Reported by Robert A. Williams
August 25, 2014. It was the first day of School, the Board meeting was that night and all was NOT well. All over the place. But the weather was nice, school buses were running and the traffic jam on my street at the entrance to Fallston Elementary School had returned. And then, around 9:30am my phone was ringing.
A friend called about his grand child, asking me who to call. His daughter had moved over the summer from one place in Cleveland County back to her father’s property in a house next to her father. Her middle child should go to Burns Middle but the child was refused enrollment at Burns Middle School and the Principal was busy and had not returned my friend’s call.
So I referred my friend to the New Superintendent, Dr. Steven Fisher. at the Central Offices in Shelby and looked up the number for him. Might as well go straight to the top when you are getting the runaround. My friend soon called back. The Superintendent was gone too.
Anyway, I did not know where Dr. Fisher was, but my friend’s grand daughter needed to be enrolled in school immediately. My first thought was to notify Dr. Fisher and all nine Board Members by email of the problem, hoping someone was in charge. It was clear to me that the highest levels at CCS needed to get on the ball here to make sure that not only my friend’s grand daughter, but any other child in Cleveland County that was refused admittance to school was properly enrolled as soon as possible. I sent the message as fast as I could type out the message. I gave my friend’s telephone number to all of the Board members and Dr. Fisher
About an hour later I get a call from CCS Board Member Donnie Thurman, Jr. telling me that he had called my friend and the problem was going to be resolved. Later, I get a call from CCS Board Member Danny Blanton reporting that he had also called my friend and he would make sure the child got enrolled as soon as possible. My friend also called me to tell me that Donnie Thurman and Danny Blanton had called, were working on the problem and that he appreciated what Donnie and Danny were doing but also stated that none of the other CCS Board Members nor Dr. Fisher had called.
By this time the first day of school was about over and it was time to go to the School Board meeting. Things were getting interesting indeed. Sparks were expected to fly before the evening was over. CCS Chairman Jack Hamrick and a few others on the CCS Board get a bit angry when newly elected Board member Danny Blanton gets in the middle of anything.
The CCS Board Meeting August 25, 2014:
The CCS Board meeting began with a “Moment of Silence” per Jack Hamrick’s mandate, which basically was a decision that was intentionally made not to honor God. Hamrick had decided from a discussion in a work session earlier in the summer that the Board consensus was not to have a Prayer at School Board meetings. No vote was made on this issue, which, in my opinion, was done so the five Board members up for re-election in 2015 could deny voting against Prayer. I hope voters will see through this excuse. I can assure you the voters will hear about this rejection of God during the 2015 elections process.
Later in the meeting Dr. Fisher announced that he had visited every school (29) in the district that day, drove 137 miles, classes were beginning and all was well. I considered this a publicity stunt by Fisher to please the CCS Board members who hired him. You can’t blame Fisher for doing what the majority of the CCS Board wants him to do. Perhaps they had ordered him to do that, even if it is wrong-as it was here since he was not in the office taking care of business.
The Personnel Report with it’s long list of resignations and new hires was approved without discussion by a 8 to 1 vote. Danny Blanton cast the NO vote. No discussion was allowed and no mention or discussion of policy regarding the one teacher with 18 years experience who had been dismissed without cause while 190 new teachers were hired.
When the Board Agenda got to the Communities in Schools contract, Board member Donnie Thurman, Jr. asked to be recused since he worked for CIS. Mr. Thurman got up to leave the room and Chairman Hamrick told him that he didn’t have to leave. Thurman left anyway (which was proper).
Board member Danny Blanton asked about the “performance” of the Communities in Schools program (which is proper and always a good idea when lots of money is being spent). Board member Richard Hooker stated that Danny Blanton had asked a good question and stated that there would be an Educational Summit at the LeGrand Center September 13th. (I wondered why CCS would spend money on the LeGrand Center on an education summit after they spent $9+ millions on the Central Offices and had plenty of conference rooms there.)
Superintendent Fisher said graduation rates had increased in part because of the work Communities in Schools did.
Board Member Jerry Hoyle said Communities in Schools was eligible for grants that CCS was not eligible to apply for and projects cost less at CIS that if CCS had them. Why they cost less was never stated but I suppose the overhead is less and efficiency is better at CIS relative to CCS.
Board Member Phillip Glover made the motion to approve the $169,401 contract with Communities in Schools. The motion passed 8-0 with Donnie Thurman recused.
After the meeting a little research indicated Board Members Jerry Hoyle and Phillip Glover had had previous high level positions with Communities in Schools but they did not recuse themselves from the vote like Donnie Thurman did. That appears to be a conflict of interest for Hoyle and Glover.
A bit later in the Meeting, during discussion of Capital Projects, Board member Danny Blanton told presenter Assistant Superintendent Dr. John Yarbro that it appeared to him that Burns High School had been “short-changed” on Title 9 stuff and suggested that Board members tour the various facilities. No other Board member was interested. (We are interested in such a tour.)
At this time the Board voted 9-0 to go into Closed Session to discuss a personnel matter. So far in the meeting there had been no discussion of the teacher who had been dismissed nor the enrollment problem at Burns Middle School. Neither of these problems required a closed session according to North Carolina law. However, it clearly appears to be the favorite practice of the CCS Board never to admit to problems and it there are problems they must be discussed behind closed doors or telephoning one another-which is clearly a violation of open meeting laws. What is the definition of a group of people who intentionally violate the laws of the land. “Crooks” of “scofflaws” come to mind.
Anyway, the closed session lasted over an hour and it was clear that all hell had broken loose in the closed session. There were a number of red faces-smiling red faces-as if to hide some serious discussions. Board Chairman Jack Hamrick was so upset and disorganized that he forgot to call the meeting back into open session, which is required by law. Dr. Hamrick said “a closed session was held and no action was taken.” Then the meeting was adjourned, while technically the meeting was still in closed session and the vote to adjourn was invalid as no action can be taken in closed session.
Then, instead of heading for the side door as Board members usually do, they separated into small groups and continued some discussions. Danny Blanton was heard reminding Dr. Brian Hunnell of a 7:45am appointment to check on the enrollment process for my friend’s grand daughter. This had to have been discussed in closed session with an action item, which is in violation of NC law. But that discussion would have only taken minutes and they were in closed session for over an hour. So who knows what they were discussing, perhaps the teacher, but it was clear that there is trouble in paradise.