After an outpouring of community support through e-mails, letters and an overwhelming crowd at Monday night’s special called meeting of the Bulloch County Board of Education, it turns out the decision whether to renew Southeast Bulloch High School Principal Joni Walker-Seier’s contract was totally up to the school superintendent after all.
School board members lack the authority to override Bulloch County’s school superintendent Dr. Lewis Holloway’s decision regarding non-tenured employees, said board chairman David Ball, speaking over cries of protest from students and parents who were visibly angered by Holloway’s decision not to renew Seier’s contract at the end of the year.
After the board reconvened following an executive session during which they discussed “personnel issues,” Ball announced “there is no action to be taken by the board” because Holloway solely had the power to make the decision.
Seier’s contract expires at the end of the school year, he said. “By law a superintendent must recommend” an employee that is not tenured to either have a contract renewed or not, he said.
When questioned by parents, students and reporters to clarify the statement, both Holloway and Ball said Georgia law gives a superintendent power over a school board concerning non-tenured employees. The board had no need or reason to vote, Ball said. The decision was still up to Holloway, even if all board members had unanimously supported Seier’s contract renewal.
No board members expressed their views regarding the matter. Immediately after the board meeting ended, most board members left, leaving Ball and Holloway to answer questions.
However, students and parents were not satisfied with the brief explanations. Many in the crowd demanded board members remove Holloway and made comments about upcoming elections where they threatened to vote board members out.
One young man was particularly angry and confronted Holloway . “I’m not going to, but there will be problems in the school ... chaos,” if Seier is removed, said Joshua Conner, a 16-year-old Southeast Bulloch High School student.
“Fighting in the school has gone down tremendously,” said Trey Miller, another student who spoke in support of Seier during the public comments forum portion of the meeting. He became emotional during his outpouring of support for the principal, causing others in the crowd to tear up as well.
When Holloway walked away from the crowd hovering around the board dais, many students expressed offense that he would not talk with them about the matter.
“For him to just stand there and then walk away while we were trying to talk to him is ridiculous,” Conner said. “Personally I think he needs to be in a ROTC program so I could teach him a few lessons."
Parents and other community members were angry at the way the board meeting ended as well.
“It really appears they (board members) are not representing us,” said Debra Brinson. “They’re representing him.”
Evaluation and rebuttal
About 120 people attended the special session of the school board Monday night, called for purposes including discussion and action regarding a testing issue, a request by the Georgia Department of Transportation to use a local school campus during hurricane evacuations, and personnel matters — namely, the decision regarding Seier’s contract.
Seiers was notified earlier month her contract would not be renewed and her position was posted on the school board Web site April 3.
Holloway said Monday he could not legally discuss his reasons for not recommending Seier’s contract be renewed, but when reminded the Statesboro Herald had copies of both his evaluation of her performance and her rebuttal, which included several corrections to discrepancies she said were in the evaluation, he said “Well, if you have the evaluation, there it is.”
In the evaluation, Holloway cited passing rates in some classes had fallen, but Seier, in a handwritten correction made on a copy of the evaluation, denied the accusation.
Holloway stated in the evaluation Seier did not include information in teacher evaluations that was required. Seier also denied this was true, stating the data Holloway referenced was found in a year-end evaluation she provided.
In her rebuttal letter dated March 25, Seier stated Holloway did not complete her pre-evaluation conference or provide her with feed back in a timely manner, sending his notes and expectations to her only four days before her evaluation.
Support for Seier
Supporters who spoke in Seier’s favor Monday reminded board members and Holloway that Southeast Bulloch High School has received numerous awards, including being named a School of excellence in 2007, under Seier’s leadership. Also, for the past two years, Bulloch County’s teachers of the year have come from Southeast Bulloch High.
Of the crowd, about 35 to 40 were students. Many milled around outside in rainy weather, unable to come into the board room due to overcrowding. People lined the room, standing up, as all seats were filled.
A number of people were wearing the school colors, blue and gold; some shirts emblazoned with the school mascot, the yellow jacket.
While much of the crowd attending school board meetings are usually faculty members, Monday night’s crowd had only a couple. The room was otherwise filled with members of the Brooklet-area community.
“I wish we had this kind of attendance all the time,” said board member Susan Riley as the meeting convened.
Several spoke in Seier’s support, including Southeast Bulloch High School Council President Thomas Sullivan. To remove Seier from her position “ is not fair for any parents .. staff.. certainly not for the students,” he said.
Pleading for board members to listen to the community instead of Holloway, Angie Howell asked “Is it right to rely on only one opinion that may be biased?”
Charlie Howell said he had copies of e-mails where he said Holloway stated he wanted to address the issue before legislation changes affected the laws surrounding how personnel matters are handled. Holloway did not respond to the statement.
“If you’re doing the right things for the right reasons, you shouldn’t need to lawyer up,” he said, referring to the school board’s intention to discuss legal matters during executive session.
SEB teacher Joni Mock admitted risk in speaking up for Seier, but said “I’m willing to stand up for someone who is a true encourager.”
Parent Susan Sneathen called board members to task for not responding to letters she e-mailed, and Ball in particular for stating in an interview with the Statesboro Herald days before the board meeting that he would stand by Holloway’s decision.
“This implies to me you are not willing to consider all sides,” she said.
Chuck Carter told the board “It is pretty obvious the community is letting you know who they want to run the schools. Unless Mrs. Seier has done anything illegal, I don’t see why the community shouldn’t have what they want.”
Seier was not immediately available for comment Monday night.
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.