The Union County Board of Education unanimously voted Sept. 1 to grant Chairman John Collins the authority to schedule a joint meeting with the Union County Board of Commissioners, and the respective staffs.
Collins said he and Commissioners Chairman Richard Helms had talked about scheduling the meeting the first or second week of October, but each first needed approval from their boards. The joint meeting is an attempt to reduce tensions and improve working relations between the boards, a situation that gained steam after a county commissioner angrily derided the board of education for not sending a representative to the Aug. 17 commissioners meeting.
Board member Jason Marton requested that the two boards have a set agenda to discuss at the meeting. He said he’d also “like to make sure it’s a board-to-board discussion,” and not staff members making a presentation.
Board members were not unanimous on another important vote: renewing two year contracts for six high-ranking Union County Public Schools employees, including Mary Ellis, superintendent.
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The vote was 7-2 and none of the renewals included an increase in compensation.
Board member Gary Sides said he and the other new members of the board had not had an opportunity to evaluate Ellis’ performance. He began his term in December.
He also said he could not abstain from the vote, “even if I feel I don’t have adequate information to make a decision.”
Collins said “every two years there is going to be a decision made regarding contracts and salaries and personnel at the senior level.” He said new board members have to come aboard and play catch-up.
Before the vote, board member Kevin Stewart commended Ellis and her staff, saying that Union County’s schools are highly regarded for academic excellence.
Sides and Melissa Merrell, another new board member, voted against renewing the contracts for Ellis and five senior staff members: deputy superintendents David Clarke and Mike Webb; assistant superintendents Shelton Jefferies and John Jones; and Michele Morris, general counsel.
Sides said after the meeting that he wasn’t singling Ellis out with his comments, but that she is the only one of the six listed in the motion whose performance evaluations are conducted by the school board. The others are evaluated by school staff, he said.
At the end of the meeting, several board members used the comment period to commend and thank school staff for a good start to the school year or raise other topics.
Marton said he was saddened by the the “back and forth” between commissioners and school board members.
“I think a lot of people want to see us fight,” he said. “I don’t understand that. That is upsetting to me,” Marton said.
He suggested that the school board create a government relations committee to improve relationships between the board and other government bodies.
Also during the comment period for board members, Sides said he’d like an invocation to be added to the agenda.
“For the second month in a row we have deleted the invocation from our agenda,” he said.
He said “it’s unfortunate that people feel it’s infringing upon rights to ask the good Lord for blessings for our children, our teachers, our school staff and our country…I would like to ask maybe if we could stick our necks out a little bit and return the invocation to our agenda.”
Jane Duckwall is a freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are the salaries of school officials whose contracts were recently renewed:
John Jones Jr.