Thursday, May 22, 2014

FCPS Vice Chair Loses Her Cool Following Contentious Meeting

Updated and Corrected:

 Two Members Balk at Cuts to Music

Shelton can't Skype in a third vote for his budget

Following Monday night's board meeting several witnesses observed  FCPS Board Vice Chair Melissa Bacon launch into "a tirade" against STEAM Academy PTSA President Sharon Mofield-Boswell. Bacon's outburst was witnessed by a handful of parents, at least one other board member, and the Channel 36 news team. FCPS law enforcement officers in the area reportedly moved toward the disturbance.

Mofield-Boswell alleges that she was "the victim of a vicious and unprovoked verbal attack."

There were several interesting moments during this week's Fayette County Board of Education meeting. One of the least dramatic, and yet hardest to fathom, occurred during the testimony of  Mofield-Boswell. As she listed FCPS consultants whose services she found questionable amid the ongoing budget cuts, she mentioned two groups and one individual who had received contracts with the school district. There is no easy way to identify the individual's contract without using the person's name. Apparently the expenditure is listed by name in district records. Yet Bacon, who presided over the meeting, found a way to be offended despite the lack of disparagement or innuendo, and admonished Mofield-Boswell that the use of individual names was out of order. Mofield-Boswell meekly apologized.

As the video clip will show, at no time did Mofield-Boswell disparage Cleveland (who, in the interest of full disclosure, is a colleague of mine at EKU). It should also be noted that the board routinely mentions the names of other individuals even those associated with groups - Bill Gates, Tim Hanner - neither of which have ever been ruled out of order by a skittish chair.

The contract in question was $16,000+/- to Roger Cleveland for services at the Carter G. Woodson Academy. Coincidentally, Cleveland recently filed papers to run for the board seat presently held by Doug Barnett.

Later in the meeting tempers flared between Bacon and board member Amanda Ferguson. As Bacon attempted to answer a question for the superintendent, Ferguson sharply objected, and Bacon struggled to maintain control of the meeting. Doug Barnett had indicated that he would be voting No. And when the meeting ended, Bacon had become the first chair in a long time not to deliver a budget.

Whatever frustrations Bacon may have felt, they carried over after the meeting. Mofield-Boswell told KSN&C, "I assume she thought I was speaking to her when she passed by my way and felt that was an invitation for her to unleash her viciousness. I assure you I was not attempting to speak to her. I think she caught my eye as I was speaking to someone else and thought I was engaging her. I was not."

Apologies for the poor audio quality

Descriptions of Bacon's outburst from some of those on the scene included "unprofessional," "completely lost it," "surprised," "lost her cool," "in her face," "kept stepping toward her," "angry" ...

"Melissa was yelling at me for mentioning a name during a public meeting," Mofield-Boswell said. Bacon repeatedly said that Mofield-Boswell said Cleveland's name intentionally and that was "totally unacceptable." She repeated it, each time louder, and her hand gestures were aggressive...pointing her finger in my face," Mofield-Boswell said. "I told her I apologized and that I was just speaking as a parent...she moved towards me [and] I told her to walk away and stay out of my path. Once she saw that I was getting angry, she walked off in a huff," Mofiled-Boswell said. She later told KSN&C, "Let me clear, if she approaches me in an aggressive manner again, I will seek any legal recourse available to protect myself."

One observer said, "I think [Bacon] likes being in control...but was just so totally pissed off at everything that had happened that night [that she] completely lost her cool."  

Mofield-Boswell said she immediately reported the incident to Superintendent Tom Shelton but "he barely acknowledged my words."

Bacon told KSN&C, I disagree with [Mofield-Boswell's] characterization, but feel it would be inappropriate for me to discuss that publicly."

In our original reporting KSN&C indicated that Superintendent Shelton had taken steps to out vote any minority opposition by "Skyping in" Chairman John Price who missed Monday's meeting due to health considerations. That is apparently NOT the case.

