School board members voice concerns

PARKERSBURG – In the last few months Wood County school system officials have considered recommendations to end or alter the employment of personnel.

Members of the board of education handled at least seven cases related to employee discipline this year and more than half the time have gone against the recommendation of Wood County Schools Superintendent Pat Law.

Martin Elementary School Principal Karen Brady was retained as principal last week after an attempt to demote her to a teaching position.

Parkersburg High teachers Jesse Young and Amanda Terrell were offered contracts after school administrators initially declined to rehire them.

And a school bus driver administrators sought to fire was retained by the board about two weeks ago.

Employees Greg Casto, Trish Hilton and Jill Byers were terminated by the school system following board approval.

The school system has spent thousands of dollars in legal fees on these issues and more than half the time Law’s recommendations have been rejected, most by unanimous vote.

It is a concern for board members.

“I think the ducks aren’t in a row,” board member Tad Wilson said. “They are part-way there. But when you analyze it there are holes there and it puts the board in a precarious situation and we have to go against the superintendent’s recommendation.”

“We have had some high-profile situations where what we thought was happening, what happened, and the recommendations were not the same,” said board president Tim Yeater. “Is it us or it is Law? We need to find out. This is unacceptable.”

Yeater said when the superintendent brings a personnel matter to the board it should be a routine, “in the sense there is going to be evidence there to support it and everyone can see it.”

Yeater said that was not the case with Brady’s recommendation.

“Listening to the testimony and what you are telling me, I don’t see it,” he said.

Yeater also noted Brady- prior to the attempt to demote her – was offered a later move to another school.

“What does that say to the folks at Martin and the other school?” he asked.

Board member Lawrence Hasbargen said officials have a responsibility to perform their duties, such as employee evaluations.

“When you don’t do that you are not fulfilling the obligations of the position you were placed in,” he said. But Hasbargen declined to follow through on Law’s recommendation to demote Brady. He noted while she has been in the system for 27 years, she’s only been a principal for a few years.

“I wouldn’t throw her under the bus,” he said. “This is a one-time deal.”

Hasbargen wasn’t alone. The board voted unanimously (4-0, Wilson was absent) to reject Law’s recommendation to demote Brady.

Hasbargen said the same was also true of the board’s decision to rehire Young and Terrell.

“I don’t think he meant to do anything unprofessional,” he said of Young. “Sometimes you get caught up in situations.

“It is a one-time thing. Don’t come back with that again.”

Hasbargen said that wasn’t the case with employees the board voted to terminate.

“Some of the other people we let go it wasn’t a one-time thing,” he said. “The ones we let go there are several items. We tried to help them.”

Yeater said the administration has reasons to bring these matters to the board, but the evidence to uphold the superintendent’s recommendation has not been sufficient.

“The board has felt pretty strongly that the thoroughness of the investigation and the documentation for that has not been there,” he said.

“We try to work with the best information we have,” Law said. “In each situation we try to use the documentation we have and it is not always perfect.

“A document not completed, or something is left out, then we maybe are not giving that employee a fair opportunity to defend themselves,” Law added. “There are a lot of hoops to jump through to make sure we have everything in place for the board.”

Law cited a court trial as an example, noting prosecutors got to trial with the best case they can build, while the defense seeks to poke holes in the case and raise doubt.

“We have tried to put together the best evidence we have available, but it is not always the best or what is needed,” Law said. “We have to do a cleaner job of our documentation.”

The superintendent also noted while the several grievance cases have made news this summer, many circumstances never rise to level of a hearing.

“A lot of things get resolved than get to a public hearing,” he said.

Hasbargen- a former long-time school system employee – is concerned about undermining Law’s authority but says board members need to do what is best for staff and students.

Yeater is also concerned about the public’s perception of the school system. The lack of cohesion between the administration and the board in these matters doesn’t reflect well on the school system, he said.

“If I see this in the paper the bottom line is obviously this group isn’t working together. Somebody is not on the same page,” Yeater said. “If a person isn’t happy with the school system we lose the levy.

“What needs to be done, we – as a board – need to sit down with Law and say this is where we are at.”

Wilson said Law and the administration understand where the board is coming from and why. Law said after these hearings, he receives feedback from board members.

“He understands a better process needs to in place; more thorough investigation and analysis,” Wilson said.

“All we do is try to get better at what we are doing,” Law said.