A sent by one member of the to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools dominated discussion during Monday night’s school board meeting.
Board Chairman Davis Nelson said a number of issues have been brought before the board in the last one-and-a-half years.
“The majority of this board has sat quietly and sort of watched and listened to a multitude of accusations, visions and predictions,” Nelson said. “We remain quiet because we know what was going on was about one person and that person’s disdain for the new board members.”
But, now is the time to speak, Nelson said.
“Our children and our staff have been placed in harm’s way by these actions,” he said. “Please understand that we will not get into a debate, nor will we get into an argument and fight.”
Nelson addressed several issues in the complaint that Wanda Cagle Gray filed against her fellow board members. One of those concerns centers around the use of school facilities by – where Nelson serves as headmaster – and the Rome Volleyball Club, of which board member Angie Cornett’s daughter is a member. Excel performed in-kind services totaling $15,000-$20,000 for use of the ball fields at the . Those services include moving 50 tons of dirt added that to field, adding six tons of turf, three chemical fertilization applications, three applications of chemical ant killer, moving three tons of clay around the plate, painting and retiling all buildings, fixing doors and windows, and repairing the scoreboard.
“Excel far exceeded what they were required to do and did so willingly and are very appreciative of the opportunity they have had,” Nelson said. “And, by the way, they are all Bartow County taxpayers.”
Gray said that her concern lies with Excel using the fields without a contract or board approval.
“Do we pick and choose who we require contracts with or give board approval to?” she said in a statement that was emailed to reporters. “I believe that everyone should be able to use our facilities for in-kind services if they choose to or at no charge at all.”
Nelson has said that the Rome Volleyball Club followed the proper procedure to rent the gym at the and said that he has a list of other groups who used facilities at no cost during this and previous board’s tenure.
Nelson also addressed his involvement with the Coosa River Soil and Water Conservation District, of which he serves as a district supervisor, and said that the board’s attorney has said during a public meeting that Nelson’s role is not a conflict of interest. While some district supervisors in Georgia are elected during general elections, others are appointed. Bartow County is not included on the list of counties in which supervisors are elected.
Nelson said that four board members wanted to restudy the properties for the new and Emerson Elementary Schools and Adairsville Middle School to avoid another “fiasco” similar to what occurred at the new Cass High School, where Nelson said the school system spent an addition $5 million fixing sinkholes during the construction process.
The first soil report for the school system’s property in Emerson stated that there were possible risks on the former mining property and that it was not suitable for structural support of new fields, buildings or pavements.
“When I read that, as the other board members did, that sent up a red flag that we needed to be careful, that we needed to do further testing, and that’s what we requested to be done,” Nelson said.
A team re-evaluated the properties for the three new schools and recommended .
“You can’t say 100 percent that nothing will happen during construction, but you can do multiple soil testings to make sure everything (is as safe) as possible,” Nelson said. “I’m sorry if it upsets some people to slow the process down and do more testing.”
And, at the property where the new Cloverleaf Elementary School is being built off Georgia Highway 20 Spur, French drains were installed and an extra large retention pond was placed on the site to accommodate runoff from subdivisions and Highway 20 that had not been handled sufficiently.
“Again, the board was acting responsibly on the part of our children and our taxpayers to avoid another tragedy like Cass High,” Nelson said.
In response to Gray’s claims that the board continued discussing budget issues after adjourning from its retreat at Berry College in February, Nelson said that every board member knew the meeting would last until 4 p.m., and that Gray and a news reporter left after Superintendent John Harper’s budget presentation, which lasted around an hour.
“This might have been odd if this had been the first time Ms. Gray had left meetings early,” Nelson said.
According to copies of board meeting minutes dating back to March 2011 that were provided to Cartersville Patch, Gray was marked as being absent from four meetings and leaving four meetings early.
In her emailed response, Gray said she has left during executive session four times in her four years serving on the board.
“Before the new board took office I never left an executive session,” she said. “Maybe the reasons I left is because I could not believe what I was hearing behind closed doors or because what was being discussed was not allowed under the Georgia Open Meetings law.”
She also questioned the transparency of the retreat in Rome, the minutes of which she said state that she was present.
“Why was a board retreat dealing with the budget scheduled out of town during the middle of the day when the public is working and cannot attend?” she said. “Was it an attempt to avoid public transparency? Does someone have something to hide?”
Harper said last week that he had received a letter from SACS regarding Gray’s complaint but on Monday night told the board that the letter included a different school system’s name and he has not received an updated letter.
Gray said she filed the complaint with SACS after several of her constituents approached her with concerns.
“The documents that I have and the documents that Davis nelson has are two different documents, and we’ll let SACS decide,” Gray said. “I just had to do it for the betterment of Bartow County schools.”