HARRODSBURG — Those looking for a sense of resolution to the ongoing saga of Superintendent Bruce Johnson and the Mercer County School district will have to wait a bit longer. Despite buzz to the contrary, the Mercer County BOE made no announcement Tuesday night of Johnson’s future relationship with the school system.
Tuesday night’s special meeting of the Mercer County Board of Education may have had only two items on the agenda, but that didn’t stop dozens of concerned citizens, parents and teachers from attending.
The Mercer County BOE will meet again 5:30 p.m. Thursday with three items on the agenda. Among those items are approval of the tentative budget and a public participation forum.
Scheduled for Tuesday's meeting were an approval of minutes from the special May 13 BOE meeting and an executive session to discuss a personnel issue, and while no one would confirm or deny whether the issue pertained to Johnson, many believed that to be the case.
Last week, Johnson sent mixed signals about his intentions with Mercer County schools. In a May 21 meeting with school system administrators, Johnson revealed he intended to resign effective in December. This was confirmed by Mercer County Fifth-Grade Academy Principal Dana Cobb, who was present at the meeting.
The issue complicated even further when, later that day, Johnson released a statement through Lisa Gross at the state Department of Education stating he’d offered the Mercer board the option to release him from his contract.
As he entered the auditorium Tuesday night, Johnson was smiling, a difference in demeanor in a month that’s seen Mercer County fall under the state spotlight for financial woes.
In early May, Mercer County schools announced $2 million in cuts for the 2008-09 tentative budget. Among those were the elimination of 42 jobs — 22 classified and 20 certified — as well as a reduction in the system’s kindergarten from full-time to half-day.
Johnson proposed systemwide 3.5 percent salary cuts to free up funds for the program, a notion that drew the ire of most teachers and staff. A suggested poll of faculty was never conducted, and the idea was scrapped.
Since then, however, the board announced the system will be able to fund full-day kindergarten for next year, yet declined to offer an explanation on how. The issue remains murky, and the tentative 2008-09 budget tabled and unapproved.
It took only 22 seconds for the board to approve the minutes from the last meeting and enter the executive session. Attorney Bill Barnett joined the board as members exited the auditorium.
Crowd waited for announcement
Most in the crowd remained calm and patient during the two hours and twenty minutes of the executive session, proving the requested presence of Harrodsburg Chief of Police Ernie Kelty to be unnecessary. However, when the board descended the staircase at the meeting’s conclusion, the audience's chatter went silent with anticipation of an announcement.
But that wasn’t to be the case.
“After the executive session, we’ve had discussions that could lead to the dismissal of an individual employee,” said Chairperson Glynda Short. “There was no action taken, but an additional meeting will be held after the results of our requested financial review. That’s the only statement we have.”
Johnson didn’t return with the board after the private session, and the meeting was adjourned without him to the audible groans of those in attendance.
Short’s remarks for the board may have been brief, but she did offer personal comments of her own.
As reporters from The Advocate-Messenger and The Harrodsburg Herald placed their recording devices on the board’s table, Short could be heard making several sarcastic comments.
“Maybe they’ll get it right this time if they’ve got a microphone up here,” Short said to other board members. She repeated this statement twice.
Short, when asked to elaborate on her remark, said that she was misquoted by The Harrodsburg Herald’s C.J. Ratliff in his story from the board’s last meeting. Ratliff offered he recorded all of the board meetings and welcomed Short to review his past recordings with him. The invitation was declined.
After last week’s developments, calls from both newspapers to Short went unreturned. Short explained the reason for this was she was out of town.
Alvis Johnson, a former employee of the Harrodsburg district, was on hand at the meeting. Johnson sympathized with both sides. He said he knows what it’s like to be in the board’s position of scrutiny but also felt for the parents who came to the meeting looking for closure.
“I am I little disappointed for the parents who sat and waited for more than two hours for them to take action.”
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
This from the Danville Advocate-Messenger: