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School board fracas continues

A dispute between members of the Liberty County Board of Education has gone to social media and beyond, with allegations having been lodged with the powerful school accrediting group AdvancED, claiming the board hasn’t followed its policy in regard to choosing a new bank.

According to a Feb. 15 letter to Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee, the BOE has 30 days to respond to the allegations, which also include board member interference in the day-to-day operations of the system.

The letter does not say who complained to AdvancEd, but school board member Marcus Scott said Wednesday in a streamed broadcast on Facebook he was disgusted with the BOE, naming board chairwoman Lily Baker and Lee.

During his broadcast, called The Educational Hotline, Scott said Lee and Baker are retaliating against him and people close to him. He also questioned the apparent

demotion of Snelson-Golden Principal Ronald Van Horn, something the BOE has yet to announce publicly.

Baker denied Scott’s accusations against her and Lee. She said they have both just been doing their jobs, which Scott doesn’t like.

Scott mentioned what he calls questionable handling of the recent proposals and vote for the school system’s banking services, which have led to the threat of legal action against the system from Liberty County School System Chief Financial Officer Roger Reese.

Reese’s attorney, Matthew Billips, alleges in a Jan. 18 letter that Lee violated BOE policy with regard to the bids and has threatened him with termination for going to Baker to complain.

Bids from The Heritage Bank and Ameris Bank were both turned in by the LCSS’s deadline of Oct. 7.

Afterward, the bids were opened by Reese, LCSS Assistant CFO, Janine Graham and representatives of both banks.

Both banks then presented their proposals during a BOE retreat meeting held Dec. 13.

According to the Jan. 18 letter from Billips to Lee and the BOE, Reese and the committee reportedly recommended Heritage to Lee. Reese alleges that Lee violated policy and tried to coerce him to change the recommendation to Ameris, but he would not.

Reese, reportedly went to Baker before the BOE voted on the matter Jan. 10.

During his show Scott questioned why Baker had not told the board that Reese had come to see her. He also said Reese told Baker that he and the committee had recommended Heritage, not Ameris.

"So you would think, knowing that information, that the board chair would tell the board," Scott said. "Because this was right before the meeting and we didn’t get that information."

Baker said that was true. "Yes, I did meet with Mr. Reese at his request," Baker said, noting she had no idea what Reese asked to meet about until he started talking about the bank proposals. She said she didn’t tell other board members, but did tell Lee about the meeting.

"I didn’t want to get into that," Baker said. "That is Dr. Lee’s job. She is the superintendent. She does that. I had no involvement in (request for proposals) other than choosing the bank that provides the greatest interest for our taxpayer’s dollars."

Baker said the guidelines for handling the bids were followed.

"There is a committee," she said. "And they bring it to the superintendent and she is able to choose what they brought or not. She can elect to go with something else. And she did. And if you’ve seen the (requests for bid proposals) you’ll know exactly why."

Baker said the BOE voted 6-1 for Ameris Bank because it had it the better proposal.

"It is her choice to bring to us (the BOE) what she (Lee) feels is the best proposal," Baker went on to say. "That is why we hired her and why she is the superintendent. We at any time could have asked if that was the committee’s recommendation. But we did not. And on that day of the presentation, Mr. Reese could have said to us that the committee is recommending Heritage Bank but he didn’t. He never did."

Scott said school board members have tried to retaliate against him for siding with Reese. Scott said board members also tried to say he was in violation of ethics policy for arguing with a woman in Brunswick.

"I wasn’t arguing with her… My friend was arguing with her, I didn’t even have a discussion with her," Scott said, adding the woman was later escorted out by the police.

"So they realized they had nothing, so that didn’t even come up anymore they dropped that."

Scott said the BOE is "still fishing for stuff," and the attack on Van Horn is retaliation against him because he is accused of misusing the gym at SGMS.

"We’ve done several demotions under Dr. Lee’s tenure, but this is most definitely a problem because I feel it is totally, and again I don’t use this word lightly, but it is out of retaliation," Scott said.

Baker denied that claim.

"That was not the case," Baker said. "And he loves to use the word retaliation… The board is given the task of enforcing policies and procedures, state and federal laws. And when those are not enforced the board must address those issues… He continues to play the harassment card to downplay his behavior… Accepting responsibility for one’s own actions is challenging for some people."

Baker said school board members are elected to increase student achievement, be good stewards of taxpayer money, increase graduation rates and keep the system accredited.

"And that is the most important," she said. "It is my desire that this board can return to the goals… If not we are going to be in serious accreditation trouble."

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