A large crowd of current and former Enterprise City Schools employees came to a special called meeting of the Enterprise Board of Education June 19 to address concerns about the direction of the school system and the circumstances that lead to the resignation of former superintendent Dr. Aaron Milner.
Milner accepted a position as the superintendent of Saraland City Schools June 18, and a few members of the board called the meeting to discuss his departure.
After being elected board president through acclamation, Ross Cotter began the meeting with concerns the board wasn’t notified about Milner’s resignation until he had accepted the position at Saraland.
Joe Paul Stewart, former board vice president, said the members of the board had received notification on the day of Milner’s hire, adding he personally had prior knowledge of Milner interviewing for the position, but had no way of knowing an offer would be made or if it would be accepted.
Cotter said the board needed to consider whether Milner would serve out the remainder of his 30-day notice (through July 18), or if the board needed to hire an interim superintendent before the end of that period.
According to board attorney J.P. Sawyer, who resigned during the meeting, Cotter presented him with a document prior to the meeting, which, if approved by the board, would have released Milner immediately.
This is contrary to the terms of Milner’s resignation, which was eventually accepted.
Several former educators addressed the board about the conditions of Milner’s resignation.
Dr. Bob Phares, who served 27 years as an assistant superintendent at Enterprise City Schools, addressed Cotter directly.
“Why do you want to hire a superintendent period?” Phares asked. “Why do you need one when you yourself are going to be the one micromanaging the superintendent and the board members? So far, this has all been a well-kept secret in our city, and that’s mainly because we’ve had a superintendent with the gumption and character to keep business where it needs to be.”
Thad Morgan, who served as superintendent from 1979-2001, expressed great concern over the direction of Enterprise City Schools and the City of Enterprise.
“We’ve got to get our business together here and we’ve got to get our business together downtown,” Morgan said. “I don’t know if it’s true, but the perception is that (Ross Cotter) hand-picked these board members and that you can go downtown and name who you want on this school board. I think this board ought to get back to board business and let the superintendent handle his business.”
Morgan said the school board doesn’t currently have the trust of the people, a sentiment echoed by those attending the meeting.
Dr. Jim Reese, who served as superintendent after Morgan, said the school system has been the pride of Enterprise since it was created in 1953.
“We’ve had five superintendents in 60 years, and Aaron is the first one of those who has left the system without retiring, and that ought to tell us something,” Reese said. “I don’t know how you’re going to get a superintendent under these circumstances. I couldn’t work under the conditions Aaron has worked under for six weeks. He’s made it more than two years and I congratulate him for that.”
Reese then told the members of the board that if “they couldn’t think for themselves, they needed to get the hell off of the board.”
Cotter said Milner was a great superintendent in some areas, but said the primary focus of the board is to get Enterprise City Schools back into the top 10 schools in the state.
“We’re not happy with number 23 or number 15 in a city like Enterprise,” Cotter said.
This year, Enterprise City Schools was ranked as the 19th most effective out of the 134 school systems in Alabama, which Milner touted as quite an accomplishment as the landscape of public education is much different than it was when Enterprise was a top-10 school.
Board members Gloria Jones, James Brown and the newly-appointed Bert Barr expressed resentment at being called “yes” men.
“I wish you would get the minutes from all of the meetings because we have supported Dr. Milner,” Jones said. “I didn’t know we were having this problem to tell you the truth. I was under the impression we were moving along just fine.”
Milner said he had many private meetings with other members of the board, which he said occurred almost weekly.
“I had two issues in personnel where the statement was made to me, ‘You better know I’m watching this,'” Milner said. “I’ve had issues involving personnel where employees were paying direct visits to board members, which is a direct violation of board policy.”
Milner did not specify the members to which he was referring.
Cotter said the meeting wasn’t called to air out “dirty laundry” and attempted to adjourn but was interrupted because some of those on the agenda had yet to address the board.
It was then that Sawyer announced his resignation as the board’s attorney.
“Somebody made a statement at our last meeting that the only three people the board can hire and fire is the board attorney, the superintendent and chief school financial officer,” Sawyer said. “There are certain people that want to be all three of them. I don’t want to be a part of that, and I will not.”
Stewart, who had expressed earlier concern about not being notified of the special-called meeting, said he too felt certain members of the school board were trying to control the system instead of hiring a capable superintendent, though he did exclude Barr and Jones from those comments.
“I think the community will lose confidence in a system if they get the perception that school board members are meddling in who’s fired and hired,” he said. “I don’t want to be a part of that and I'm not going to be. I’m a private person and I don’t like to draw publicity for myself, but I’m resigning as a school board member.”