There was dissent among the ranks at the Liberty County Board of Education work session Oct. 23. With the first step in the Carl Vinson Institute of Government training for the board due to begin Oct. 24, District 6 board member Dr. Yvette Keel voiced her opposition to the training and costs associated with the CVI training.
According to the website, the CVI works with public officials throughout Georgia and around the world to improve governance and people’s lives. The CVI has helped government leaders navigate change and forge strong directions for a more prosperous Georgia. In January, the board approved CVI to work with the district on leadership and board development, according to Jan. 23 board meeting minutes. Keel opposed the original vote, as well as board members Carolyn Smith Carter and Marcus Scott.
Since then, Keel has voted against any and all decisions concerning the Carl Vinson Institute. She brought a complaint against recent actions of the board concerning votes taken and not taken to move forward with the training. According to Keel, the board never received bids for the training.
However, in January, the board approved a proposal for services to be provided by CVI, including: a board member self-assessment discussion, emergenetics training, a winter retreat, which is incorporated into phase two of the contract, and an online open meetings course. Emergenetics training is a measurable, proven way to recognize and apply thinking and behavior patterns people use regularly, and incorporate seven easily recognizable and useful factors that apply to work, communication and interpersonal relationships, according to Emergenetics International.
“An out-of-town retreat is not in the January proposal that was approved,” Keel said. “There are a list of items that have never been action items and have never been voted on by the board.”
In May, the board approved the AdvancED directives, according to the previous minutes. Keel claims that the board approved a motion to accept training from the Georgia School Boards Association, to which the school board currently pays membership dues.Within the membership, training can be included, according to District 2 board member Carolyn Smith Carter.
“In July, we received an email that we were enrolled in the Online Open Meetings Course with CVI,” Keel said. “I need someone to tell me, because I’ve read all the minutes, at what board meeting did we have as an action item to change what the core four voted on, on May 21, as an AdvancED directive, to have GSBA train, change to the Carl Vinson Institute for $1,309 between May and July. At what board meeting was that an action item and vote?”
“By you asking me here today, I cannot tell you what meeting that that actually happened,” Chair Lily Baker said. “When we approved the Carl Vinson Institute packet, it was all outlined as to what the training would be. So, I can’t give you that answer today, staff can’t give you that answer today.”
Keel continued, saying that an out-of-town retreat was never discussed. On Aug. 28, Keel said, the CVI bid was finally brought to the board, and it is for Jan. – June of 2019.
“In that, there is a winter retreat planned,” she said. “And in that $46,700, the cost for the instructors is for travel and lodging for an 8 hour roundtrip to Hinesville, not to Jekyll Island, where the out-of-town retreat is planned.” The Jan.- June bid received board approval at the Aug. 28 meeting.
Between May and August, there was a contract for the self-discussion, emergenetics training, and online open meetings course that was not brought to the board, Keel added.
The board made no motion to add a retreat to the board calendar, she said, when discussed on Sept. 9, and there were no revisions made at either the Sept. 25 or Oct. 9 meeting to add a retreat. Keel estimated the retreat, with travel, lodging, meal, and toll expenses, it would be an additional $2,700, without adding other expenses in addition to the trip to Hinesville and Jekyll Island.
“I’m a bit concerned that we contracted and there’s no evidence that we contracted in any minutes,” Keel continued. “We changed the approved directives of May 21 to make changes, and there is no evidence in any minutes that those brought any action or were voted on by the board.”
“I believe you are not correct in that,” Baker said. “We as a board did approve Carl Vinson, we approved the coursework for Carl Vinson, along with the amount.”
“I want to know who told Mr. Rogers to contract,” Keel said. “After the approved GSBA self-assessment on May 21, who told Mr. Rogers to contract with Carl Vinson Institute, to do the open meetings act course and the self-assessment, when GSBA was approved on May 21 to do those trainings. We contracted for three classes before it came to the board on Aug. 28.”
After more back and forth, Baker promised Keel that she would look into the matter and see it resolved. Keel left after the board moved into executive session, and did not stay for discussion.
“We ended up where we were with AdvancED because of all the negative stuff in the paper,” Baker said at the end of the meeting. “I think those of us that are really concerned about the children in our community are trying very hard.”
“It’s been an ongoing challenge to try and keep the business of the school system going,” District 4 board member Marcia Anderson said. “Even with the commotion that’s been brought up over the last two years, our school system has continually improved. Despite the commotion among board members our school system still has done well. We’ve got good teachers, good staff and we still put together a good program for the children.”
District 3 board member Carol Guyett also said that as board members, every January, a code of ethics is signed by each member, and within the code, it says that all members will attend meetings, and once a vote is taken by the board, it will be upheld.
“It’s difficult at times, because individual board members have strong feelings on issues that affect their community,” Guyett said. “So, some board members did not agree with Carl Vinson as a training company, however, the majority of the board realized that Carl Vinson is recognized state-wide for their work with governing bodies, to include boards of education, and we made the choice to use them.”
According to Guyett, there will be many changes and adaptations that will need to be made in order to comply with various directives that come from AdvancED. The board owes their constituents and children the best educational opportunities possible, she said.
“In doing this, we have to be the best functioning board possible,” Guyett continued. “As a board, we need to put past differences behind and try to come together for the good of our children and our community. How we get there is probably not something we can describe at this point, but as we go through these trainings, issues are going to be raised that will have to be addressed.”
Baker concluded saying if there is an item that the board needs to vote on, that has not been voted on, then the board will.
“As we go back and look to verify the concerns of Dr. Keel here today, and I wish I had known beforehand so we could have done that, but I do remember approving Carl Vinson, and the amount. As we plan for our training to satisfy AdvancED and move forward, I and most of this board is committed to doing whatever we need to do to keep our schools accredited, keep our community on the cutting edge of education.”
In the end, Anderson said that it’s not the board that they strive to protect, but the community and the children.