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Tensions high at Madison County School Board

The Madison County School Board met on Tuesday, Oct. 20 at 6 p.m. for their regular meeting. The meeting started off with usual prayer and Pledge of Allegiance, but there was tension in the air as Bo Hardee took to the podium to appeal the charter school application for the Madison Creative Arts Academy. “If we can collectively agree on something, we zhave the power to determine our own outcome,” said Hardee to the board. Hardee announced that, in order to compromise with the board, the maximum capacity of students had been changed to 250 students. Despite his attempts to meet the board halfway, the proposal was turned down 3-2. Karen Pickels voted for the new proposal and was seconded by Bart Alford. “I felt that the [original] application met the standards,” said Pickels. “But if you're lowering the numbers, it shows that you are trying to work with the board.” VeEtta Hagan, Kenny Hall and Susie Williamson all voted against the proposal. After the denial of the new charter school proposal, public input opened up. Many parents were concerned about the update on the issues with the MCHS band regarding a chaperone that made derogatory comments during a trip to a football game. Superintendent Doug Brown reported that the incident was investigated and announced he was unaware that there was not a school staff member on the bus during the incident. Brown stated that the incident involved students and chaperones talking back and forth to each other disrespectfully. He assured the board and the parents that there would be better chaperones on the bus, as well as a school employee on each bus at out-of-county events at all times. Since school staff has been present during out-of-county events since the incident, no further incidents have occurred. “To my knowledge, I consider that issue resolved,” said Brown. Another parent was concerned about the lack of uniforms for the band and color guard at MCHS.

Many of the girls in color guard had to wear t-shirts and tights because the band director informed parents that there were not enough uniforms for everyone on the team. Hagan made her concern clear about this issue. “I remember addressing this issue but I don't remember you getting back to me,” said Hagan to Brown. “You take direct action but you don't tell anybody.” Brown assured Hagan and the parent that he would do everything he could to get the issue resolved and get in touch with the band director and principal of MCHS. After the minutes for the last meeting were approved and several items were added to the agenda, Brown presented the staff trips for general fund. One staff trip was up for approval for Mr. Griffin to go to a FBLA Conference in Orlando Nov. 9-13. The total cost of the trip is $760. This staff trip was approved by the board. Brown then presented the out of county student trips. The first trip up for approval was the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) to attend the FBLA Competition on Oct. 21 with 23 students and two sponsors attending. The second trip involved the FFA, with six students and three chaperones attending the FFA National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky on Oct. 27- Nov. 1. The third trip was for students to attend Pilgrim's Pride in Suwannee County Oct. 28, with 10 students attending. The fourth trip was for the MCHS Beta Club to go to the University of Florida on Nov. 2, with 50 students and six chaperones attending. All costs are covered by the students. The fifth trip regarded a STEM event in Jacksonville, and the sixth trip involved the MCHS football team heading to Valdosta to see the movie “Woodlawn” on Oct. 28. All of the student trips were approved provided that those attending the STEM trip be transported in a school vehicle rather than a personal vehicle. Item 15b, the Student Progression Plan, was up for discussion next. It was approved for advertising for the 2015-2016 school year. Brown announced that the plan would be put out for public inspection outside of the office. Item 15c involved two grants that were up for approval. One grant offered services to migrant students and their families, while the other involved funding for homeless students. Both grants were approved. The next item on the agenda was the Collective Bargaining Consultant. Members of the board asked that an executive session be scheduled in order to discuss the current contract. Willie Williams took to the podium to present the out-of-field teachers to the board. The teachers were approved 4-1, with Hagan voting against.

Williams presented the current screened school volunteers, informing the board that there were 78 volunteers at MCCS and five volunteers at Pinetta but none at Greenville Elementary just yet. Hagan addressed the issue of the lack of volunteers at Greenville Elementary, stating that when she went to the school, she saw many people walking around campus unauthorized. “How will you address the people on campus that aren't volunteers?” Hagan asked Brown. “I've seen many people walking around campus,” added Hagan. “We'll have a big liability if nothing is checked.” While Brown informed Hagan that he had not seen many unauthorized people on campus, he assured her that he would get that issue resolved. When the discussion died down, the volunteers were all approved. Williams then told the board that there were personnel changes, with one instructional position and one non-instructional position up for approval. Pickels made a motion to approve the instructional position but not the non-instructional position. Without a second, this motion died. Alford communicated to Brown and Williams that the speech assistant was not approved of. Williams informed Alford that the speech assistant was waiting on her teacher's certification, but Alford stated that because she is a speech pathologist, she did not need a certificate and could work solely off of her state license. This sparked much discussion after Williams reported that the speech assistant was being paid as a teacher even though she was classified as a substitute as to satisfy insurance policies until she received her certificate. However, Alford kept informing Williams that she did not need her certificate. When the discussion began to drag on, Brown told the board that this was an error and he would bring the issue back up in the next meeting, along with the other positions that have not been approved of.

Both personnel changes were approved later on in the meeting. There were no staffing table revisions, so Brown moved on to the construction updates for MCHS. Brown told the board that construction is continuing and the roof is going up. Hagan stated that Leroy Jones was promoted to head custodian but mentioned that he did not get a pay raise. Because Jones retired and then returned to work, there was a clerical error that caused him to be paid as if he was starting off as a new employee. Brown assured Hagan that this issue had been resolved. Pickels presented her board member items, telling Brown that he did not answer Hagan's question regarding sanctions during a meeting held Friday, Oct. 16; when she restated Hagan's question, Pickels received an answer, and she stated that Brown answered Hagan's question after Hagan had left the meeting. This comment caused much debate. Hagan announced that she felt discriminated against since Brown did not directly answer her question at that present moment.

“I will be meeting with you,” Hagan told Attorney Tom Reeves. Brown assured Hagan that he answered her question, but Hagan did not back down. “You pretend you don't understand,” said Hagan. “I don't pretend to not understand,” replied Brown. “You try to play with words,” commented Hagan. “It's with your words.” Brown made several attempts to explain himself and told Hagan that he did answer her question directly. He announced that he was “done” with the meeting shortly after. Hagan then stated again that Brown fails to make his solutions to issues known. “[The board] never gets full info,” said Hagan. “[We] just [get] bits and pieces.” After the tensions were cleared between Brown and the board members, the meeting was adjourned. The next meeting will be held Tuesday, Nov. 3 at 6 p.m. The Madison School Board will hold their next meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 3 at 6 p.m.

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