Talladega City Board of Education

The Talladega City Board of Education includes (from left) Mary McGhee, Jake Montgomery, Shirley Simmons-Sims, Chuck Roberts and James Braswell.

TALLADEGA -- The Talladega City Board of Education voted 3-0 Tuesday night to authorize Superintendent Terry Roller to seek requests for proposals to demolish Dixon Middle School. Board members Chuck Roberts and Shirley Simmons-Sims were absent.

Although she was recorded as a yes vote, board member Mary McGhee would not second the motion made by board member James Braswell and did not vote audibly in favor of it. Board Chairman Jake Montgomery eventually seconded the motion to let it proceed to a vote. Although it is not against rules governing BOE meetings, the chairman does not traditionally make or second motions.

Dixon, across the street from Zora Ellis Junior High School, at one time held all of the system’s sixth-grade classrooms. The school was closed in 2004, and the building has been more or less vacant ever since.

It has occasionally been used for classes when other buildings were under renovation and for textbook storage. The building was first marked for demolition as part of a 2010 plan to consolidate all of the system’s elementary schools, but a lack of funding has caused that plan to largely fall by the wayside.

Montgomery said the board’s action Tuesday was to only authorize requests for proposals. The board will not take action to bid the demolition until it has a better idea of what it might cost.

Although no action was taken Tuesday, Montgomery also asked the board to consider replacing at least one of the four snow days the system took in January. In addition to the loss of learning days for students, Montgomery said the system lost about $250,000, mostly through payroll for teachers who were still getting paid. He added that it was not the teachers’ fault, but asked that there be some consideration to replacing at least some of the missed days.

The system was also closed for a snow day in December, but Montgomery said that day was already being replaced with classes on Presidents Day next week. Because the December snow did not coincide with a declared state emergency, the system was required to replace it, he said. The governor had declared a state of emergency for the January storms.

Although the demolition of Dixon was perhaps the most momentous issue taken up Tuesday, the largest portion of the meeting was spent on McGhee protesting the chairmanship not being rotated since the last election and subsequent, occasionally heated exchanges between McGhee and Montgomery.

McGhee cited a 1991 federal consent decree resulting from a lawsuit brought against the City Council and the board at that time, alleging discrimination in hiring and appointments.

The decree ordered that the school board be elected based on single member districts in the same districts as the City Council. Board elections were to be non-partisan and based on the same four-year cycle as council elections. The chair is to be rotated equally, she said.

Montgomery was elected chairman by a 4-1 vote, with McGhee dissenting, in November 2015 and has continued to serve in that capacity ever since.

By McGhee’s calculations, the chairmanship should have been rotated in August 2016 and June 2017, and was due to switch again in March.

“Since the last election, this board has been violating the court order, with some members using smear tactics, false allegations, etc.,” she said. “This board needs to set in motion practices established in the court order to avoid additional litigation. This board is a rotational board and should be done accordingly.”

McGhee did not make any specific motions Tuesday, but she also said she wanted to review all the board’s legal expenditures since January 2016 and also threatened further litigation if the board did not resolve a salary issue that she said had been brought before it previously. She also asked for a vote to change the chairman the next time all the board members were present.

It would appear that McGhee is ineligible to hold the chair because the board voted 4-1 in March 2017 to censure her over statements she made regarding a board employee. During the meeting where the censure vote took place, McGhee also complained that Montgomery had held the chair for too long and was violating the court order.

After she finished making her remarks regarding the chairmanship, Montgomery said the board should consider approving a consistent policy for hearing appeals of employee complaints because there was not such a policy currently on the books.

“We have policies that should be used,” McGhee said. “If you’re saying there are no policies, then you’re doing wrong yourself. You’re trying to set a double standard and write the rules and regulations yourself.”

Replied Montgomery, “Let me finish. I showed you that respect just now.”

Said McGhee, “You’re not showing any respect for the employees.”

Said Montgomery, “We need to have a consistent policy, and right now we don’t have one.”

Replied McGhee, “That needs to come from the board as a whole. One person is not the board.”

When asked what procedures had been used in personnel appeals last year, Montgomery said there had not been any. When asked why the board had not been informed of any of the pending appeals, Montgomery said none of the pending appeals were properly before the board yet.

McGhee said this was one reason that she had asked to see the board’s legal bills. Montgomery said there was nothing stopping her from reviewing those invoices with Chief Schools Financial Officer Arthur Watts whenever she liked.

McGhee also voted against the personnel actions Tuesday, saying after the meeting that the board was hiring people without providing her with information backing up their qualifications, while qualified employees were left in other positions.

Further coverage of Tuesday’s meeting will appear in Thursday’s Daily Home.