Tensions resurfaced as several former employees of Enterprise City Schools questioned members of the Enterprise Board of Education during a regular meeting July 30.
Judi Stinnett addressed board members individually with several questions pertaining to the selection and compensation of Interim Superintendent Jimmy Baker, who was officially hired during a July 8 meeting.
Stinnett first asked board member Gloria Jones to describe the process by which she as a board member selected Baker.
“Mr. Baker was somebody that had extremely high qualifications,” she said. “We also knew somebody away from here would be perfect to come in and see things from a different perspective. He was also interested because he had grown up here.”
Stinnett then asked board member James Brown to name other candidates who were considered for the position and to explain how those candidates were chosen.
“Why do you need to know other individuals?” Brown asked. “This is an interim job, it’s not permanent.”
Brown said he didn’t feel like he needed to try to find somebody else.
“We need an interim superintendent here and now,” he said. “The school system is opening soon and needs to be up and running.”
When Stinnett continued to press on the issue, Brown stated that the board members didn’t consider others for the position because of its temporary nature.
He did say that multiple candidates would be sought during the search for a permanent superintendent.
Board member Bert Barr was asked about Baker’s salary, which is currently $15,500 per month for a period of no more than 90 days.
“I initially thought the asking price was a little high in my opinion,” Barr said. “Then I divided it out and saw what we were paying Mr. Baker once you fully burden the salary of the previous superintendent, and we’re only about $1,500 apart per month. Mr. Baker was having to move here and with his experience, I found that to be acceptable.”
Stinnett also questioned the $1,500 monthly retaining fee approved for Interim Board Attorney Roger Bates.
Board member Doug Vickers said the fee was quite below what an hourly rate would be based on the amount of time Bates is expected to spend at meetings and taking questions from members of the board.
“I wanted to make the original motion to hire Mr. Baker and Mr. Bates because there were several things I wanted to make sure were included,” Vickers said. “I wanted to be sure it was for an interim basis only and I wanted the compensation up front so it didn't appear we were trying to hide it.”
Stinnett’s final question was for Board Chairman Ross Cotter, asking if he had signed the certificate of board member affirmation, which he had yet to do previously.
“I told you I would and I'm glad you asked. It’s signed and it’s in the superintendent’s office,” Cotter said. “It’s not required legally, but I did so at your request.”
Rosemary Carter, a former teacher, said she wanted healing between the two sides of the issues, but also said that wouldn’t happen until both sides made an effort toward it.
“I agree there is division, but instead of wanting to solve our problems or trying to make things better, it seems the attitude of city leaders and board members is to wish the problems, and we, would all go away,” Carter said. “I continue to be amazed that (you) can not or will not understand why we are so upset.”
Carter she used to not feel a need to be involved with school board meetings and added she’s always trusted BOE members in the past.
She went on to say this was the first time Enterprise citizens have had to admonish one of the system’s board members.
“I’m here because that one member has overstepped his authority, and not abided by the very policies this board has in place,” Carter said. “This behavior has not been acknowledged or explained and certainly no apology has been offered.”
Carter said she’d seen no attempt by the board or city government to make the situation better and went on to say recent decisions by the board have caused even more distrust among certain members of the community.
Carter also quoted several excerpts from the Enterprise City Schools policy manual and the Alabama Association of School Board’s (AASB) training manual.
“According to the AASB, setting policy is the school board’s primary function,” she read. “Policymaking is the responsibility of the board and administration is the responsibility of the superintendent. The manual also says school board authority is granted to the board, not individual board members. You are bound by law to take action only as a full board in a public meeting.”
Carter accused a member of the board of bullying former Superintendent Dr. Aaron Milner with the phrase “I have three votes.”
She also said the same board member came to a "hurriedly-called meeting" prepared with a document, not drawn up by the board attorney, for the immediate termination of Milner’s contract.
“It has been reported that you met with a local alumni group and made promises without the knowledge or approval of the superintendent,” Carter said. “You interfered with the dismissal of a teacher and you intimidated a classroom teacher.”
Carter went on to point other reported violations of what is considered acceptable conduct for members of the board.
“You are not following board policy and you’re taking matters into your own hands when it suits your personal agenda,” Carter said. “You are interfering with personnel decisions and you are abusing your authority. These are reasons you were asked to resign.”
Jones, Brown and Cotter were asked to resign by several community members during a June 28 meeting, however, Carter never specifically named a board member during her address.
“I do want to pause here and thank Mr. Barr for his insistence that the community be involved in the search for the acting superintendent,” she said. “It did not go unnoticed, however, that he had to make the request several times before the rest of the board agreed.”
Carter encouraged teachers, community members and the members of the board to speak up if they witness or hear of an example of misconduct on the part of a board member.
“I want to remind board members that if you know of any unethical actions, and you do nothing, you are just as ethically responsible,” Carter said. “Finally I will make a request — Please refrain from saying you are putting our children first and that the children in our community are your number one priority. Your actions outside the boardroom and some of your actions in the boardroom are not supportive of that statement. You have a ways to go before this public really believes in what you say.”
Former Dauphin Junior High School Principal Perry Vickers was the last person scheduled to speak during the meeting.
The majority of his questions pertained to a 2008 agreement between the City of Enterprise and Enterprise City Schools, which bound the school system to make annual payments of $550,000 for 14 years to assist with the debt service payments of a $30 million bond issued to build two schools.
Perry Vickers asked each board member how committed they were to preventing the school from having to make the yearly payments.
“I think that agreement was between the school and city back when it was put in place,” Doug Vickers said. “I don’t know what I can do legally to change that. Now I do know, and it’s evident with a crowd like this, that when the time comes, if we need the money, the city is going to give us the money. The city is going to work with us. The citizens are going to make sure of it.”
