School chief: Job not created for Maine teacher friend
Fayette County School System Superintendent Jeff Bearden, fresh from Maine, has been on the job less than a month. And Bearden last week responded to several questions posed to him by The Citizen, including a query about a new female teacher from his home state of Maine who was approved for hire in December by the school board. Bearden was insistent that the teaching position was not created for this individual,
adding that she applied and went through the application process.
“A school system this size does have allotments that happen during the course of the year based on enrollment. We live in a very transient society. We have kids that enroll in our schools all the time,” Bearden said. “When I applied for the job I was very clear with the board about my situation. They knew that she was a certified, experienced teacher. The only question I asked at that time was that if there was a job that opened up that she was eligible for could she apply. And the answer was ‘yes.’”
“I found out about this allotment before I arrived (in January). She applied for the job, she interviewed for the job, she was recommended for the job and she was hired. She doesn’t need my help getting a job. She’s a very strong, experienced teacher that will be good for the school system. So there were no promises, no guarantees, no creating (a position),” Bearden said. He added that the woman, prior to the hire, had already intended to move here to continue her career if a position came open.
It has long been customary across the national public school landscape that new, high-level school system administrators are sometimes followed by family members, senior staff and others that have established professional or personal relationships with the administrator.
Bearden was also asked to respond to the sporadic but consistent delays in the release of documentation on the school system website, sometimes only hours before school board meetings, because the issue is one that pertains to school system accountability with taxpayers, parents, school system employees and the school board.
“I’ve heard that before. And it’s really too early for me to define why that has been the way it’s been. I, too, want to get information to the board and to the public in a timely manner,” Bearden said. “I think that’s something we might very well discuss at the retreat (Jan. 29), when the board might be interested in having information submitted to them. I’m aware that this has been a concern in this community. It is something we are looking at, absolutely, and we’ll probably talk about in more detail on the 29th. We really don’t have an agenda per se other than what the GSBS (Georgia School Boards Association facilitator) will have. But one of the things I would like to do is give some time for board members to talk about whatever they want, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s something we discuss.”
The board changed its decades-long policy in January 2010 by moving the meeting nights from Mondays to Tuesdays, with the primary reason being that posting the agenda and supporting documentation on Monday mornings would give school system employees and the public two full business days to review the items for the Tuesday night meetings rather than having only one day if the meetings were to continue to be held on Mondays.
The vote on the issue at that time was 3-2, with then-Chairman Terri Smith and board members Janet Smola and Lee Wright voting to move the meeting day to Tuesdays. Board members Marion Key and Bob Todd voted to keep the Monday meeting schedule.
Prior to the vote, Todd suggested that the school system staff responsible for submitting supporting documentation could do so a day early (on the prior Thursday) with the documentation posted on Fridays so that the those items could be viewed over the weekend and on Mondays prior to the Monday night meetings. Additionally, Wright and Key said that they did not always receive the information for some meetings until they arrived on the night of board meetings.
But the change in meeting days from Mondays to Tuesdays often failed to bring a more timely release of data, with the agenda and, especially the supporting documentation, sometimes not being posted on the school system’s website until mid- or late Mondays and, at other times, until sometime on Tuesdays.
Of 11 school districts in metro Atlanta surveyed by The Citizen in March 2010, Fayette County ranked at the bottom in terms of the number of days required for staff to submit data for school board meetings prior to those meetings and for the number of days prior to school board meetings that the agenda and supporting documentation was posted online.
The board retreat is a public meeting and will be held on Saturday, Jan. 29 at the school system office in Fayetteville beginning at 8:30 a.m.