School

Just the Facts: CCSS School Board Special Education Audit

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By Dave Freneaux

In its June 28th meeting, (see the SCHOOL BOARD SUMMARY ARTICLE for more meeting details), the Central Community School Board discussed the action plan formulated in response to a Special Education Audit report released in the past week.  The Board also discussed a motion by Board Member Marty Guilbeau calling for an investigation by an independent third party into what the Special Education Audit refers to as “…allegations of improper conduct, including threats of dismissal of employees and firing of central office officials.”  The resolution failed by a vote of 5 to 2.

Presenting “Just the Facts” on issues as involved as these is difficult.  Fortunately, interested persons can view the entire 60 minute discussion of these issues online in the VIDEO.  Viewing the video is the best and most independent report anyone can get of this meeting.  For those that choose only to read, the following are the facts CentralSpeaks.com is able to assemble for your review.  These “facts” are primarily limited to reporting, as accurately as possible, what each board member and speaker said at the meeting.

Everyone on both sides of these issues seemed to agree that the June 7th, 2010 placement of Amy McLin as the Director of Special Services and the Action Plan she has assembled to correct the problems in the program speak well for the future of Special Education in Central Schools.  There seemed to be no disagreement that the program is now in the right hands and on the right course.

Board Member Guilbeau made the following request via e-mail on June 20th:  “Ms. Browning, I have read the Special Ed Audit and I have several questions regarding both the findings submitted and some items omitted from the report. Therefore, I would like to add an agenda item to discuss the Special Ed Audit Report at the next School Board Meeting. Since most of the questions would be best addressed by the Auditor, I would like to have Mrs. Delaune at the meeting if possible. If Mrs. Delaune is unable to attend, I have some questions for the Administration that I would like answered. Regards, Marty Guilbeau”

The School Board Agenda Item 14 read “To receive the Proposed Special Education Quality Audit Action Plan.” The wording of the agenda item precluded the actual Audit from being discussed.  The only discussion allowed was that which related to the Action Plan, and not the Audit itself.  Mr. Guilbeau then made a formal request during the Board Meeting to have discussion of the Audit added to the agenda for the next School Board meeting.

In the Special Education Audit conducted by the law firm of Hammonds & Sills reference is made to “…allegations of improper conduct, including threats of dismissal of employees and firing of central office officials.”  Based on this information, Board Member Guilbeau offered a resolution to hire an independent third party to conduct an investigation into these allegations and report the findings of the investigation to the school board.

School Board member Jim Gardner states “This happened a long time ago. Were some things wrong? Probably. Are they being fixed?  Absolutely.  We just got through going there.  I see absolutely no reason for us to have another investigation and get into this. Let’s move forward now and get this thing fixed, and I think we’re headed in that direction.”

Mr. Guilbeau said: “Who is responsible for threatening our employees for doing their jobs?  That is the question this Board should be asking.  The bottom line is that it is the Board that has failed, not our administration.”

Board Member Ruby Foil expressed concern that to delve into this issue might be considered “micromanaging”, to which Board Legal Counsel Sheri Morris stated that she did not feel that this was micromanaging, but instead would be to gather information.  Mrs. Foil further stated “Some felt like it was resolved a year ago and you know for us to just bring out all the negative stuff when we are on this really positive move forward, it concerns me if we’re not getting into micromanaging administration.”

Board Member Russell Starns said: “I guess my biggest concern would be if there were teachers that had a grievance that may not have come forward because of the fact that we did not have an H.R. (Human Resources) person, and we are addressing all of these issues and I totally agree with that, but if there were teachers that were intimidated that are no longer here, they don’t have a voice.”

CCSS Athletic Director Sid Edwards, the parent of two children in the Special Education Program in Central Schools shared, “I think there is an awful lot to this that we don’t know as parents … I’m with the Board though, we are trying to move forward … But, as a Dad, I’d like to know the whole story … Our main concern is, I think I’m speaking for some of the parents out here in the audience, and some of the teachers, is that our children do have a voice and we’d like to know everything.”  Coach Sid added “Marty, I especially want to thank you for not being scared to step up.”