Kentucky's Open Meetings Act allows for teleconferencing.
Open Meetings Act statute KRS 61.826  provides the option for public agency members to participate remotely in a public meeting under the Open Meetings Act. The statute’s language provides:
(1) A public agency may conduct any meeting, other than a closed session, through video teleconference.
(2) Notice of a video teleconference shall comply with the requirements of KRS 61.820 or 61.823 as appropriate. In addition, the notice of a video
teleconference shall:
(a) Clearly state that the meeting will be a video teleconference; and
(b) Precisely identify the video teleconference locations as well as which, if any, location is primary.
(3) The same procedures with regard to participation, distribution of materials, and other matters shall apply in all video teleconference locations.
            (4) Any interruption in the video or audio broadcast of a video teleconference at   any location shall result in the suspension of the video teleconference until the broadcast is restored.
However, in a communication received from KDE spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez late this afternoon while a member may "attend" virtually, there are significant limitations. According to Associate Commissioner Kevin Brown "a board member may listen, watch, and participate in a board meeting via Skype or some other technology. However, the board member cannot count toward the establishment of a quorum and cannot vote.

KSN&C has reason to suspect that Shelton is receiving different advice from KSBA than we are from KDE.

This from the Herald Leader:

Two Fayette school board members say they won't approve a budget 
that includes band, orchestra cuts

Fayette County School board members Doug Barnett and Amanda Ferguson say they won't vote to approve Fayette County's tentative budget for 2014-15 unless cuts to band and orchestra programs are restored.

In response, Superintendent Tom Shelton said "if the board wants to see those adjustments restored, that is certainly something we can discuss during our next school board meeting."

Barnett and Ferguson voted "no" Monday night when the board failed to approve a $426.9 million budget proposed by Shelton.

Board members Daryl Love and Melissa Bacon voted for it. Chairman John Price was absent. Price has been monitoring meetings from home while he receives treatment for a blood disorder.

However, new developments involving Price could change the vote on the tentative budget.

Shelton said Wednesday that Price will participate in the school board's future budget discussions and decisions via Skype.

"John asked us to look into that, and after investigating his question, we determined that it is legally allowed," said Shelton.

Price did not immediately return telephone calls Wednesday, but after receiving the tentative budget earlier this month, he told the Herald-Leader, "I thought given the financial restraint that we had it was a very good budget."

Also Wednesday, Barnett said he decided to vote against the tentative budget after he got a chance to study the proposed cuts.

"I wasn't aware of the scope of it until I actually got to really sit down and study it," he said.

Additionally, he said band, orchestra and music parents expressed concerns to him after the tentative budget proposal was presented.

"I do not want to see any reductions to band, orchestra or music," he said. "I think reducing these programs will negatively impact those programs not only next year, but also in the future."

Both Barnett and Ferguson face opposition in the November general election, but they deny having a political agenda.

"As long as I feel like I'm doing the right thing, I could care less whether I win an election or not," Barnett said.

Ferguson said she was "absolutely not" trying to "win votes" by voting against the budget.
"Overall, this budget is a disaster," she said.

Under Kentucky law, the board must approve a tentative budget by May 30. As part of the budget planning process, $19.1 million in proposed staffing and program cuts and adjustments were included.

When Shelton announced this year that the district would make reductions, parents, students, teachers and others were most vocal about proposed staffing cuts to districtwide programs such as band and orchestra.

At Monday's board meeting, Shelton said changes to band and orchestra programs ended up being reallocations of existing staff positions based on the number of students that participated at each school. The positions in band and orchestra at some schools went up as part of the proposed 2014-15 budget adjustments and decreased at others, he said.

On Wednesday, Shelton said the proposed budget "included a total reduction of 3.3 positions in the areas of band and orchestra, comprised of only fractional adjustments across our 66 schools and programs."

"The proposed adjustments were primarily accomplished by strategically assigning services to schools in order to reduce travel time," he said.

