State board de­nies re­quest to re­move BOE mem­bers

Record Observer - - Front Page - By HANNAH COMBS hcombs@kibay­times.com

The Mary­land State Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion board de­clined to re­move Queen Anne’s County school board mem­bers Jen­nifer Ge­orge, Ar­lene Tay­lor and An­nette DiMag­gio. The opin­ions is­sued Tues­day, June 28, were in re­sponse to for­mal com­plaints filed by Queen Anne’s County res­i­dents.

BALTIMORE — The Mary­land State Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion board de­clined to re­move Queen Anne’s County school board mem­bers Jen­nifer Ge­orge, Ar­lene Tay­lor and An­nette DiMag­gio. The opin­ions is­sued Tues­day, June 28, were in re­sponse to for­mal com­plaints filed by Queen Anne’s County res­i­dents.

The al­le­ga­tions made by 32 con­cerned res­i­dents, in­clud­ing Prin­ci­pal An­gela Holocker and three other school sys­tem ad­min­is­tra­tors, stated the three board mem­bers were in vi­o­la­tion of the Open Meet­ings Act, in­clud­ing vot­ing on the su­per­in­ten­dent’s con­tract in a closed ses­sion with­out in­form­ing the pub­lic and fail­ing to dis­close min­utes of the meet­ing; that they vi­o­lated lo­cal ethics rules, by not ex­plain­ing their de­ci­sion re­gard­ing the su­per­in­ten­dent’s con­tract, not hav­ing a plan to hire a new su­per­in­ten­dent and be­ing un­able to prop­erly run a pub­lic meet­ing; en­gag­ing in in­ap­pro­pri­ate di­a­logue and con­tact with the au­di­ence in pub­lic meet­ings and through so­cial me­dia, in­clud­ing re­marks of a racist na­ture; and mak­ing threats against em­ploy­ees who spoke in fa­vor of the lo­cal su­per­in­ten­dent and sug­gest­ing prin­ci­pals and oth­ers who spoke in fa­vor of the su­per­in­ten­dent would lose their jobs in the school sys­tem.

Although all three board mem­bers ac­knowl­edged the lo­cal board vi­o­lated the Open Meet­ings Act, the state board con­cluded, “the charges were not fac­tu­ally or legally suf­fi­cient to war­rant re­moval of the board’s rel­a­tively new ma­jor­ity. By law, such ac­tion may be taken for such rea­sons as im­moral­ity, mis­con­duct in of­fice, in­com­pe­tence and will­ful ne­glect of duty.”

The state board rec­og­nized this as a novel sit­u­a­tion, “Although the statute es­tab­lishes the re­moval power, we have not adopted reg­u­la­tions to fur­ther gov­ern the process. In the ab­sence of reg­u­la­tions, we have ap­plied our ap­peal pro­ce­dures, past prece­dents, and ex­ist­ing case law to guide the re­moval process. Go­ing for­ward, we be­lieve that reg­u­la­tions ex­plain­ing our re­moval pro­ce­dures would be ben­e­fi­cial for lo­cal board mem­bers and the pub­lic to es­tab­lish a more for­mal or­der in the process, pro­vide clar­ity to the pub­lic about what in­for­ma­tion should be con­tained in a re­moval re­quest, avoid du­plica­tive re­quests, and re­duce the po­ten­tial for abuse of the process.”

In Ge­orge’s re­sponse to the state board she said, “I lis­tened to the com­mu­nity, but those who dis­agree with our de­ci­sion haven’t pre­sented me with new in­for­ma­tion that would re­quire me to change my vote . ... I made a de­ci­sion for which I was elected to do and stand by that de­ci­sion.”

A source of frus­tra­tion ex­pressed by many at the lo­cal board meet­ings in Fe­bru­ary, March, April and May was the lack of ex­pla­na­tion from board mem­bers in their de­ci­sion not to re­new Su­per­in­ten­dent Dr. Carol Wil­liamson’s con­tract.

In DiMag­gio’s re­sponse to the state board, she said, the school sys­tem’s “de­clin­ing per­for­mance was a huge fac­tor in my de­ci­sion to make a change.” Although she did not place all of the blame for that on the su­per­in­ten­dent, DiMag­gio said, “I voted to make a change that I hope will change our school sys­tem for the bet­ter both in terms of fair­ness to stu­dents and per­son­nel and in an in­crease in our per­for­mance in state rank­ings.”

DiMag­gio also de­fended her com­ment about “un­scrupu­lous” prin­ci­pals, stat­ing that her com­ment was ini­tially made in a pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion and that she did not per­son­ally iden­tify any spe­cific prin­ci­pals.

The state board rep­ri­manded DiMag­gio for these so­cial me­dia posts as they showed a lack of pro­fes­sion­al­ism. “Ms. DiMag­gio would have been bet­ter served not to en­gage in back-and-forth dis­cus­sions through so­cial me­dia or to post com­ments with­out fully con­sid­er­ing the po­ten­tial im­pact of her ac­tions. Go­ing for­ward, Ms. DiMag­gio must un­der­stand that her con­duct re­flects not just on her, but on the board as a whole,” the State Board wrote in its opin­ion.

The state board also rep­ri­manded Tay­lor for her use of the words “lily white” dur­ing a pub­lic meet­ing of the board. “We be­lieve it was wrong for Ms. Tay­lor to use the phrase ‘lily white,’ re­gard­less of her in­ten­tions. That type of lan­guage has no place in pub­lic dis­course and we strongly con­demn it. It is one thing for a pub­lic of­fi­cial to be con­cerned about a lack of di­ver­sity in the school sys­tem, but Ms. Tay­lor’s use of racially di­vi­sive lan­guage was in­ap­pro­pri­ate,” stated the state board opin­ion.

While the state board ac­knowl­edged the be­hav­ior of three board mem­bers was con­fronta­tional, un­pro­fes­sional and prob­lem­atic at times, they did not be­lieve the in­ci­dents, taken to­gether, pro­vided a rea­son­able be­lief that “mis­con­duct in of­fice,” as it is de­fined, may have oc­curred. Mis­con­duct in of­fice is malfea­sance or mis­fea­sance.

The state board fur­ther ad­vised those board mem­bers to be open, re­cep­tive, and re­spect­ful to the views of the pub­lic, es­pe­cially when con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sions are be­ing made.

Wil­liamson’s last day as su­per­in­ten­dent was June 30. As­sis­tant Su­per­in­ten­dent Greg Pilewski has been ap­pointed in­terim su­per­in­ten­dent un­til a re­place­ment is found.

COURTESY PHOTO

Queen Anne’s County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion mem­bers Jen­nifer Ge­orge, An­nette DiMag­gio, Ar­lene Tay­lor fol­low­ing their swear­ing in cer­e­mony Dec. 2, 2014.

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