The decision to pay outgoing Liberty County School Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee a year’s salary after her contract expires, was made by the Board of Education under the advisement of LCSS attorney Carl Varnedoe.
“Following the advice of our attorney we, the board and Dr. Lee, agreed to a one year salary,” LCSS BoE Chairwoman Lily Baker said.
The announcement of Lee’s departure and the BoE’s mutual acceptance to not renew her contract, which ends June 30, were made Feb. 28.
Comments posted to the Courier Facebook page, calls to Sound Off and recent letters to the editor suggest many in the community are questioning why Lee gets to leave with an additional $190,000.
Varnedoe said state law and legal ethics keep him from discussing specifics of the decision, but he did defend it.
“Notwithstanding, I can unequivocally state that the Board’s decision regarding Dr. Lee’s compensation was the product of a comprehensive discussion weighing fiscal, legal and other district resource factors,” the attorney wrote in an email. “The Liberty County School District’s mission of providing all students an education which promotes excellence, good citizenship, and a love of learning was at the forefront of all discussions and ultimately informed the Board’s decision.”
Lee and the school board have been mired in controversy 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 board members.
Reese threatened to sue Lee and the BOE, claiming violations of the Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act. He also claims he was improperly paid.
According to a Jan. 18 letter from Reese’s attorney Matthew Billips, to Lee and the BoE, Reese was allegedly underpaid approximately $15,000 for 2014-15, $12,000 for 2015-16 and $6,000 for the current school year.
Information obtained through public records show that Reese’s salary for his first full year of employment, 2014-15, was $119,634. His current annual pay was $141,168.
However, Reese has not been paid since January and, according to Billips, has received notice that his benefits have been terminated.
Wednesday’s Educational Hotline Broadcast, run by BoE Member Marcus Scott IV addressed this. Scott said the handling of Reese’s termination could affect other personnel. Scott has questioned whether Reese’s administrative leave has been legal.
Scott said there are legal procedures that must be followed under the Georgia Department of Education’s title 20 and the Fair Dismissal Act. He said he believes Reese should have been allowed to ask for a tribunal to hear his case before he was dismissed, even though Liberty’s is a charter system. Many charter systems are exempt from some aspects of title 20.
“Some charter systems have done away with title 20, which they are allowed to,” Scott said during his broadcast. “With much debate Liberty County decided not to do away with title 20 and give teachers the opportunity for a fair dismissal hearing. Which is why Mr. Reese is going to have a hearing.”
But Scott pointed out that, “You can suspend someone without pay, indefinitely… before they get due process.”
He said he is concerned about the implications of that.
At the Feb. 28 meeting the BoE voted to appoint a tribunal to hear Reese’s cases. That tribunal consists of Long County Superintendent Dr. Robert Waters and former state school superintendents Beauford Hicks and Terry Deloach.
Billips has questioned the makeup of the tribunal.
“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.”