District officials released a proposal in April that said the cuts would include the elimination of 1.5 full-time positions in orchestra staff districtwide and 1.8 full-time positions in band.

Ferguson said Wednesday that while those numbers appear small, she is concerned that the reductions would lead to "the dilution" of band and orchestra programs in the district, fearing "the erosion of both the quantity and quality of district programs."

"By cutting staff at elementary schools, the 'roots' middle and high school band programs will eventually suffer and lose staff because their student numbers will decrease," Ferguson said.

On another front, Barnett said it also "does not appear that the staffing reductions are equitable, such as the cuts in days to librarians, elementary counselors, social workers and classified staff."

District officials have said they can save $4.4 million by reducing work calendars of employees.

Overall, the proposed cuts call for a reduction of $1.6 million, or about 50 out of 911 positions, from people who work in Central Office, transportation or the district's warehouse. At schools, the budget proposal would call for the elimination of 60 full-time positions from slightly more than 2,000 certified employee positions, which includes principals and teachers. About 30 positions would be cut from the more than 600 classified staff positions, which includes aides and maintenance staff.

In April, district officials said special education will be cut by $2 million. The district will add seven special education teachers but reduce the number of aides by 97. There are 335 special education aides.

Barnett said he "was concerned about the reduction in spending on special education, because that area has some of the highest achievement gaps in the district."

If the district cannot find a way to reduce some of the cuts in the budget, Ferguson said "there at least needs to be a long-term plan to address special education and how we can ensure those students' most critical needs are met.''

Jessica Hiler, president of the Fayette County Education Association, a voluntary association that represents teachers, said her group is concerned about the cuts in special education, which "seem disproportionate to the other cuts."

Hiren Desai, associate commissioner for administration and support at the Kentucky Department of Education, said that if the district failed to meet the May 30 deadline, the department would investigate why. The department would work with the district to get a budget in place before the upcoming school year.

Shelton said Tuesday he thought the deadline would be met.

"Our school board members are conscientious public servants who care deeply about our students, our schools and our community," he said. "I have deep respect for each of them as individuals and as a team. I feel confident that we will be able to reach consensus so that we can meet the statutory deadline."

Also, at Monday's school board meeting, Ferguson asked Shelton and other district officials whether the need for the cuts had been caused by an irregularity involving $20 million in the district's budget in 2011. They said no. Shelton repeated what he had said in the past, that the reductions were needed because of district spending "and we were getting to a state of financial crisis."


Anonymous said...

I believe that John Price is not the only one who is ill. Melissa Bacon suffers from a far worse illness. She has become a bully. It's a pattern of abuse we have within our schools since the Board of Education chose Stu Silberman's successor, Tom Shelton.

It should be noted for the public record that the STEAM Academy parent was not out of order in mentioning the names of contract holders at the board meeting. Bacon's hushing of a fellow parent has cast a chill over issues of free speech in Fayette County Public Schools.

I continue to applaud Doug Barnett and Amanda Ferguson for standing up to Bacon and Shelton. I have long known of the alliance between Bracktown and the Urban League president in rubberstamping Shelton's ideas, but this represents nothing less than a practical alliance for the African American community. It should likewise come as no surprise that Mike Scanlon and other businessmen are supporting Shelton.

Ultimately, I do hope more stakeholders will continue to see how these budget cuts --- suggested by Nathan Levenson and his company--are affecting schools. Financial exigency has been used inappropriately by Melissa Bacon, Tom Shelton, and Darrell Love to attempt to erode and silence the cerified and classified staff in FCPS. I'm only saddened that more people are not seeing what is at stake here.

In the upcoming weeks and months, continue to look for guidance from the moderator.

Anonymous said...

Will our board members please ask Tom to divest himself of Nathan Levenson and his management company. This is a start in the right direction.

Richard Day said...

The Moderator spiked a comment that devolved into name-calling.