Rodney Bonvillian spoke and asked the Board to do this as a “Root Cause Analysis” to determine what happened so that it will not happen again.  And added “If there are some things under the rocks that we haven’t uncovered that may be beneficial and may prevent us from stumbling down the road we may want to consider looking at those.”

Mike Stephens spoke and asked the Board to look fully and immediately into all of the issues brought to light in the Audit.

Ted McCulley expressed concerns that these discussions would involve employment issues which should likely be handled in executive session, and that the upcoming qualifying for School Board Elections would add more pressure to the issue.

Jamie Clark, a CCSS Special Education Employee, asked the Board to look fully into these allegations as a show of support for the employees and stated “There were employees that came and said those things and whenever it was asked, why did those employees not file grievance procedures? It was out of fear, and that was clearly stated,…. I am trying to be a voice for those, as you said, who are scared to have that voice, and so I am asking you, for them, to please look into it for those employees and let them know that you are supporting them.”

Board Member David Walker stated that he wanted to hear from the auditor before he could vote on the matter of an investigation.

Special Education Teacher Tracy Greely stated she has felt no threatening whatsoever in the past year.

Board President Sharon Browning stated, “I think as a new school system there are going to be bumps in the road for any program.  We are working very, very hard as a Board to rectify this problem.”

The parents of a Special Needs child both spoke and shared concerns about the high rate of turnover resulting in their child having had four different teachers in the past four years.

Ron Erickson, an area pastor and the president of the Central Chamber of Commerce, encouraged the Board to continue the progress being made to improve the Special Education program, but to consider also pursuing the issue of correcting the Human Resource problems because the program may improve but the employment issues will not resolve by themselves.

Teacher Susan Lewis shared that she never felt threatened and has recently dealt directly with Mr. Faulk and felt very comfortable doing so.

Amy McLin shared that the Board should proceed with caution because “I think all the controversy is detrimental to the System, and not just Special Education.”

A roll call vote was taken on the resolution and it was defeated by a vote of 5 against and 2 in favor.  Voting Yes were Guilbeau & Starns.  Voting No were Browning, Easley, Foil, Gardner and Walker.

16 Comments

  1. Kyle

    June 29, 2010 at 1:46 pm

    Why didn’t those 5 school board members want the investigation? Seems to be that some teachers are having their jobs threatened! Shameful actions by the Central School Board in not approving this investigation.

    Why didn’t Mrs. Browning place the item on the agenda as Mr. Guilbeau requested? Apparently, there is something to hide if they don’t want this investigation to take place!!!

    Thank you, Mr. Guilbeau and Mr. Starns for standing up for the teachers. Apparently, the other five don’t care. School board qualifying is coming up. We need some new faces after reading this and watching the video!!!

  2. Kyle

    June 29, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    Also, thank you to Coach Edwards for speaking up and wanting the investigation as well. Coach Edwards is highly respected in this community, and if he feels something is wrong, then something needs to be investigated!!! I smell a coverup!!!

  3. Mike Mannino

    June 29, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    Folks,
    I havent been keeping as close a watch on the school board with all the issues in the city administration. I also thought the School Board didnt have the type of issues we see in the city. Boy does it look like I was wrong.

    If Mr Guilbeau and Mr Starnes cant get support, they should do their own investigation and publish what they find. If something wrong happened, we need to learn from those mistakes and if we dont know what was done, how will you prevent from happening again.

  4. t-bob

    June 29, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    The E-mail asking for the audit to be put on the agenda was the final straw for me. WHAT ARE YOU HIDING MRS BROWNING AND MR GARDNER?
    PLEASE someone step forward and run for school board against them.

  5. Mike Mannino

    June 29, 2010 at 10:24 pm

    It is hard to surprise me but I just watched the video and all I can say is WOW. While we are concentrating on the Council, the School Board is doing things we would recall council members for. How can anyone justify NOT investigating something this serious that has been identified in an audit ? Who is being protected and why ? This kind of behavior exposes this City to what could be significant awards in a legal suit. We should be bending over backwards to investigate this, address the issue and at a minimum, apologize to those that were wronged. And hope they dont decide to initiate legal action now that it has been identified in an audit. Like I said, hard to surprise me but the audacity of this floors me.

