When James Foreman announced he was seeking a seat on the Ardmore Board of Education last fall, he told voters that, if elected, he would seek to ensure the transparency of board practices.
Foreman walked on unopposed to the five-person school board in February. But for his sixth board meeting on June 15th, Foreman said he was concerned after reviewing the special meeting agenda, focused primarily on district employment – Ardmore City Schools is the fifth largest employer in Carter County.
Prior to the meeting he shared his apprehension with Superintendent Sonny Bates.
“I try to meet with Mr. Bates a day or two before each meeting to look over the agenda,” Foreman said. “When it was my turn (to meet with him for the June 15th meeting), that part caught my attention. We would not talk about it in executive session.”
Foreman’s concerns surrounded item four on the agenda, which called for an executive session to discuss hiring 19 educators, four summer school positions, a non-certified support position, and a retirement request.
However, the executive session omitted board discussion regarding the re-employment of 15 administrators for the 2015-16 school year, which would then be voted on during the open session of the meeting.
When the executive session concluded after 30 minutes, the board returned to open meeting. Foreman, along with Vice President Lori Capshaw, Board Clerk Lucinda Hull, and member Linda Schroder then voted 4-0 to approve the re-employment of the administrators. Board President Scott Carpenter was absent from the late afternoon meeting, which was attended by more than a dozen people.
“If I could take it back, I would vote ‘no’,” Foreman said four days after the meeting. “But ‘no’ is not a reflection of everyone on there. My ‘yes’ vote wasn’t for everyone on there. I can’t take that back.”
With such misgivings, Foreman believed the administrators’ re-employment should have been included in the executive session portion of the meeting. Discussion on each of the positions – including principals, assistant principals, directors, and an assistant superintendent – should have taken place, “because of the role they play in the school district,” Foreman said.
Without discussion, the board unanimously approved contract offerings for the 2015-16 school year. The administrators were Myiesha Antwine, Kevin Benson, John Black, Denise Brunk, Chris Dvorak, James Falvey, Cindy Huddleston, Johncy Martin, Lacy Mitchell, Shirley Morgan, Ellen Patty, Shonna Self, Kim Smith, Missy Storm and Carolyn Thomas.
Bates confirmed with The Ardmoreite Tuesday that no discussion on the administrator’s re-employment was included in executive session. He said if board members wanted to speak about the re-employment, they should have spoken up and posed their questions in the open session.
Nevertheless, Bates said most of the time matters concerning employment are addressed in executive session. In the past, Bates recalled, the re-employment of district administrators was actually discussed in executive sessions.
Board President Scott Carpenter, who was out of town when the meeting was conducted, said he, too, remembers executive sessions where the board discussed the re-employment of district administrators.
Carpenter called it “an oversight” that the agenda’s executive session portion did not include the opportunity to discuss the re-employment of administrators.
This is the second year such “an oversight” has occurred. According to the agenda from the May 20, 2014 Ardmore Board of Education meeting, the board voted unanimously to approve the “rehiring” of 18 administrators.
Prior to action on that vote, the board entered executive session for discussion on several employment matters; however, administrative rehiring was not listed as a discussion item.
Concern over resignations
At the June 15th meeting, board members also noted the resignation of 12 educators.
Foreman said he is troubled with teachers leaving the school district, especially educators resigning in order to take posts at other local school districts. Since the beginning of Foreman’s service on the board, he has noted more than 30 teacher resignations approved by the superintendent.
Since February, according to district documents, the board has approved nine retirement requests, which require board vote. The board was also presented with 40 resignations, “received and approved by the Superintendent.” The resignations included teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria staff, custodians, and two recipients of the district Teacher of the Year award.
“It has already reached that point. It is past that point,” Foreman confirms when asked if he is concerned with employee retention. “There is a reason that people are leaving.”
“Considering Ardmore’s location and opportunities, there should be a waiting list to get hired on,” Foreman contends.
Carpenter said the number of resignations received this year is typical for Ardmore City Schools.
“From talking with the administration and looking at the resignations this year, the numbers aren’t actually out of the norm for this time of year,” Carpenter said. “Every year, we have turnover with the staff. The turnover we have had is about average, from what I understand.”
Carpenter said the district saw an “excessive” number of teacher resignations last year. March, 2014 through August, 2014 school board agendas reveal 50 staff resignations received and approved by the superintendent.
“I am very concerned about staff retention, because we certainly want to keep the best teachers and staff that we can,” Carpenter asserts. “People are always going to leave for different reasons, personal and professional both.”
The Ardmore Board of Education will meet this Tuesday, at 5:30 p.m.
Editor’s note: The Ardmoreite reached out to all board member for this article. Hull and Capshaw did not return calls for comment. Schroder told The Ardmoreite she had no comment, and that questions should be directed to the superintendent.