The Liberty County Board of Education voted 7-0 Tuesday to not renew Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee’s contract when it ends June 30.
School board Chairwoman Lily Baker said the unanimous vote came as a result of an agreement between the BoE and Lee.
Lee has been the LCSS superintendent for three years. Her base salary is $190,000 annually.
The announcement came during Tuesday morning’s regular BoE meeting.
In an email, Lee said she told Baker in October she was considering a change. She said she was thinking of staying on board until December 2018 but has since changed her mind.
“I initiated the talk," she said. "My leaving was by mutual agreement. The board has agreed to pay me one year’s salary. It was a mutual agreement.”
She and the school board have been mired in controversy in recent weeks regarding allegations of improperly handled bids for banking services and the apparent firing of the district’s chief financial officer, Roger Reese, in retaliation for his role in the issue. There also were allegations of misconduct leveled by and against school board members.
Reese threatened to sue Lee and the BOE, claiming violations of the Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act.
As of Tuesday the suit had not been filed, but Reese’s attorney, Matthew Billips, implied a lawsuit is imminent after the school board voted Tuesday to appoint a tribunal to hear Reese’s cases.
That tribunal consists of Long County Superintendent Dr. Robert Waters and former school superintendents Beauford Hicks and Terry Deloach.
“Given that all three are current or former school superintendents and at least one of them is a former client of Mr. Hartley’s (the BoE’s attorney on the matter), I do not believe that they meet the requirement to be “impartial” under the board policy,” Billips said. “Further, we believe the board has waived its right to hold a hearing on Mr. Reese’s termination, in that it has already terminated him. He hasn’t been paid since January and he has received notice that his benefits have been terminated. We believe that the board is going to have to address this matter before a jury, not before a hand-picked kangaroo court.”
Billips alleges in a Jan. 18 letter that Lee violated BoE policy with regard to bids and threatened Reese with firing for going to BoE chairwoman
Lily Baker to complain.
The letter claims Lee tried to coerce him to change his recommendation to Ameris Bank, where Lee’s husband works, but Reese would not.
Later, board member Marcus Scott IV, who voted against using Ameris Bank, questioned the handling of the proposals and asked why Baker did not tell the board Reese had spoken to her regarding the matter prior to the school board’s vote on the issue Jan. 10.
Scott’s was the only vote against the measure. He has since alleged Lee and school board members are retaliating against him by lodging complaints that he misused the gym at Snelson-Golden Middle School, and violated board policies and its code of ethics.
Lee has said that matter is still pending before the board.
Scott claims the fallout led to the demotion of SGMS Principal Roland Van Horn, who in a statement, to his staff said he was grateful to Lee and the school board for their support.
To further add to the controversy, AdvancED, the powerful school accreditation group, sent Lee a letter dated Feb. 15 saying allegations have been made against the school board with regard to how it selected its financial institution and that board members are interfering with the day to day operations of the system. The letter also notes similar complaints were lodged against the system in July.
It gave Lee 30 days from the date of the letter to respond to the claims.
Also Tuesday, two agenda items regarding allegations of misconduct by a board member and the board chair were removed from the agenda during the meeting. Scott requested the agenda be amended prior the BoE’s vote to accept the agenda as published.
The BoE voted 4-3 to remove the two items from the agenda.
However, several board members, who have been publicly silent since the controversy began, went on record Tuesday.
Dr. Yvette Keel recited sections of the state’s conflict of interest laws and the board’s code of ethics policy.
She said she thinks one board member is in violation of those laws and said, “We as a board are choosing to ignore that and not follow the sanctioning section of a Georgia rules, school board rules…And I want that on record.”
BoE member Carolyn Carter Smith also voiced dissatisfaction.
“We are telling parents, teachers and students in this community that we ignore the oath that we all signed to uphold the law,” she said. “We are setting a precedent that we are willing to suspend all laws of the state of Georgia as well as our local board policies adopted by this board. We are sending the message to all that we will continue to violate these laws and policies putting us in danger of actions by the governor of the state of Georgia to exercise his power to remove school board members. I would hope that we will use our authority and the mandate given to us that only we, board members, police ourselves. By your vote, you are telling all of those we are, by law, promised to protect that we are dysfunctional and willing to ignore documents that we signed and pledges we took to protect the children of Liberty County.”
Verdell Jones asked that the BoE return to focusing on student achievement and staff support.
“The bottom line is, instead of wasting time in sanctions and allegations… As we are to police ourselves and not each other, we are wasting time that leads to no effect and we should be focused on student achievement,” she said. “Each presenter….Expressed that local boards are under the microscope and do not need to do anything to shine the light to state and AdvancED. That includes everything personal and as a board.”
Jones said any issue concerning a BoE member who presented a conflict of interest or violation of law should be handled by the proper authorities.
“If we spent more time on students and staff, I believe we could get much better results,” she said. “It is baffling to me that we as educators, former educators, business owners, parents, community leaders and so forth, can so easily lose focus on the most important thing, our children… Too many of our employees have been hurt and that grieves me, especially with some of the recent happenings. When does it stop? Our employees are crying out for us to be leaders and our students are at our mercy.”
Marcia Anderson said she agreed with Jones.
“This has been a divisive issue that has taken away from our purpose, our children and our community and basically I am just tired of it,” Anderson said. “I am ready to get back to educating our students and doing the things that we need to do for our kids, to give them every opportunity to be successful.”
Scott said the board’s job is to focus on student achievement, budget items and to supervise the BoE’s one employee, the superintendent. He also defended himself.
“I know no one said my name but I just want it to be known that I’ve done nothing illegal or unethical,” he said.
The BoE then went into executive session, came out and voted on Lee’s contract.
Odd twist to story comes late Tuesday
Something unusual happened in the middle of our working on the story of Liberty County School Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee. She sent out an email with attached documents to a group of principals and in the process included a local businessman.
He in turn forwarded them to us, while noting this isn’t the first time he’s gotten emails from the superintendent. Lee confirmed they’re real. The documents were Lee’s employment contract and a list of her accomplishments through June 30 2017. You can see both documents at www.coastalcourier.com.