News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, June 6, 2013
Brooksville teachers charge school board with ignoring policy before voting against teacher contract

by Anne Berleant

“There is a big cloud over our school,” parent Tonyia Peasley said to the school board at its June 3 meeting. “It’s definitely felt in the community.”

Her statement came after guidance teacher Martha Jordan read a formal letter to the board written after a unanimous May 14 board vote to discontinue teacher Laura Johns’ contract. Both Superintendent Mark Hurvitt and Principal Corinne Pert had recommended John’s contract be continued. All 13 teachers and Pert, who is also a teacher, signed the letter.

The teachers charge the board violated policy #8378 by not informing Johns or Pert about complaints made to board members against Johns prior to the May 14 meeting, and by not informing the individuals making the complaints of the proper procedure.

School policy #8378 directs the board to “advise the public that the proper channeling of complaints involving instruction and/or discipline should proceed from the teacher to the principal to the superintendent and finally to the board.”

“Most of us did go to Ms. Johns and Mrs. Pert and she [sic] did nothing,” said parent Stephanie Bates.

“Any correspondence the board received was copied to the superintendent, at least,” said Tarr. “As far as I’m concerned, the board acted in good faith with the policy.”

However, board member Larry Cassius said he did not share with Pert statements made to him by members of the public.

“I was assured they had [already] been brought to you,” Cassius said.

One complaint that was investigated by Pert and Hurvitt ended with no finding of wrongdoing.

“This is not and never has been a disciplinary situation for Ms. Johns,” said Superintendent Mark Hurvitt. “It’s simply a [question of] fit.”

Board member Gail Ladd disagreed. “It wasn’t about a fit,” she said. “Each person here at the table…had to make a decision.”

Johns taught fifth- and sixth-grade for two years, leaving a seven-year teaching position in Penobscot to take the Brooksville position.

At an executive session held per Maine statute for personnel issues at the May 14 meeting, board members, Hurvitt, Pert and Johns and a Maine School Association representative listened to 20 individual comments from the public before the board voted on Johns’ contract.

“It was a horrible thing, but I felt I had to make that decision,” said Ladd.

“Was it procedural? Was it disciplinary?” asked Peasley. “For you not to renew the contract sends a huge message. Hearing the teachers today sends a huge message.”

“These decisions have to be made in executive session,” said Tarr. “We are literally forbidden to share them with other people.”

Chairman Tarr met with teacher representatives after the board’s decision “acknowledging the damage to the relationship between the board and the school community,” according to the letter, which Tarr did not dispute.

Teachers requested the board receive training by Maine School Management on how to “properly handle concerns from parents and community members.” Tarr agreed the board would receive such training. He also assured them that Johns would receive a letter of recommendation from the board.

In other business, the board unanimously voted to change the school day schedule for 2013-14. Students will arrive at 7:30 a.m., eat breakfast in the gym under ed. tech. supervision, with classes starting at 7:50. Dismissal moves to 2:30 p.m., with bus students, again under ed. tech. supervision, waiting until 2:55 to leave.

Pert said this allows 20 minutes more instructional time each day, “a golden thing right now.”

The board also unanimously voted on choosing MacAirs from the state laptop program (MLTI), which provides free laptops to seventh- and eighth-grade students and teachers. In a switch from Apple, the state contracted with Hewlett Packard for the next four years, but offers the MacAir and its associated network at an extra cost of $33.23 per laptop, for an added yearly cost of $731. Technology teacher David Davis said the cost would not bring the school over budget.

Finally, the 2013-14 fuel oil bid was awarded in a 4-0-1 (Brad Jones) to low bidder Wardwell Oil at $3.11 per gallon. The cost for the school year is $24,920.

Next meeting:

Brooksville School Board July 1, 5 p.m.