In Principal Dr. Evelyn B. Gamble-Hilton’s personnel file, as obtained by the Statesboro Herald, the only document known to relate directly to the dispute over her transfer to be an assistant principal at a different school is a contract she accepted March 8.
The contract for July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2019, states that she was agreeing to be principal of Langston Chapel Middle School. However, the contract also includes a clause immediately after the job title and location statement: “but the employer reserves the right to effect a transfer to any other location under the jurisdiction of the employer.”
“The employee agrees to perform such duties as assigned …” the sentence after that begins. The contract, a form also used for other administrators, does not include any explicit statement about the employer having authority to reduce rank.
Under the signature of Superintendent Charles Wilson, the date of the offer is March 5. The notarized “date of acceptance” under Gamble-Hilton’s typed name is March 8.
Wilson acted administratively the week of April 26 to reassign Gamble-Hilton as an assistant principal at Southeast Bulloch High School for the 2018–19 school year. But her salary is being kept the same as it would have been as LCMS principal, $107,984.
It strains credulity to call a move from principalship to assistant principalship a transfer. It’s a demotion.Francys Johnson, Evelyn Gamble-Hilton’s attorney
“We’ll let the pleadings speak for themselves,” Francys Johnson, Gamble-Hilton’s attorney, said May 11 when asked if she still intends to pursue a legal challenge.
During a meeting April 26, the Bulloch County Board of Education tabled a motion to intervene in Wilson’s decision. The vote to table was 5-2 after the two African-American members made and seconded the motion to intervene. After a closed-door session, the board emerged with a statement supporting “the superintendent’s roles and responsibilities to make administrative decisions, including internal transfers,” which was not put to an official vote.
“It strains credulity to call a move from principalship to assistant principalship a transfer. It’s a demotion,” Johnson said last week. “And it is incredulous that the board will not follow its own policies, which means that the superintendent’s decision can’t be appealed to the board. They’ve already prejudiced themselves by saying that they would back up the decision before they even heard the evidence that we have to present.”
During the Board of Education’s May 10 meeting, Chairman Mike Sparks said the Georgia School Boards Association, the board’s legal counsel and another attorney told him that a loss in three elements, “position, prestige and pay,” must all be present for an action to qualify as a demotion. He also said that principals are not tenured employees and that this gives a demotion really “no meaning” in this context.
Gamble-Hilton has been LCMS principal for eight years. Three years ago, in May 2015, Wilson attempted to reassign her to be an assistant principal at Statesboro High School, but that was halted after a 4-3 board vote rejecting an entire list of personnel recommendations.
No lawsuit or other formal challenge had been filed as of last week.
“We’re still getting those facts and compiling that information, and we will make a determination about what’s in Dr. Gamble-Hilton’s best interest, and what’s in the school system’s best interest, what’s in the public’s best interest,” Johnson said May 11.
“That could include a public release of some of the complaints that we’ve received,” he said. “That could include forwarding them to AdvancED, which is the accreditation body for the school district. That could include a number of things, including appropriate litigation to address the discriminatory practices.”
The Statesboro Herald submitted a Georgia Open Records Act request May 4 for Gamble-Hilton’s personnel file with the Bulloch County Schools, after the file’s contents were published by an online news site not affiliated with the Herald.
The website’s story focused on an anonymous complaint letter, dated Nov. 16, 2017, by the sender and stamped “received” Dec. 14 at the Board of Education office. The letter’s author, self-described as an educator at LCMS, made allegations about purported actions and attitudes of Gamble-Hilton and the climate of the school.
However, when the newspaper sought to verify whether the letter had anything to do with the reassignment, Wilson did not do so, and Johnson asserted that the letter should never have been placed in the file or released to the public.
“You got a doctored personnel file that included a self-serving, anonymous letter that they intended to use to smear her,” Johnson told the reporter.
Gamble-Hilton had never seen the letter or had an opportunity to respond to it, and it was not part of any formal evaluation or assessment she was given, Johnson said.
“So to take a letter that they claim was submitted anonymously and give it to the public without first having given her an opportunity to review it is against the employee manual,” he said.
In an email to Wilson, the newspaper had asked what part the letter played in his decision, whether he or members of his staff investigated the allegations and whether they were substantiated or shown to be false.
“As you know, I believe in transparency and highly value the professionalism and objectivity of the Statesboro Herald, as well as the relationship we have in open communication,” Wilson stated in his email.
“However, I still do not think that I can respond any further than what I have provided,” he wrote. “Given that this is a personnel decision, I do hope that you all can understand and respect that. In addition, given that Dr. Gamble-Hilton and her attorney have made it clear that they are interested in filing a lawsuit against the school district, prudence and legal counsel further guide us in this direction for the best interest of everyone involved.”
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.