School board members apparently discussed in emails and texts as early as Feb. 6 how to move forward without Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee.
Lee, who won’t be back next year, will receive a $190,000 payout after the school board announced Feb. 28 that her contract is being terminated at the end of this school year.
Both Lee and Board of Education Chairwoman Lily Baker have called the decision a mutual agreement between Lee and the BoE, and Baker has said the decision to pay Lee the $190,000 - a year’s salary - was done on the advice of attorney Carl Varnedoe.
Whether the system needed to pay Lee anything was the topic of a Feb. 6 email to school board members from BoE member Marcus Scott IV. He said the school board had time to notify Lee she was no longer wanted as superintendent without having to pay her a year’s salary.
“As I previously stated, if the superintendent is not notified of intent before (120 days) March 1st we will be responsible for one year additional salary weather (sic) she is renewed or not. I think we should have the discussion on plans for contract either way at next meeting.”
The same matter was also discussed through a series of texts on publicly funded cell phones used by BoE members prior to the Feb. 28 meeting.
“If the BOE votes not to renew Dr. Lee’s contract it must do so and written notice of nonrenewal sent to Dr. Lee no later than March 3 which is 120 days prior to the expiration of the existing contract term which expires on June 30, 2017,” Baker said in a Feb. 27. “This is not a termination without cause contemplated by section 5.e. and therefore does not trigger the 1 year buyout clause. This is simply allowing the contract term to expire without renewal. If this is what the BOE wants to do, time is very much of the essence.”
To which one of Scott’s replies was, “We can pay her to leave for all I care....She needs to go. Even if we want to pay her for this year and next year to go home. I’m not talking about personal feelings but professionally. Morale is low, at least 3 black males accused her of retaliation, unprofessional by calling board inept, controversy with bank situation, conflict of interest with chair, etc. Even if none of these were true, the public perceive it to be and we (our students) are better off starting with a clean slate. Just my thoughts. “
In an email dated March 25, from Baker to the BoE members she wrote that Sam King, of the GSBA was coming at 5 p.m. April 4, which is a date on which the BoE has a called meeting.
During Tuesday’s, meeting Baker motioned the BoE to vote on whether the LCSS should pay The Georgia School Board Association $7,000 or $8,500 to begin their search for an interim Superintendent.
However there was no prior public discussion, nor public vote on whether the BoE would hire the GSBA or consider another outside firm to begin the search. It appears the quorum to move forward with the GSBA was also done through a series of emails and or texts of BoE members, a possible violation of the open meetings act.
The BoE voted to use the GSBA service which was priced at $7,000.
It also was announced that former Valdosta School System Superintendent Sam Allen will replace Long County School Superintendent Robert Waters on a tribunal panel set to hear the case of former Liberty County School System Chief Financial officer Roger Reese.
The motion to approve the replacement and appoint Lee Holiday as the tribunal’s hearing officer and lead advisor was presented at Tuesday’s workshop. The tribunal panel will hear Reese’s case April 11.
Baker said the replacement was suggested by attorney Phillip Hartley, who is representing the LCSS in response to a potential lawsuit from Reese.
Scott asked why Waters was being replaced.
Lee said Waters was unable to attend the April 11 hearing due to the recent death of his father and family commitments.
Reese, through his attorney Matthew Billips, has threatened a lawsuit accusing Lee of violating board policies and violating the Georgia Whistleblower’s Act. Reese has also claimed the LCSS has underpaid him and is seeking $33,000 in back pay.
The drama came to a head after the LCSS sent out a request for proposals for banking services. Ameris Bank and Heritage Bank were the only two banks to submit proposals.
Reese’s attorney, in a letter dated Jan. 18, claims both Reese and the committee recommended Heritage Bank, which at the time was the district’s bank, be awarded the contract.
But Billips’ letter said that instead of submitting the recommendation to the school board at its January meeting, Lee tried to get Reese to change his recommendation to Ameris Bank, where her husband is a mortgage loan officer.
The letter also claims Lee continued to insist that Reese reach out to Ameris Bank to request a revised proposal, in violation of state law and board policy. Reese refused.
Lee claims Reese recommended Ameris Bank.
“And that the said bank should be my recommendation to the board,” Lee wrote in a letter to Reese dated Dec. 9. “Days later, without explanation, you informed me that the other bank should be my recommendation followed by a suggestion that I recommend both banks. When I probed you further as to ‘why,’ you gave me information that was later refuted by the banking entity in question.”
The BoE voted 6-1 in favor of Ameris Bank after listening to both banks’ proposals in a Dec. 13 meeting.