  6. Bebe

    June 30, 2010 at 4:16 am

    I watched that video too and I just can’t believe it either. I commend Mr. Mr Guilbeau and Mr Starnes as well for their desire to further investigate this situation and find out the real truth of the matter. Especically in light of documentable findings that suggests threats and harrassment against the schools employees for doing their job and speaking up about issues concerning to them. Good teachers are very hard to find, and special ed teachers are even more challenging to find. I think they absolutely deserve more consideration and the creation of a school administrative environment that is more conducive to their retainment.

    The other five members were very quick to say NO to the suggestion of an additional investigation brought to light as a result of the audit, claiming they prefer to move forward. One question I have for the five of you is, how is it you plan to move forward if you are unwilling to look at what part of the problem is? You can not correct something that you are unwilling to admit or to even acknowledge. If there is someone in the administration that is threating and / or intimidating these very valuable employees, it is your job to find out who that someone is and reprimand them.

    If you fail in your duties to proceed with such action, I would suggest that those who are and were afflicted, to contact the Baton Rouge DA and see what they suggest. I also would suggest that we do not need board members who are afraid of finding out the truth.

    As to the comments made by some regarding staying positive, micromanaging, and ridding of controversy: It is not a micro situation when you are losing macro employees and are showing and displaying a lack of desire to address their needs and their complaints fully. Central is going to have a very difficult time in recruiting quality Special Ed teachers based on this action or the lack thereof. Your definition of “staying positive” seems to me equal to sticking your head back in the sand. If you want to rid of controvsery, you have to face it, head on.

  7. kyle

    June 30, 2010 at 7:50 am

    Folks, qualifying for school board elections is next week! Everybody in Central needs to know about this! I am glad to see everyone is thinking along the same lines here. What’s sad is that the CCN has already put a candidate on the front page of it’s last paper to run against Mr. Guilbeau! Something seems really fishy!

  8. mike mannino

    June 30, 2010 at 9:18 am

    Kyle,
    Think we are going to have to look deeper than CCN from what I am hearing. They just reported it and will report announcements like this if people bring it to them. Nothing fishy there. The other is definitely fishy. Why do we have an opponent for 1 of 2 board memebers that actually stand up for what’s right. There’s our story.

  9. ward

    June 30, 2010 at 10:46 am

    I to watched the video. All I can say is…If a picture is worth a thousand words, this video should be worth at least 7…YES, YES, YES, YES, YES, YES, YES.
    Vote passes 7-0
    This school board has expressed they are not concerned for the teachers. Some members of the audience has expressed the concern of how this would affect the outcome on the election.
    Where are the PRIORITIES?

  10. Kyle

    June 30, 2010 at 11:20 am

    Why hasn’t the Advocate reported on this? I know it was on Ch.2 news. I wonder if CCN will report anything, being that the school board president is “person of the year” for that paper! Mike, you are right…if the city council were doing something like this, there would be outrage in the community, but this sure seems like 5 people want to sweep this under the rug!

  11. Mike mannino

    June 30, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Something doesnt add up here. I know Marty very well and he is about as ethical as they come. Ms Browning and Mr Easly, again as honest as the day is long. I dont know the others so I cant comment on them but just judging by the three I do know, something doesnt add up. Why would these three people with this repuation of honesty and integrity not all vote together ? I only know what Ive heard about the others and all of them seem to be cut from the same cloth as far as fine upstanding people. So what is up with this ? I really dont understand. Usually, in a case like this, you are dealing with someone that has a repuation of doing underhanded things. That is not the case for this board. Does anyone have a clue ?

  12. Concerned citizen

    June 30, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    I agree … Mr. Guilbeau needs to be applauded and commended for standing up in seeking out the truth.

    There is definitely a cover up …. I think some of these problems may involve the ongoing problems the school district has had concerning the position of an HR director. There was initially an HR director … and then that person was “reassigned” and not replaced. How could the superintendent and assistant superintendent assume HR duties for the past year? Would there be some potential conflicts of interest with the superintendent also functioning as HR director?? What happened to the initial position of HR director and why was it not replaced?

    How could employees be expected to follow the appropriate chain of command in filing complaints or grievances when they would have to go directly to the top of the school system outside of their own principal. Who is representing the employees? Who is making sure that all EEOC guidelines are being followed and that sexual harassment and hostile work environment issues are not taking place or are being promptly and effectively addressed if they do arise.

