Vote on Curtis could come Monday

Friday, October 2, 2009

A Monday night meeting may decide the future of Marshall County's director of schools.

At the school board's regular monthly meeting on Sept. 23, vice chairman Craig Michael made the motion to hold a special called meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 5, to discuss the terms of schools director Stan Curtis' contract, and the possibility of a "buy out."

Michael assured his fellow board members that they were not bound to take any action at the Monday meeting, and a "yes" vote only meant they were in favor of a discussion of Curtis' contract.

Seconded by former chairwoman Ann Tears, the motion was approved by five votes to three (board member Mark Wilkerson was absent).

A similar motion by Michael in July, after the results of Curtis' annual evaluation were made known, failed because Michael and board member Curt Denton were the only board members who voted for it.

Since then, Curtis has come under fire for changes made to the elementary school curriculum that resulted in less planning time for teachers; less art, music, and physical education for the students; but more time spent on math every day, and interventions in math and reading for every student. Michael asserts these changes were planned and implemented without informing school board members, so they were in the dark when they started getting phone calls from parents and teachers.

Denton made a motion to formally reprimand Curtis for failure to communicate with the board on major issues, but the motion failed due to a tied vote of 4-4.

Curtis has also been the focus of the NAACP's attention in recent months. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, led locally by Gary Davis, has spoken twice at school board meetings and held two work sessions with school board members. They are upset that not a single new minority applicant was hired for the 33 positions filled for the 2009-2010 school year, and that the proportion of minorities employed by the Board of Education is out of line with the county's demographics.

A number of non-tenured employees were not re-hired for this school year, and Curtis, who by law has the power to hire and fire, has drawn criticism for this, too. Popular teacher Misty Reese addressed the board in May, stating that she had no idea why her contract had not been renewed. Former bus driver Larry Barlar and former bus garage mechanic Randy Lowe have both filed ethics complaints with the county commission. The complaints name Curtis, human resources director Mitchell Byrd, and former transportation supervisor Glenn Ezell, and allege a variety of questionable practices at the school bus garage. Barlar has also filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission.

Curtis has not escaped criticism for other personnel decisions. Tenured teacher Michael Frey was assigned to the supervisor of transportation position, and Dr. Patsey Thomas was moved from principal at Oak Grove Elementary to the coordinated school health position at Central Office.