More than 500 people crowded the boardroom at the central office of Enterprise City Schools to air and refute concerns regarding the politicization of the Enterprise Board of Education and its ties to the Enterprise City Council and Mayor Kenneth Boswell.
After heated discussion from both sides, Superintendent Aaron Milner announced he would be officially leaving the school system at 3 p.m., June 28.
This is contrary to the 30-day notice he gave when first submitting his resignation, but Milner said he reached this conclusion when certain members of the board attempted to terminate his contract without pay during a June 19 meeting.
“In conjunction with the city attorney, an agreement was drawn for my termination behind the back of the board’s attorney,” Milner said. “I say this with no bitterness, but because of what certain members (of the board) indicated to me, my employment will end as of Friday at 3 p.m.”
Several former school employees spoke at the meeting and made allegations that board member Ross Cotter has been engaging in conduct against board policy on the state and local level.
This includes but is not limited to micromanaging Milner, which according Milner, was a contributing factor in his resignation.
During the discussion, local residents Dr. Michael McQueen and former assistant superintendent Bob Phares asked for Cotter’s resignation from the school board.
Former Dauphin Junior High School principal Perry Vickers also asked for Cotter’s resignation, and suggested board members Gloria Jones and James Brown resign as well.
Despite cheers from the crowd about the proposed resignation, Cotter said he had no plans to resign anytime soon.
Rosemary Carter, who taught in the Enterprise system for 22 years, addressed Jones and Brown, but explicitly excluded newly appointed board members Bert Barr and Doug Vickers.
During the June 19 meeting, Brown and Jones both defended allegations they were targeting Milner, with both saying they had agreed with him on several board decisions.
“This isn't about what happens at meetings, but what's been going on behind closed doors, in private conversations and emails,” Carter said. “If you have been aware of this and have done nothing, then shame on you. If you are in the dark about this, then you should be just as anxious as the rest of us to understand what's going on.”
Carter also addressed statements Cotter made previously about trying to bring Enterprise City Schools back to the top 10 systems in the state, which Cotter identified as a weakness in the system.
“We didn’t drop from the top 10 to 19th during his two years as superintendent, and anyone who knows anything about education, knows the evaluation system has changed.” Carter said. “However, if you look at the 18 schools above us, only two have a lower per-pupil expenditure. So if you look at it that way, the city is getting very high return on its investment, without much support from downtown.”
Judi Stinnett asked Cotter why he had yet to sign the affirmation of school board membership, which is not required, but is usually done by members of Alabama’s school boards.
“At present there are 796 members of the boards of education (in the) state of Alabama and only two have refused to signed the affirmation of school board membership,” she said. “Ross Cotter is one of those two, and that reflects poorly on our system.”
Cotter defended himself by saying he found the statements in the affirmation overreaching, adding he had discussed the issue with a lawyer from the Alabama Association of School Boards.
Carter finally asked Brown why he had failed to nominate senior board member Joe Paul Stewart as the board’s chairman during the last meeting.
Brown responded saying he found Cotter to be the candidate best suited for the position.
Jones and Cotter asked the crowd why they were just now showing up to board meetings and Jones accused Milner of not communicating with board.
Milner said he had communicated with newly-appointed board member Bert Barr, and had intentionally avoided contact with Cotter, Jones and Brown since Cotter attempted to terminate his contract during the pervious meeting.
Barr confirmed Milner’s statements.
Other accusations were directed at the process by which board members are selected, with certain parties asserting the city council might be strategically placing people on the board.
Phares even claimed Cotter said he would be appointed to the school board months before the decision was made, a claim Cotter denied.
“I have heard the selection of school board members is done with the help of people outside the city council and outside city government,” former superintendent Thad Morgan said to Boswell.
Boswell denied the claim, but did say that the opinions of others are always welcomed, to which Morgan responded, “How do I get on that list?”
Milner also further discussed his decision to negate his original resignation, which had him serving through July 18.
“I gave a 30-day notice to a system that gave me everything,’ Milner said. “It's important to know my contract had no exit clause. I could have come in, packed up and left like a thief in the night, but owed everything to this system. This system educated me and my children, and provided, until recently, an excellent working environment.”
Milner said a door had been opened for him at Saraland, and he said he’d been blessed to receive a job offer there.
“Mayor (Boswell), please realize and recognize the power in this school system,” Milner said. “They'll go to war for you if you do that. I can't thank all of you enough, and I appreciate all the support you've given me over the last 17 years at Enterprise City Schools.”
Boswell was one of the last to speak at the meeting, and he, like Bill Carr and others, encouraged the residents of Enterprise to come together.
“I've heard some hurtful things that have been said tonight, and things said in prior meetings,” Boswell said. “I plead, on behalf of the council, for this community to come together. It’s the only way we can move forward.”