June 14, 2013

Career Academy principal resigns

Lawyer: ‘It was political’

By Christopher Smith

— A lawyer representing Career Academy Principal and CEO Tim Fleming said Fleming’s resignation on Thursday was the result of negative influence from Whitfield County Schools Superintendent Judy Gilreath.

Gilreath said that isn’t true.

Fleming resigned at the Northwest Georgia College and Career Academy Board of Directors meeting Thursday morning before having a private meeting with attorney Stewart Duggan from Rome. Fleming declined to discuss his resignation with a reporter. His last day is June 30. Academy board members were expected to decide on Thursday whether to renew his contract.

Duggan said he couldn’t go into the details of the resignation publicly but said Fleming’s performance was in “good standing.”

“All I can tell you is this: It was political,” he said. “(Fleming) isn’t going to make any statement about this ... He just wasn’t the superintendent’s pick.”

Fleming was promoted from assistant principal to principal and CEO — working as both a school administrator and in seeking involvement from the local business community with the academy — by former superintendent Danny Hayes on June 7, 2010. Gilreath replaced Hayes as the school system chief on March 30 and quickly reorganized most of the school system administrative staff.

Gilreath said she’s “puzzled” by Duggan’s comments.

“I don’t know what he would be talking about,” Gilreath said. “I’ve never even met the man. I don’t know what was said or who was there at the meeting. I don’t know anything about any politics. Unless he (Fleming) just didn’t want to work under me.

“I’ve had no agenda to get rid of him or anyone. I’m sure that kind of thing happens, but I don’t do that. That’s not the way I run the school system. I’m not out to get anyone.”

School Board Chairman Louis Fordham said it’s not uncommon for several principals to leave near the end of the school year.

Principals must write a letter of resignation and have it accepted before it is official. Most principals get approval from the school board, but because Fleming answered to academy board members his resignation was approved by them.

“Most leadership changes happen this time of year,” Fordham said. “This is when contracts get renewed or don’t. Everything bottlenecks right now. The timing is terrible, but that’s the system we work in.

“By law, contracts have to go out the last month of the school year (June). It can appear like there’s a lot of personnel leaving, but it’s just because we do all this stuff right now. It’s absolutely crazy with the timing, but we have to abide by the letter of the law.”

Asked about any political motivation behind hiring and firing of employees, Fordham said there is “no evidence for that.”

“There’s seldom a decision that someone isn’t going to consider to have some ulterior motive,” he said. “Do we really appear to make decisions on that criteria? I would dare to say Danny (Hayes), while he was in human resources and as superintendent — that we have kept a lot of principals he’s placed.

“We make many, many personnel changes. You can’t use one or two changes to indicate the character behind those decisions (is bad). For individuals who happen to have lawyers saying things, that’s fine. But that’s one perspective.”

Fordham said he respects a “certain right to know” about when and why school administrators leave.

“I don’t enjoy talking about these things because it’s always hard to get the full story,” he said. “But I want the community to know Whitfield County Schools should not be seen as an organization that’s not transparent. We will be as open as the law requires.

“We’re a large system and we have a lot of wonderful employees. We’ve made tough leadership decisions. Leadership changes are not new. They’ve happened under every superintendent.”

Academy Board Chairman Tim Campbell said board members didn’t discuss Fleming’s resignation at length during their execution session, a part of the meeting legally closed to the public and media to discuss personnel.

“We had two things on our agenda,” he said. “One was discussing having a better partnership with the governing board: the county school board and the superintendent ... the other was renewal of the CEO and principal position. Tim did resign prior to us visiting that item. For privacy reasons, I can’t be real specific as to why.”

Campbell said there had been a slight “disconnect in the past” between the academy board and the school board and that Fordham wanted the school board to take a more “active” role with the academy.

“The main thing was talking about the relationship between our board and the school board,” Campbell said. “We talked about trying to be consistent with the school board on how the academy is going to be run. Louis is supportive of it. The school board wants to have a more governing role, not so much an advisory board.

“There’s a lot of details to hammer out about that. There wasn’t a correlation between Tim resigning and that discussion. Very little was said about the resignation. Tim came in and gave me his letter. There was no conversation beyond that.”

Fordham said Fleming’s resignation wasn’t related to anything the school board was discussing either.

“I don’t know of any conflict between anyone or anybody,” he said. “And the academy board is pretty independent, which is how we want it. Our board doesn’t deal with them on a day-to-day interaction.”