Some residents unhappy with personnel changes
CLARKSVILLE—When Pike County R-III School board met last Wednesday to discuss personnel changes, several members of the community showed up, with two of them making statements to the board.
The board met in the elementary school’s multi-purpose room on the Clopton campus. Nearly 30 residents showed up for the meeting, alerted to the changes the school board was about to make.
The board followed it agenda, opening with its regular preliminaries and then going into closed session just minutes after starting. The school board is authorized to do this when discussing hiring or firing of personnel or for promoting and disciplining them, as well.
Some of the residents were caught off guard by the move and asked others who regularly attend the meetings why the board didn’t have the closed session at the end of the meeting instead of having everyone come in, sit down for the start and then have to leave for 45 minutes to an hour while the board conducted business behind closed doors. According to the agenda, there is a second closed session scheduled at the end of the meeting to finish discussing any items that were not resolved in the earlier closed session.
Although it was not discussed during the open part of the meeting, the board had accepted the resignation of Mark Harvey, who had been the district’s superintendent for 11 years and named an interim superintendent.
When reached for comment by email after the meeting, board President Christy Kuntz wrote: “The Board of Education and Mr. Harvey have reached an agreement with respect to the conclusion of Mr. Harvey’s employment with the district.”
She noted that Harvey had submitted a statement which she sent with her comments.
Harvey wrote: “It has been my pleasure to serve as superintendent of the Pike County R-III School District for the past 11 years, second in service only to Mr. Joe Henry. Before being offered the superintendent position, I was able to serve the district as assistant superintendent and elementary principal. Clopton has a great impact on all who have worked here. This is due to the family-like relationships formed with the many great employees, the student body, and the boards of education that have provided an environment where education comes first. Clopton’s pride comes from the whole being more integral than any one individual. I appreciate the efforts by Mrs. Grimes, Mr. Lagemann, and Mr. Hanley to continue the tradition of enabling students to be transformed, not conformed, as I conclude my time as superintendent with the Pike County R-III (Clopton) School District. My commitment remains to the continued success of Clopton and to assist in any way necessary going forward. During my twenty-one year career with the district, I have been blessed to have tremendous office support committed to Clopton. Thank you, Melanie, Angela, and the late Debby Woodward.”
Kuntz noted that the board hired an interim superintendent—Mike Gray. Gray is a former superintendent at Bowling Green R-I School district and recently retired from Montgomery County school system.
“The Board of Education is excited to begin this journey with Mr. Gray to help us with our day-to-day activities and our search for a permanent superintendent,” she wrote. “We have confidence in his ability to lead the district and continue to drive forward on our most important priorities.”
In addition to replacing Harvey, the board also voted to change their athletic director. Tony Francis was promoted to athletic director over Matt Cannon.
Cannon’s mother and father, Gary and Judy Cannon, attended the meeting and Judy addressed the board directly during the meeting.
She said she wasn’t there to ask for them to give Matt back his position as the athletic director.
“We are here to talk about how you treat others and being unprofessional and disrespectful,” she said, reading from a prepared statement. “Yes you are here to do a job for the best interest of our school. Ask yourself, are you truly doing that?”
Judy became quite upset while reading her statement, but pushed through addressing several of the board members by name.
“You may have a good reason for what you have done, but we do not think so,” she said. “How would you feel if after seven years of having a position, all of a sudden you were fired without even setting down with that person or the administrator telling the person there was any problem?” she asked.
Judy noted that her family has been in the school district for 38 years, and that she had personally worked for the school system for 26 years.
After the meeting, she said she is not the kind of person who would speak up like this, but could not in good conscience let this go without saying something.
Also speaking to the board during the meeting was Nancy Guyton. She is a resident of Paynesville and has had some harsh words about the Clopton School Board on numerous occasions. She has addressed the board before, fighting to keep Harvey as superintendent.
In her statement, Guyton said, “The actions of this board that have taken place recently are not in the best interests of our students.” She added that, “Looking back, I have seen one inappropriate incident after another with comments that would indicate the majority of this board has made decisions prior to some board meetings.”
She said she thought the board had a hidden agenda, and because of that, “had lost one of the best superintendents, if not the best superintendent, Clopton will ever have, because the majority of the board members would not let him do his job and showed him no respect.”
She also mentioned the change in athletic director, stating that a board member’s spouse had sent out a negative text message to the former athletic director and at the next meeting the AD was replaced.
She said the new athletic director was selected and given twice the compensation. She asked if the former AD was paid too little or is the new one being paid too much?
“This isn’t about what is best for this school district, this appears to be about personal agendas, revenge and egos,” she said to the board.
At the conclusion of her comments, Guyton asked that “the guilty parties … resign from the board for the good of all.”
In addition to the two ladies who spoke during the meeting, LaVerne Wright also wanted to add: “In the process of removing Matt Cannon from activity/athletic director, (the school board) removed someone that won two state championships in girls softball, back to back. There has been only one other state title/championship in the history of Clopton High School—since the organization of RIII/Clopton in 1950. The other championship was in girls basketball, coached by Edgar Lindsay—only three in our history!”
She added that “removing Matt Cannon is such an unfair action by the board.”
During the meeting, no one on the board responded to the comments made by Cannon or Guyton.
In her statement to the Louisiana Press-Journal, Kuntz did write: “Finally, in response to recent public comments, consistent with board policy and law, we cannot provide specific information on personnel matters, as they are confidential in nature. However, the Board of Education is confident that the District is moving forward in a positive direction and is committed to continuing to make decisions that are in the best interest of the schools’ ability to fulfill its mission statement.”