Tina Parris said she didn’t intend to retire from the Calhoun County school system, after 24 years working in education.
But with her contract as Calhoun County’s chief financial officer set to expire on Sunday — and no action from the school board to renew it — Parris said she had no choice but to apply for retirement this week.
At Thursday’s school board meeting, early in the session, Parris unloaded on school board members for not voting on her contract.
“I have done nothing wrong,” Parris said before a crowd of about two dozen people at the school board headquarters in Anniston. “There is no reason my contract should not have been renewed. Everything this board, the majority vote of this board is doing lately, is based on spite, hatred, hatefulness and revenge.”
The board had convened Thursday to take on a handful of typical summer business items, plus approval of a belated contract for Superintendent Donald Turner. But one action they didn’t take, Parris’s contract renewal, took center stage.
Parris made roughly $95,000 a year as manager of the school board’s finances, her job for the past six years. She said Wednesday that the school board has had clean audits from the state in each of those years. The latest state audit, published by the Department of Public Examiners last week, again gave the county a clean bill of health.
But the school board has spent much of the summer shuffling its high-level administrators. First Turner, former executive director of the school system, was appointed superintendent in April. Then the county appointed a former principal to an assistant superintendent position, and began shifting other building-level administrators to new positions or schools.
Those decisions have come after lengthy closed-door meetings, with the board invoking its power to go into executive session to discuss the reputations of school board employees.
School board president Tobi Burt said the lack of a renewal for Parris wasn’t meant to imply that she’d done anything wrong.
“We just decided to move in a different direction,” Burt said.
Parris said she’d been aware her three-year contract was coming up for renewal, but didn’t hear from the board until the last few weeks.
“I’ve been asking them, since April, their intentions,” she said.
The contract deadline for Parris came as the board faced another long-awaited personnel vote. Turner has been working as superintendent since April at his former salary of about $88,000, according to numbers from the school board’s finance office. But it wasn’t until Thursday that the board voted on a contract for Turner as superintendent.
It was an easy vote to miss. Since Turner took office, the board has often brought up personnel decisions as letter items — “personnel matter A” — and voted them up or down with little discussion. Turner said after the meeting that his contract includes a $130,000 per year salary for a three-year term.
That’s at the low end of the salary range the board approved before Turner’s hire, though Turner last week expressed a desire for a contract with a three-year term.
The board also voted Thursday to hire Criterion Consulting, an education consulting firm, to begin a search for a new chief financial officer, and to provide financial consulting during the search for the price of $750 per day per consultant. The company was founded in 2016 by Whit Colvin, the school board’s attorney, according to state records.
Colvin on Thursday said he’s not the sole owner of the company and didn’t recommend Criterion for the contract.
“We probably work with about a third of the school boards in the state,” he said.
Parris on Thursday alleged that the board met and discussed her contract and Turner’s during a convention of the Alabama Association of School Boards in Orange Beach on the weekend of June 15.
Alabama’s open meetings law states that “all meetings of a governmental body shall be open to the public and no meetings of a governmental body may be held without providing notice.”
Burt said the board members were together as a group but didn’t discuss the contracts as a group. He said he did talk to board members about them individually during the conference.
“As a group, no,” Burt said. “Now did I ask, have a conversation with each one of them, ask their opinion about stuff, I probably did.”
A 2015 revision of the open records law prohibits public officials from holding “serial meetings” in small groups to discuss public business without calling a meeting. To qualify as a serial meeting, though, one meeting in the series has to occur within seven days of a vote on the matter discussed, according to section 36-25A-2(13)a of the Code of Alabama.
For years, Parris has been one of the first speakers at every school board meeting, offering an update on school revenues and expenditures. Those items were absent from Thursday’s agenda. Parris told the Star she believed she had been left off the agenda so she wouldn’t have a chance to speak at the meeting. She rose and spoke nevertheless.
Board members Jeff Winn and Mike Almaroad said the board should have given Parris a chance to present one last time.
“That really bothers me, that we’ve done a person that way,” Almaroad said.