealt with any specific hirings. When told of the fact that four of eight principals in Decatur County Schools are black, Gordon said her concern was not with the principals.

Nakisha Brown, a paraprofessional educator at Bainbridge Middle School, is the daughter of Rollins and his wife, Calvine, the current president of the Georgia Association of Educators, a professional organization for public educators.

The Post-Searchlight obtained, through an Open Records request, a copy of an application for employment submitted on April 29 by Brown for an interrelated special education teacher position at Bainbridge Middle School. Brown was an unsuccessful applicant, along with seven other applicants chosen to interview for the opening, and Karen Kirkland, a white female, was chosen for the position. The board unanimously approved Kirkland’s hiring during the June 16 meeting.

All nine of the applicants chosen to interview for the job at Bainbridge Middle School are current employees of the Decatur County School Board. Eight of the nine hold a Clear Renewable teaching certificate as listed as a minimum requirement of the position as listed on the certified position announcement issued on April 22. Brown currently holds, as listed on the Professional Standards Commission website, a paraprofessional educator certification.

The position announcement also listed as a minimum requirement that the applicant must by Highly Qualified as defined by “No Child Left Behind” guidelines. However, according to the employment application completed by Brown, she does not currently hold a valid Georgia teacher certificate, a fact confirmed by the Standards Commission’s web site.

When asked about his daughter’s unsuccessful candidacy, Rollins said, “I wasn’t pleased when she didn’t get the job, but I never spoke to anyone regarding her application, that’s unethical. She is working on, taking the test, to get her certificate, but that shouldn’t have been a problem.”

“We have hired other people who have not had a certificate and we let them earn certification while on the job,” said Rollins.

Cosby, one of the people who addressed the board during the July 21 meeting leveling charges of unfair hiring practices, is listed on Brown’s application as a reference.

Hiring process questioned

On July 21, during the Board of Education’s work session, board members Rollins and Clarissa Kendrick questioned the inclusion of personnel recommendation addendums presented to the board each month. All personnel decisions—hirings, firings, transfers, retirements and leave requests—must ultimately be approved by a vote of the board.

Both board members wondered why all personnel recommendations couldn’t be included in the original packet of information sent to each board member seven days in advance of each monthly meeting.

“Often times, there are things hanging in the balance with employment applications that do not allow them to be finalized before the board packets are completed and sent,” Rayfield said. “Those applications that are finalized after the packets are sent and before the next board meeting are presented in the form of an addendum.”

Kendrick also requested that written employment applications of chosen candidates for all jobs within the system be presented to the board along with the personnel recommendation. The consensus of the board was that reviewing employment applications falls outside the duties and responsibilities of the board and could be considered micromanagement.

Rollins responds to ‘no’ vote

Also, during that meeting, and after the board conducted the superintendent’s annual evaluation, the board voted 5-1 to extend Rayfield’s contract by one year. Rollins was the lone no vote and declined comment for reason behind the no vote. Rollins was also the only no vote on approval of the personnel recommendations presented during the meeting.

On July 25, Rollins presented a written statement to The Post-Searchlight explaining the no votes, and took exception to a story published in The Post-Searchlight on July 23. A full version of Rollins’ July 25 statement is available on www.thepostsearchlight.com

“I have spoken with the superintendent regarding the process of bringing addendums to the work session and the board is expected to approve them within an hour, which actually leaves no time for questions or concerns, this is an ongoing problem that has been discussed in the board retreat earlier in the year, as well as other board meetings, prior to July 21st, but no changes have been made,” Rollins wrote.

A review of the official minutes of each work session and regular board meeting found no mention of discussions dealing with the inclusion of personnel recommendations addendums.

Rollins statement continues, “I have requested that all personnel recommendations be submitted to the board in the regular board package, which is seven days in advance, which has not been done, this is my reason for voting ‘no’ on the recommendations on July 21. I had no problem with the recommended applicants, just the process.”

Concerning the vote against extending Rayfield’s contract by one year, Rollins wrote, “Regarding the ‘no’ vote on the one-year extension of Rayfield’s contract, my reason for voting ‘no’ extends back to discussion in our board retreat where he was asked to complete certain tasks and he has failed to do so. He has a three-year contract, and I do not feel that his job performance this past year merits an extension.”

In response to Rollins’ concerns relative to the inclusion of personnel recommendations addendums, Rayfield said, “On July 21, Mrs. Kendrick initiated the first discussion of receiving addendums and reviewing applications with follow-up comments by Mr. Rollins. A lengthy board discussion ensued after which I asked the question, ‘What is the pleasure of the Board?’ The consensus of the Board (verbal and nonverbal) was to continue the current practice and not review applications. I am not aware of any request to submit all recommendations as a part of the regular Board packet prior to the request made on Thursday, July 21.”

‘Certain tasks’?

Rayfield also addressed Rollins’ statement that he had been asked to complete certain tasks and had not done so.

“There has been one instance during the year where Mr. Rollins visited my office and requested that I consider not filing a report with the Professional Standards Commission that I was required by law to file. I did not honor his request. I am unaware of any tasks given to me during the retreat or at any time which I have not completed or addressed with the board in its entirety.”

Rollins denied that he asked Rayfield to not submit a complaint report to the Professional Standards Commission, the agency located in Atlanta that handles the certification and licensure process for all public school teachers in Georgia, as well as upholding the ethical and professional standards of the teaching profession.

“I questioned the process of referral and why some incidents get referred and some more serious one do not, specifically, those issues dealing with students,” Rollins said. “ I asked him why this particular incident needed to be reported and others weren’t.”

John Grant, chief investigator in the Ethics Division of the Professional Standards Commission, confirmed via telephone that a complaint was filed during the past two weeks against Patterson Moses, an assistant principal at Bainbridge High School. Rayfield filed the complaint on behalf of the school system. Grant would not comment on the specific details of the complaint. The Professional Standards Commission will hear the complaint in September and the commission will determine if an investigation is warranted.

Sydney Cochran, chairman of the Board of Education, said via a written statement, “I stand by my comments that Dr. Rayfield has done an excellent job as superintendent. There have been no requests made, tasks assigned or concerns presented by this Board over the past year that Dr. Rayfield has not addressed.” The entire statement by Dr. Cochran can be viewed at www.thepostsearchlight.com.

Statements by Rollins, Cochran and Rayfield

Winston Rollins Statement July 25 (PDF)

Dr. Sydney Cochran Statement (PDF)

Dr. Fred Rayfield Statement (PDF)

Winston Rollins Statment July 28 (PDF)