Weeks after Loudon County Board of Education voted to end an investigation into alleged misconduct by Director of Schools Jason Vance, one board member believes there is merit for termination.
Toward the end of Thursday’s BOE meeting, Scott Newman asked board members to consider various Tennessee Code Annotated laws and school board policies.
“I keep getting information from folks that say certain things are going on,” he said.
Newman told board members he was contacted by a parent who was concerned no formal action was taken against a student who allegedly was involved in sexual battery against her daughter.
An order of protection has since been filed against the juvenile, who is still able to play spring sports. The parent was concerned she was not contacted by the school system until after Loudon County Sheriff’s Office called her.
Newman also mentioned a situation in which a student was caught underage drinking, was suspended for a couple weeks, is now in alternative school and is not able to play in spring sports.
“We got a wide spectrum of how we’re disciplining these kids,” Newman said during the meeting.
Ultimately, he wants BOE policies to be strengthened and enforced equally.
“Our job as a board is to make sure these policies are being adhered to,” Newman said. “We have been elected to do that; that’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s basically about our only job is that. I had people that said, ‘Hey, look at this and look at that,’ so I think that what I brought up was valid.”
Board members in March voted to end an investigation into the conduct of Vance. The probe started in January because of an email from Vance regarding Loudon High School head boys basketball coach Josh Graves. A corrective action plan is also planned for Vance and Graves.
“I don’t know how legal it would be at this time (but) I think we have cause for termination,” Newman said during the meeting. “The reason I say that is because we are still in the middle of a corrective action plan and (we) just keep snowballing, and so we need to as a board decide what we’re going to do. But we need to sit down and have a special called meeting and we (need to) go through these issues that I’ve brought up and also go back to look at the correction plan.”
He said “this board owes it to our community to make sure that we are above board.” If Vance is innocent, he said the board stands behind him.
No action was taken Thursday since Vance’s contract wasn’t on the meeting agenda.
“We’ll have to set a meeting because we have to go through this corrective action plan from the last time, and so we’ll just whenever that gets set up we’ll bring it up because it’ll have to be on the agenda,” Newman said. “… What we got to look at as a board is are these few actions worth the fight? Are they worth the money that it’s going to cost to litigate it? But I’m ready to move forward.
“I think if we get these things in place, even if Jason stays, then they strengthen everything and we don’t have these issues,” he added.
Newman said he plans to bring the matter up at a later date.
“I’m 100 percent for following policy and that way you cannot — you’ve got the policy, you can’t go wrong, but when you waver from the policy and you treat people differently depending on who they are, their status or that kind of thing, then you get yourself in trouble,” Kim Bridges, board member, said.
“I think basically the board as a whole needs to be more diligent following the policies that are in place. That’s the bottom line,” Brian Brown, board member, added. “The policies are there for a reason and we should follow those policies, and not only us but the employees should follow the policies as well.”
Extra legal services
The BOE initially considered an amendment to add $100,000 to the legal services line item, but ultimately went with $61,000 to help pay current invoices.
Board members Bobby Johnson Jr. and Newman motioned and seconded, respectively, with the vote passing 9-0. Board member William Jenkins was absent.
Board members also considered adding $70,000 with a motion and second by Gary Ubben and Philip Moffett, but that failed 5-4.
“I think that basically what I was looking for was basically for us to be able to pay the bills that we currently have and then for us to have opportunity for us to see the invoices as they come in and then pay them as they come in,” Brown said. “I think the board reserves the right to view those invoices before payment’s made.”
Doing so should be a good way to keep expenditures in check, he said.
“Here’s my thing is I’m afraid is I don’t want to have that fund out there and have such a fund that that we lose sight of what it is,” Newman said. “We need to need to keep an eye on that because our legal fees are out the door; we got to watch that.”
Vance encouraged the board to go with $75,000-$80,000.
“I think that we need to wait and see what the total fees are and not just put the $100,000,” Bridges said. “I think we need to wait and pay them as you go and then we are more in check. If we get the itemized statements then we can see where the money’s actually going.”
Ubben was in favor of giving additional money, at one point motioning to give $70,000, as a way to pay off invoices.
“Well, we’re going to have to come up with the money one way or the other,” he said. “If they don’t vote for it, they’ll have to vote for it later on. It’s just dragging it out. It’s a bill we’ve already received for services already been performed. You can’t not pay that.”
Ubben may bring up the possibility of changing to a monthly retainer fee at the May workshop.
Newman said he would like for the BOE to get quotes from other attorneys to possibly save money.
“There was complaints earlier about the size of the bill … and so just in conversation after a meeting like this with Chris McCarty (board attorney), he proposed that a number of school districts, in order to balance out their payments over the course of the year, that we have a fixed total for the year, whatever that was, and he said normally it’s based on the average of the last five and then you divide that by 12,” Ubben said.
Board members agreed with an 8-1 vote, with Newman the lone opposition, to reconvene a policy committee to take another look at out-of-county students. Ubben and Johnson motioned and seconded. Board members later agreed to table a specific out-of-county student situation.
The decision comes after board members entertained the possibility of allowing Jennifer Rossi, a Loudon High School athletic trainer who lives in Roane County, the opportunity to bring her children to the school district.
“In the past we have let people bring their kids that are ingrained in our system,” Newman said. “That woman is more ingrained than anyone. She’s at every — she was at Special Olympics yesterday, she’s at the ball game tonight. She’s at every ball game that she can go to. She’s all over the place.
“So she spends — if her kids are in Loudon County Schools she’s able to have them there and our kids get more of a benefit because she don’t have to go get her kids and bring her kids back,” he added. “You’ve still got to be a mom, and she puts in the extra hours to do that, things that she does that she don’t have to do, but she goes above and beyond.”
Months ago members on the policy committee discussed out-of-county students, but no decision was made.
“We always have a series of things like this one today that’s Ms. Rossi’s situation where there are exceptions and it looks like that it’d be the right thing to do, but still we’ve got this policy that says no out-of-county students,” Ubben said. “The question was is that rigid policy like that really wise or should we create some flexibility with it? That’s what we were charged to look at.”
Bridges isn’t opposed to accommodating Rossi, but believes the board has to follow current policy.
“What I’ve heard from taxpayers are if you’re going to let out-of-county students in, which is fine, they don’t mind that, but they want them to pay,” Bridges said.
Tuition could be something board members look into, Newman said.
The policy committee will meet at 4:30 p.m. May 2 before the 6 p.m. workshop at the county office building.
In other news, Loudon County Board of Education:
• Approved meeting minutes for Jan. 10, Feb. 14, March 5 and March 22.
• Passed Tennessee School Boards Association recommendations on first reading for policies pertaining to tobacco-free schools, alternative credit options, promotion and retention and basic curriculum program.
• Authorized a pay application of $13,300 for the North Middle School fine arts building.
• Passed budget amendments for Funds 141 and 143.
• Passed textbook adoptions.