Barr echoed that response and added that hiring a qualified superintendent was the main concern of the board currently.
Perry Vickers also had questions about the legality of the agreement, as it was never officially signed.
At that point Jim Reese, who was the superintendent at the time of the agreement, said the validity of the agreement was not the issue, it was whether or not the agreement was fair.
“We made the verbal agreement and I have no problem with that, but again, was the intent of the city to make a profit, for them to make money off the destruction of two of our schools?” Reese said. “What were we going to do? Say, ‘No, we’re not going to accept that agreement because we’re not going to build two schools. We don’t need to build a new high school?’ We had to take what the city offered us.”
Reese said if the system is required to pay the annual payments beginning in 2016 the city would profit a minimum of $32 million through the revenue streams created to repay the bond issue.
Cotter said his position on the issues has always been based on what the financial status of the school system and the city are in 2016 and the academic performance of the school system.
“Everything is based on the economy,” Cotter said. “The $30 million bond issue has to paid back by the city whether Fort Rucker closes or whether it doesn't. The city has that obligation. Thank goodness the school system doesn’t.”
Cotter said he didn’t think the school system would have any problem getting financial help from the city, if it was needed.
“Nobody in this room, bar none, has fought for funds for Enterprise City Schools like I have,” he said. “You have a former superintendent that verified that two meetings ago. I’ve been before the city council and have been successful in getting funds. I don’t take a back seat to anyone about asking and acquiring for this school system.”
After discussing the financial situation further, Perry Vickers asked why Hand Arrendall was being used to pay the salaries of Baker and Bates.
“For years I have worked with Hand Arrendall and typically I’m paid through the law firm,” Baker said. “Since it’s an interim arrangement and I knew I was only going to be here a limited amount of time, that was the most logical way for me to continue to get paid.”
Perry Vickers also wanted to know why an outside attorney was selected when there are so many in Enterprise already.
Baker responded saying he didn’t want to get into a local squabble over which attorney he selected.
“I know a lot of the lawyers in this town and they’re friends of mine,” Baker said. “I wasn’t coming here in this environment without knowing that I had absolute independence in that legal counsel. That’s no disrespect to anyone here.”
Perry Vickers also asked Baker if he had a current student administration and supervision certificate from the state, which Perry Vickers said should be required for him to hold the position of superintendent.
Baker said he did not because he was accepting the position on an interim basis and hadn’t held a position in education administration for several years.
Perry Vickers said this would be required of administrators and teachers accepting a new position and wanted to know why it wouldn’t apply to a superintendent.
Baker said it wouldn’t matter because he was only being employed for a few weeks.
“You don’t think I’m so stupid that I didn’t pick up the phone and call State Superintendent of Education (Tommy Bice) and say, ‘if I do this what’s going to be your position?’” Baker said. “I wasn’t even going to consider it unless they said (it) was okay.”
Cotter said he and other members of the board had discussed Baker’s hire with Bice in addition to confirming it with officials from the AASB.
Perry Vickers’ final questions dealt with the way Cotter was elected to the position of board chairman.
Traditionally, the board’s most senior member serves as chairman during his or her final year on the board.
That would have left former member Joe Paul Stewart as president in June.
However, Brown nominated Cotter for the position and the other members of the board approved the recommendation.
Stewart has since resigned from the board.
“Whether you like my nomination or not, I made it and I still stick with it,” Brown said to Perry Vickers. “I respect your position as a retired principal, but I made the statement at the last meeting that I made the nomination because I felt that Mr. Cotter was the man for the job.”
He also said he realized it was a tradition but chose Cotter to move the board forward.
Brown also said that if “past president Mark Jipson had done his job, the board chairman would have already been selected.”
After an outburst from the crowd, Brown listed several accomplishments from his personal life including serving two tours in Vietnam and working in real estate for Century 21 through Billy Cotter’s office.
“I retired as a Command Sgt. Maj. from the United States Army and gave 15 years of service,” Brown said. “I’m not a dummy and I’m not somebody who just showed up off the street here.”
Perry Vickers said he appreciated the things Brown had done, but was more interested in the things he will be doing.
Following Perry Vickers comments, Cotter adjourned the meeting despite a request from Jipson to speak before the board.
After another outburst from the crowd, Jipson spoke anyway and the members of the board remained in their positions.
“I didn’t want to say anything because I just came off the board, but since Mr. Brown brought me into this goat roping, I’m going to say a couple of things,” Jipson said. “If Mr. Brown wants to stick me over a May meeting when officers should have been elected, he needs to check his history. For many years, it was always done in June.”
Jipson said when he was on the board, it wasn’t comprised of a "president making all the decisions."
He said he admired the four criteria Cotter was using to determine the school system’s impending payments to the city.
“However, I would like to know who’s going to decide on points like if we’re academically where we are supposed to be?” Jipson asked. “I know I wasn’t qualified with my little sew shop business to make those decisions. I don’t know what real estate qualifies you to know about academic qualifications, but we have some fine people that work here and I think I’d probably ask them.”
Jipson also discussed what he called a fair compromise to the annual payment issues.
“If we’re so concerned about being economically sound, why can’t this board go to the city leaders and amend the agreement to read, ‘If the revenue streams are large enough to pay for the bond debt, the school system will be waived of $550,000 for that year and if they’re insufficient, the school system will pay up to and not exceeding the amount that was agreed upon,” Jipson said. “I wanted to make an offer tonight while everybody is here. I did before and our Mayor (Kenneth Boswell) had deaf ears.”