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Jefferson placed on administrative leave

A motion from the Selma City School Board Thursday could have superintendent Dr. Don Jefferson on the brink of termination. -- File photo

An unexpected motion, a report by the school board’s attorney and an admission of a contract approved without board approval has placed Selma City School superintendent of education Dr. Donald Jefferson on administrative leave and on the brink of termination.

During Thursday’s school board meeting, board member Frank Chestnut offered a motion admonishing Jefferson’s handling of a contract and called for Jefferson to be placed on administrative leave immediately ahead of an Oct. 25 hearing, that could lead to Jefferson’s contract being terminated.

“It was a clear-cut case of insubordination and unprofessional conduct,” Chestnut said following the meeting. “I do want to say that we need to let the process work itself out. We’ll have a hearing and see where it goes from there.”

It appears the main reason for the board’s action, which received a 3-2 vote by board members, dates back to a contract with STI Achievement Services for the 2010-2011 school year.

Jefferson admitted that he authorized a $155,235 contract with the company without board approval, noting the error came shortly after being named interim superintendent in June 2010. Last month, Jefferson noted the error while at the same time calling for a new contract with the company for the 2011-2012 school year in the amount of $210,675.

The timeline for the contract being authorized by Jefferson was laid out by board attorney Katy Smith Campbell, who concluded in her report that “board procedures were not followed by Dr. Jefferson to enter into the contract with STI Achievement Services.”

Chestnut offered his motion immediately following Campbell’s report.

In his motion calling for Jefferson to be placed on leave, Chestnut detailed what he considered the insubordination act.

“At the board meeting held on Sept. 8, 2011 Dr. Jefferson presented a new proposal to contract with STI Achievement Services,” Chestnut wrote in the motion. “The board voted against the superintendent’s new proposal to enter into a contract with STI Achievement Services.

“After the board voted against the new contract with STI Achievement Services Dr. Jefferson instructed his staff to continue with the STI assessment schedule in spite of the board’s vote against using STI Achievement Services.”

Prior to the motion calling for Jefferson to be placed on leave, the board, by the same 3-2 vote, voted down Jefferson’s motion to authorize last year’s STI contract and the STI contract for 2011-2012.

The board members voting against the contract and those voting in favor of placing Jefferson on administrative leave were Chestnut, Brenda Randolph-Obomanu and Holland Powell. Board member Udo Ufomadu and board president Henry Hicks sided with Jefferson.

“I had completely no idea this was happening,” Hicks said after the meeting. “This was completely out of the blue. People need to do what they feel they need to do, but, this one is, I don’t know, I am at a loss for words.”

Hicks, who said the contract being approved without board consent was an “oversight” and should not have led to the point where the board may be poised to terminate Jefferson’s contract.

“If there is a problem with the superintendent, as a member of the board, I would dare say that we need to discuss it,” Hicks said. “But to bring it to this point, to recommend and vote for administrative leave and talking about killing a contract; we don’t need to be buying out more contracts, especially when we have a superintendent that’s trying to do the best he can.”

As for Jefferson, he said contract approval was an oversight on his part and on the part of the board, as they had discussed the results of the company’s work multiple times last year. But, he said the move by the board Thursday was one based on politics.

“All of this stuff is orchestrated; all of this stuff is planned,” an upset Jefferson said following the meeting. “Those three [board members] are just orchestrating their power on the board. This is strictly political stuff.”

Even before the contract dispute and the call for him being placed on administrative leave, Jefferson and members of the board had been at odds, even leading up to Jefferson preparing legal action against the board.

In late August, Jefferson’s attorney Terry Davis had asked the board to remove what he and Jefferson considered a letter of reprimand from Jefferson’s file and apologize within 10 days.

The letter, which board members issued Jefferson calling for him to receive additional human resource training, was not removed from his file, and now, Jefferson said after Thursday’s meeting, legal action will move forward.

“Oh, yes, 100 percent,” Jefferson said when asked if he will now ask his attorney to move forward with the lawsuit. “They [the board] knew what was coming. I had it on my agenda tonight to ask them again to remove the letter. But that didn’t happen.

“We are going to move forward with the suit.”

After voting to place Jefferson on administrative leave, the board approved the appointment of Gerald Shirley as interim superintendent of education.

Hicks said Shirley, who is principal at School of Discovery, would take over immediately and that most likely that Jackie Walker, assistant principal at School of Discovery, would take over as principal until Shirley returns to the school.
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