The incoming Alamance-Burlington superintendent, Dr. Dain Butler, is more than a month away from officially taking over but has apparently caused an exodus from the ABSS central office, says school board member Tony Rose.
Rose launched into a soliloquy about his dissatisfaction – following a half-hour closed session that school board members hold at the tail end of each semi-monthly meeting to consider employment recommendations – over the reassignments and resignations of several employees at the Central Office on Vaughn Road in Burlington. After the board reconvened in open session Monday night, Rose acknowledged that the changes had been made at the recommendation of interim superintendent Dr. James (“Jim”) Merrill, while also implying that the job shifts at central office are symptomatic of a bigger problem.
“This board’s caused a lot of personnel changes in the last six, eight, nine months,” Rose told his fellow board members Monday night.
Rose had voted against hiring Butler earlier this month, as did school board member Allison Gant. She participated in this week’s meeting by phone.
“I understand there are some things on the report that the board is reporting on and some things that are informational purposes,” Rose said after he and his fellow board members reconvened the open portion of their meeting. “I have concerns about the message we’re sending to staff. I understand that our new superintendent is sitting out here,” Rose said, referring to Butler, who was seated in the audience throughout the meeting Monday night but didn’t participate in any part of the discussion.
“Dr. Butler has not started yet and making drastic moves and [central office organizational] chart changes [i.e., job assignments] and moving people around that have not been observed in their performance sends the wrong message not just to those individuals but to the entire staff,” Rose said. “I’m not saying the moves are wrong; I’m saying they’re at the wrong time.” (See related story, this edition).
Rose: Wrong to move people who are ‘performing adequately’
“I don’t know that the public understands what’s happening but we have things on the personnel report that our incoming superintendent has put in, that our interim superintendent is making on behalf of him for the board,” Rose said.
“I don’t think that protocol is necessarily wrong, but I don’t think it’s right to take people who are performing adequately in their current positions and put them in lesser roles,” Rose continued. “It is costly to the system; it sends the wrong message to those individuals; and it also sends the wrong message to the entire rest of the staff that that’s how things are being handled. If people are having performance issues, and if the new superintendent wants to come in and observe them and make moves, I fully support that, but I think that this is not leadership – this looks like retribution, even if it’s not. This board, I believe, in the last six, or eight, nine months, has made moves that [have] caused significant people to leave who have expertise and history here and knowledge that we need.”
“This board, I believe, in the last six, or eight, nine months, has made moves that [have] caused significant people to leave who have expertise and history here and knowledge that we need.” – School board member Tony Rose
Rose twice acknowledged to his fellow board members Monday night that Merrill had recommended the job changes, with input from the incoming superintendent, which were listed as “informational items only,” based on the latest personnel report.
“I mean, we’ve lost a superintendent, a deputy superintendent, a CFO, a PIO – I can’t say; I never spoke to these individuals about this,” Rose continued. “I don’t know that they’re leaving for this reason, but all I know is all this machinations starts and then we have all of these positions [become vacant].
“And now we have remaining people in significant curriculum positions that we need to do work over the summer and we’re putting them in the positions that everybody in the industry knows are less positions than what they’re in,” Rose added. “The message that sends to those individuals is that you’re unappreciated and you’re not welcome and to go look for a job. I think that’s wrong to happen this way; and I think it’s wrong for the board to approve this. You want to bring these moves to me in September, I’ll support them. Today, for someone to make these types of decisions for people they have not observed, is wrong.”
School board chairman Sandy Ellington-Graves confirmed to The Alamance News Tuesday morning that several assignment changes for people currently employed at central office, which were listed as “information only items,” indicated that no vote by the board was required, had been made at Merrill’s recommendation, in consultation with Butler.
The contract that school board members approved for Butler on May 2 provides five consulting days (termed “pre-employment services”) to familiarize himself with the school system’s operations. With four cabinet-level positions becoming vacant on June 30, Butler has been working with Merrill to develop a transition plan, the board’s chairman explained in an interview Tuesday.
“We voted to hire a new superintendent – one who is knowledgeable about the system, one who is willing to make the necessary changes in order for the central office to be as effective as they can be.” – School board vice chairman Patsy Simpson
School board vice chairman Patsy Simpson, who also participated in the meeting by phone Monday night, insisted to her fellow board members that the central office staffing changes were not “based upon performance, as Mr. Rose knows.”
“We voted to hire a new superintendent – one who is knowledgeable about the system, one who is willing to make the necessary changes in order for the central office to be as effective as they can be,” Simpson said Monday. “I think this is a prime example of supporting our new superintendent coming in.” Those who opted to resign did so voluntarily, Simpson insisted. “I think to use that terminology, ‘retribution’ – help me with your words, Tony, I don’t want to misspeak – but I think it’s very inappropriate and it does not set well that you would use that term when our superintendent has not even been sworn in yet.”
Rose countered, “Let me explain, because I chose my words very carefully. I did not say it was retribution; I said it appeared to be. The fact that you’re claiming it can’t be retribution because Dr. Butler is not here is the same evidence that I’m putting forward that it [central office staffing changes] should not be made; it is being made out of ignorance.”
Simpson: ‘Our role is to support the superintendent’
Simpson responded that school board members aren’t responsible for evaluating the job performance for central office employees, which she said lies within the superintendent’s purview. “We all have our individual opinion as to who does a good job; I couldn’t tell you about the performance of any of those individuals who are being reassigned,” she said. “Our role is to support our superintendent and to allow him to be able to set his cabinet and those positions at the central office in a manner that he feels, based on his experience – he’s been a superintendent before – to reorganize and do what is best for ABSS. If that means we have to eliminate some positions or reorganize, or whatever, I support [his] ability to do that.”
Rose continued to insist, “These moves are being made by someone who has not started yet. That’s why I said bring me this in the fall, so that I know what’s happening has been observed. I agree with you – we don’t do their performance reviews. Neither has a superintendent who hasn’t begun his job yet. That’s my point, the timing.”
“Mr. Rose,” Simpson shot back, “with all due respect, we know you did not vote for him [Butler]. You have said numerous times that we should support the recommendations from the superintendent,” and board members can vote yes or no to accept those recommendations.
School board member Ryan Bowden rejected Rose’s claim about the staffing changes having been made out of ignorance. “I don’t think this is done out of ignorance; I think this is done out of vision,” Bowden said. “When we hired our superintendent, we hired his vision. I think it’s imperative that we support his vision.”
Teetor, who presented the semi-monthly personnel report Monday night, explained to the board that the reassignments – which, in addition to those at central office, are based primarily at schools and in the transportation department– were “part of the personnel report” but listed for information only.
“It’s important to note,” the chairman told her fellow board members, “that the reassignments are not performance-based reassignments.”
The board voted 5-2 to approve the latest personnel report. Voting in favor were: Ellington-Graves, Simpson, and Bowden, as well as school board members Wayne Beam and Donna Westbrooks. Voting against were Rose and school board member Allison Gant. Gant participated in the meeting via phone but didn’t join in during the conversation about the changes at central office.