ELIZABETHTON — The Elizabethton City School Board voted 3-2 Tuesday night to deny a request by former West Side Elementary Principal Doug Mitchell to appeal his recent non rehire as principal and transfer a teaching position at T.A. Dugger Jr. High School. Board members Catherine Armstrong and Connie Baker were the only ones who voted to allow the appeal.
Chairman Rita Booher said she had spoken with Randal Bennett, an attorney with the Tennessee School Board Association and said he advised her state law does not allow a board to overturn a transfer. “The most we can do is ask the superintendent to change his mind,” Booher said.
Baker said the board could at least hear Mitchell’s arguments, but the board declined to do so.
Mitchell did not speak during the meeting, but he did prepare a packet of information for the board. In a cover letter, he wrote he would present “several significant professional, ethical and logical facts and circumstances,” in an effort to ask the board to consider alternative measures rather than the transfer. He gave five arguments for the board to consider including statements that he had received the highest evaluations in the previous four years he had been principal and his school was the highest achieving in the system. He also said he had received no written statements of deficiencies and never given reasonable opportunity to make corrections.
While Mitchell did not speak at the meeting, several citizens did speak out during the time set aside for citizens to speak. Instead of defending Mitchell, most chose to go on the attack, calling for Alexander’s employment contract to be terminated.
The first to speak was Rhonda Bolton, who said “it is clear Mr. Alexander has not followed board policy.” She said Alexander has also “put one school against another, and one supervisor against another. She said such competition was unhealthy for the children.
Linda Guimond said she used to work in management at Pfizer and had to counsel and fire some employees. She criticized Alexander’s style with the Mitchell transfer for causing controversy. “If school board policy had been followed prior to March 20, this (controversy) would not have happened,” she said.
She also criticized Alexander for the way he discussed Mitchell’s non rehire in a faculty and staff meeting. “He came in defensive and angry,” she said. He said his justiication for the move “was vague and not well defined.” She said she was shocked and stunned by the meeting and said “it was clear, questions were not welcome.”
Dr. Rebecca Powers was brief in her criticism. She had only three things to say: “I have no faith in the leadership, I am not alone and we are not going away.” She said if the board did not remove Alexander, “we will proceed with a recall election...it is not an insurmountable task. We will make it happen.”
A few spoke in defense of Alexander, including Elizabethton High School Athletic Director Mike Wilson and private citizen Rick Wilson.
Armstrong did include a request to add an item to the meeting’s agenda to consider allowing Alexander’s contract to expire in September and begin interviews for a new superintendent. There was some disagreement over the exact wording of Armstrong’s agenda addition. The board agreed to the addition of the agenda as Armstrong said it should have been worded.
Before the board could consider Armstrong’s motion, there was a discussion on whether the board could take any action on a superintendent’s contract. Booher said state law requires that 15 days notice must be made in local papers. Armstrong said she had discussed the question with TSBA attorneys and been told it could be considered without the 15 day notice if the contract was allowed to expire. Board member Grover May said he had also been in conversation with the TSBA attorneys and he believed they were not aware of the date the school board’s meeting would take place.
Although the board agreed to discuss the employment contract without taking action, a short recess was taken and Armstrong was unable to continue. She had broken her hip a few months ago and had to leave. Her agenda item was moved to July, when a discussion on Alexander’s contract was already planned.