Board hears praise for Dukes

Friday, December 18, 2009

Praise for the interim director was heard many times during the School Board's meeting on Dec. 14.

"Citizen to address board" was the first item on the agenda. The citizen was Dr. Larry Thomas, local dentist and prominent member of the African-American community, as well as the husband of Dr. Patsey Thomas, now supervisor of coordinated school health.

Thomas thanked the board for the time and hard work they put in overseeing the Marshall County school system, and especially thanked interim director Roy Dukes, who has worked in Marshall County for over 40 years, serving faithfully under a number of previous directors.

"It's nice to have unity," Thomas said, urging the board members to "cast your vote for some solidarity and unity in our community.

"Dukes' honesty and integrity cannot be questioned," Thomas concluded.

The Marshall County Education Association is also happy with Dukes. MCEA president Colin Beatty said he would like to echo Thomas in welcoming Dukes, and said Dukes was fully supported by the MCEA. Beatty reported that the MCEA had signed the necessary memorandum for Race to the Top. As soon as the board chooses a chief negotiator, Beatty said the MCEA is ready to meet if any changes in the contract have to be negotiated because of RTTT

Board chairman Mike Keny signed the Race to the Top Memorandum of Understanding on behalf of the board, so everything was ready to submit in time for the Dec. 18 deadline.

The first note of dissention was heard when new board member Barbara Kennedy voted against approval of the minutes of the November meeting.

She requested that discussion of board minutes be added to "New Business" and when the time came Kennedy severely criticized the way minutes are presented. She said she had consulted board attorney Chuck Cagle, and in an e-mail he told her "less is best" where minutes are concerned. Kennedy said Cagle advised her minutes should be limited to a record of where and when the meeting took place, who was present, the agenda, the motions, and the results of the votes that were taken.

For comparison, the minutes of the Nov. 17 meeting cover six and a half single-spaced pages, and are a complete narrative of what went on.

"I'm comfortable with as detailed minutes as we can have," said board member Craig Michael. "I want people to be able to refer to what was said, who said it, and what the context was. As an elected body, the more open we are the better chance we have of developing a relationship with the community."

"This is a legal issue," argued Kennedy.

"The way we do it is not against the law," countered Michael.

"Until somebody gets sued," said Kennedy.

"I won't live my life in fear," Michael asserted.

"As efficient as Rhonda (Poole, the secretary) is, she wouldn't be doing anything wrong," board member Ann Tears said.

A tape recording is made of every meeting, and the public can listen to it by request at Central Office.

"It's incorrect to imply that less detail is an effort to be less transparent," said board member Kristen Gold.

Gold and Kennedy were the only ones voting in favor of Kennedy's motion to limit minutes to what Cagle specified in his e-mail. Randy Perryman abstained.

Gold was also the only one to vote against choosing Michael as chief negotiator, and took exception to a plan for the board to meet with attorney Sam Jackson on a Friday or Saturday in January.

"I have to take a vacation day, or miss time with my family," she said resentfully, adding, "I hope whatever day we choose we all attend."

The meeting with Jackson is to discuss complaints against the system, such as that of former bus driver Larry Barlar. Keny is going to try to set the meeting for Saturday, Jan. 16, from 9 a.m. until noon.

In other business,

* Cornersville Elementary School was chosen by random drawing as the site for the February board meeting;

* 2010 graduation dates were approved for the high schools: Cornersville, May 20; Marshall County, May 21; and Forrest, May 22.

* It was agreed that the board secretary be paid overtime, and not compensated in "flex time' for the hours she spends at board meetings;

* The single bid for the Web-based contact system was approved, and budget director Janet Wiles was instructed to find the money to pay for it. (Formerly it was paid by federal funding.) The contact system makes automatic phone calls to all parents of school children to advise them of school closings, emergencies, etc.