A member of the Bartow County Board of Education said concerns brought to her by several of her constituents spurred her to file a complaint against her fellow board members with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Wanda Cagle Gray said her complaint was filed based on the appearance of wrong doing.
“I feel if there’s a presence of wrong doing, and if I don’t do anything about it, I’m just as guilty as whoever is (doing it),” Gray said.
A representative for SACS did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Two of Gray’s four concerns center around the use of school system facilities. Gray said that Excel Christian Academy uses the baseball field at the old Cass High School without a contract and the Rome Volleyball Club uses the gym at the new Cass High School, without any fee listed. Neither had board approval, Gray said.
“I don’t see any money involved, and there was no board approval,” Gray said. "I just want to know who’s paying the bills on the utilities. My constituents were very concerned with the field usage and the gym usage.”
Board Chairman Davis Nelson said that some organizations pay to rent fields while others don't, such as the Bartow County Recreation Department, which he said provides in-kind services. Nelson said his school followed the same process that other organizations do when they rent school system facilities. Although Excel doesn't pay a fee to use the ballfields, Nelson said the school spent $20,000 on repair work.
"That was probably 10 to 15 times what they would have had to pay to use the field," Nelson said.
The chairman said he did not have first-hand knowledge regarding the use of fields by the Rome Volleyball Club.
"My understanding is that they followed the exact process they were supposed to follow, and she knew that before she filed that complaint," Nelson said.
Gray’s third complaint is that Board Chairman Davis Nelson signed plan reviews for the new Emerson Elementary and Adairsville Middle Schools on behalf of the Coosa River Soil and Water Conservation District, of which he is a field supervisor.
“I told him not to do it anymore, and he turned right around and did it again,” Gray said.
However, Nelson said he holds a volunteer position with the CRS&WCD as a way to give back to Bartow County.
"There are paid employees who do all the checking of the requirements," he said. "Once they’ve done that and marked it, I sign off on it. Ms. Gray knew that. She knew the process and what that was all about before she filed that complaint. She even asked the board attorney during an open meeting if it was illegal what I was doing, and she was told it was not illegal. She has the facts but she’s chosen to file this complaint now."
But, it was the fourth concern that pushed Gray over the edge and convinced her to file her complaint. During a board retreat in February at Berry College in Rome, Gray said she left when the meeting was adjourned and the other board members reconvened and continued without her.
“I asked them to amend the minutes, and they refused to do that,” Gray said. “They discussed the budget without my district being represented or the press or the public. It’s an appearance of wrong doing.”
Nelson said Gray was aware that the meeting would last for three hours and that she chose to leave before it adjourned, as he said she has done at numerous other meetings.
"If you check records, you’ll see that she leaves school board meetings multiple times early," he said. "I don’t know why she chooses to do that. She knew the hours of the meeting, and she chose to leave. It was not adjourned until it was finished. She chose to get up and leave. That’s not mine nor the other board’s responsibility to get her to stay."
Superintendent John Harper said today he had received a letter from SACS late Monday afternoon regarding concerns from the community about policy being violated, but that he hadn’t had a chance to read it.
Nelson and Vice Chair Angie Cornett both said they were aware that Harper received a letter from SACS but were not aware of what it addressed.
“Dr. Harper said last night he had received a letter from SACS,” Nelson said. “I haven’t seen the letter, and he had not read it. I hadn’t talked with him to see what the content of the letter was. He and I have not talked today.”
Nelson said he anticipates the content of the letter will be discussed at a future board meeting.
“Not knowing what the content is, it’s kind of hard to say definitely yes,” he said. “But, if there’s any kind of issue of value, I think it would be discussed at a board meeting.”
Board member John Howard said Tuesday he knew there would be a letter but didn't know Harper had received it. Fellow board member Anna Sullivan did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.
Gray said several other residents sent letters to SACS regarding actions by the board, including former board member Matt Shultz. He said that, while he doesn’t know many specifics, he did feel that some of Gray’s concerns were legitimate.
“What she put in the letter I thought was valid,” Shultz said. “Some of the things I was aware of, and some things I wasn’t. I felt like there were some things there that warranted an investigation, and I didn’t think she was getting very far with the board itself.”
“I had some issues as to how that was all handled,” Shultz said. “There were a number of things, but just the overall direction of the system. If board won’t take issues seriously, that’s when SACS needs to step in.”
Nelson said that anyone can make an accusation.
"The question is, can you prove that?" he said. "And she hasn’t proven it. It doesn’t hurt me, it hurts the school system. What she’s chosen to do this time is tragic. She’s put the students and staff in this school system at risk for what she’s doing for personal gain. She’s up for re-election, and that’s the only reason I can think she would dare to do this. If you follow this with other school districts, you can see what kind of turmoil this creates."