    On top of that … what about potential retaliation claims by employees? These are special education employees who are advocating and fighting for the rights and the needs of special education students… they are then threatened with their jobs for speaking up for what the students needs are .. or what the state and federal regulations require? It could be considered not only a hostile work environment, but also retaliation in advocating for an individual with a disability. Then.. there is also the whistleblower laws … these employees were trying to speak up and the schools and/or the district office did not like what they had to say … so there were threats made to them. I can’t begin to imagine how many potential laws and avenues of legal liability this mess has made … and here is our board voting to sweep it under the rug.

    There is definitely more to the story than has come forward … and I suspect Mr. Guilbeau is very well aware that there is more going on than what has been leaked — and he wants to clean up the mess so that we can then be positive and go forward.

    I am just VERY VERY concerned that there will be a media blitz to try and remove Mr. Guilbeau and Mr. Starnes from the board in order to hush them up. I think it would be a very sad day for CCS if the individuals who are actually thinking about the STUDENTS are not re-elected to serve on the board. I think some of the ones who are trying to cover up the truth need to be replaced immediately. I would sure like to see Mr. Guilbeau serve as the next chair of the board.

    Watching that video of the meeting is quite concerning. It can’t be any more clear how hard Ms. Browning and a few others on the board wanted to just dismiss the whole matter and act like it never happened.

  13. Bebe

    July 1, 2010 at 9:19 am

    Dear Concerned Citizen,

    I nominate you to replace one these five people who voted against our children and their special teachers, in lieu of their own special interest.

    Qulaifying ends the first week in July. I hope you decide to run. I will definetly vote for you! Of course if you are in Mr Guilbeau or Mr Starnes district, please don’t run against them..lol. But please take your pick from the rest.

    Its about time that ethics replace the good ole boys around here! We need to do a little sweeping of our own.

  14. kyle

    July 5, 2010 at 8:49 am

    Just a note here…I heard a lot of people talking about this at church yesterday morning. It is a hot topic of conversation as to why they didn’t want the investigation to take place. It’s really raising a lot of suspicions in people’s eyes.

    The other topic of conversation was whether or not CCN is going to report anything about this. If not, that will raise even more suspicion.

  15. ward

    July 6, 2010 at 8:59 am

    What we really need is for people to challenge the incumbents at the polls. We need honest folks that have the school system as their top priority, not some personal agenda. I am very disappointed, but not surprised, at the way some board members conducted themselves and voted. Not very professional and sent the wrong message to the teachers and the public. Thanks to Mr. Guilbeau for bringing this issue to light. What he is trying to do is what a school board member is expected to do, and I say “Thank you, Marty”. I remember being at a meeting when the president of the board started the meeting by saying something like…Ok, we gonna get started, we don’t want to be here too long. I know ya’ll don’t want to miss Dancing With the Stars.
    It is ashamed the teachers have to work in this type of environment. In most workplaces across the US, from fast food restaurants to corporate headquarters, there are laws protecting employees and human relation resources that processes issues such as this. If there are such allegations, the HR department will investigate and take action, up to and including termination. So why not in this school system. If we want to have the best school system in the state, it takes more than manipulating test scores. It has to start with everyone. It takes parents, teachers, administrators, and students to have pride and ownership in this system for it to be the best it can be. Then, guess what, the test scores will speak for themselves. But until we get to that point, the current board will drive good employees away and we will have to settle for less qualified and less motivated educators. This will cause our system to be in the middle of the road with EBR. Now that sounds far fetched since we broke away from EBR to better take control, but it ain’t happening. (Had to us the A word for those English teachers out there.) If you are not satisfied with your district representative, the president, or vice president, send them all an email…they work for YOU!

  16. Kyle

    July 8, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    Well folks, it’s official. Woody did not mention anything about this audit and Mr. Guilbeau’s call for an investigation into alleged wrongdoing’s in this week’s Central City News. No surprise there! He wouldn’t want his Person of the Year to look bad! It sure seems to me that Woody is part of this coverup now more than ever! He wants it swept under the rug like 5 school board members do!

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