JMCS Board held their monthly work session.
The agenda was full. School board heard public comments before getting to the reports and other business items. For any one interested in addressing the board the work session has become the opportunity to do so.
A larger than usual crowd was in attendance presumably because of the attention the school board has gotten over several recent incidents and issues. Those being; the question about the superintendent’s contract, the possible policy violations, and the most recent controversy over a 2008 incident involving groundskeeping at JCM. All of these issues came up at the meeting in one way or another.
During the public comment time Shelia Godwin expressed her “disappointment” for the way the board voted to hire former superintendent Roy Weaver as a consultant without discussion with Dr. Zambito. It is believed the board violated at least one policy and maybe more in the way it moved to pass the motion.
Jackson Atty Chatman addressed the board about the superintendent’s contract. This is an issue that keeps coming back for discussion. The question was raised several months ago about whether the board acted within law in extending the superintendent’s contract 2 years. Four attorneys have issued an opinion that it was within the boards’ right to take such action. At the meeting Mr. Chatman stated during the public comment time that he believed it was not a legal contract and should be dealt with. That issue came up again when the agenda for the Thursday mtg was addressed. Carol Carter Estes asked that the superintendent’s contract be put on the agenda. Later in the meeting Dr. Zambito asked if the board was going to take the issue of her contract again could it be placed on the March agenda instead of two days away to give her time to prepare? That was agreed.
One of the later items was the 2008 gasoline dumping incident at JCM. Several issues seem to be on board member Carter-Estes mind. She was very direct and frank with her comments to Dr. Zambito. Carter-Estes said she was disturb by the way the superintendent handled the investigation, she said it took her too long, that she made too many mistakes and questioned her real abilities to handle the situation. Estes went on to say she heard things like “maybe it was a kid or kids at the school” and thought "once again we come back to blaming the children at this school". She was concerned about the danger this presented to the children that if a match had been lit it could have done a lot of harm. She said she had been told things that just did not sound right and that is why she and other board members specifically Mr Akins kept questioning about the issue. She did acknowledge that she had information about who was involved back in September that turned out to be correct but she said she did not spread hearsay and that is why she did not tell the superintendent. She added that Dr. Zambito told her she had years of experience running investigations so Carter-Estes said “I would just let you handle it on your own.”
Board member Grady Akin was just as blunt denying that he ever told Dr. Zambto he knew who did it. He said his comments were just based on his professional experience and belief that he just knew but not that he had been told anything specific again citing just hearsay.
Both Akins and Carter-Estes wanted to know why the public, specifically the media 101.5 was getting information and had things even before board members did. One board member said they new a little bird was telling 101.5.
Akins said he thought all along that Catlett “did it” because he was too resistant to questions and said he did not want help.
Carter-Estes said she did not tell the superintendent but when she heard things she would tell them to tell the people investigating and that she knew they did. She, Carter-Estes, said she eventually “went out on a limb and gave her (the Superintendent) names” adding “I took a chance”. She also said “I kept hoping and expecting you to do your job before I had to call any names.”
Then Dr Zambito had the chance to respond. She told both Akins and Carter-Estes that they had told her they “knew’ who had done it. She urged them to please in the future give her any information and let them investigate even if it is just “hearsay” She said she took the issue of childrens' safety very seriously and that she owed no apology for that, but she did apologize for not getting the whole truth up front from all of her people. She said that everyone involved was dealt with as quickly and directly as it became known to her. Again she said it could have been dealt with much more quickly if board member or members had given her information when they got it.
The exchange went back and forth a little longer in much the same content. Soon Dr. Joe Mays, Chairman, moved on to the next item.
The next item concerned a fund known as a Sunshine Fund. It is an account teacher’s use for expression of sympathy or grief for coworkers etc. A principal used the account improperly to deposit a donation outside the accounts purpose and then paid bills with the donated money. Carter-Estes said the teachers should be paid back but before she finished in what seemed anticipation of her question Dr. Zambito was raising and pointing to an audit document at which time Ms Estes again got a stern tone in her voice and said “I don’t trust even talking to you”. After she finished Dr. Zambito went on to explain that she was indicating an audit had been done and showed that none of the teacher’s money had been used. Also, the principal had been reprimanded for the incident. That seemed to settle the concern.
The meeting adjourned and the board will meet again on Thursday 12th at 6:30