Board of Education affirms ruling clearing Blevins

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   The Elizabethton Board of Education voted 4-1 at Thursday night's board meeting to affirm a ruling that exonerated Director of Schools Dr. Judy Blevins of allegations of harassment in a grievance filed by Elizabethton High School Principal Edwin Alexander.
   Board Chairman Dr. Robert Sams moved Alexander's appeal to the first item on the board's agenda due to inclement weather conditions.
   Alexander addressed the board restating his complaint that he had received a telephone call from the school system's attorney, Patrick Hull, on Nov. 7, regarding a complaint that had been filed against Alexander by another school employee.
   Alexander said that Hull did not tell him who had authorized or initiated the contact regarding the matter with him.
   "I thought it was a conflict of interest for the board attorney to be the complaint manager," said Alexander.
   Alexander felt Hull's call was a "strong-arm tactic which was orchestrated to intimidate, which certainly amounts to a case of harassment." He also cited the report issued by Garland of Blevins' statement that she did not direct Hull to take this course of action and that she was "following his (Hull's) advice."
   "Am I to assume Mr. Hull took it upon himself to initiate this call to me?" Alexander asked rhetorically. "Folks, who's in charge? Who is leading our system?"
   Attorney Bruce Shine, who spoke on behalf of Blevins, said Alexander had acknowledged in his complaint that he didn't "know who or whether Blevins had any role" in the phone call.
   "From his statement here this evening, it is clear that he acknowledges Mr. Berry as the individual who talked to Mr. Hull and asked Mr. Hull to call and that it was not the superintendent of schools," Shine said to the board.
   "It is clear she played no role in initiating or following through on this phone call," Shine said.
   Speaking before the board after Alexander, Hull said that, based on 20 plus years experience, he felt comfortable "to call anyone that I needed to work things out with."
   Hull said it had been his experience as an attorney dealing with the education environment to contact participants involved in a problem and try to work out the issues. He also acknowledged to the board that he had had a conversation with school board member Bobby Berry.
   "Frankly, the reason for that was to avoid this very divisive situation," said Hull.
   He said his intention was to "mediate, to resolve, to work out" the issues surrounding Alexander and Blevins.
   "It was something I, as your board attorney, needed to do, and I felt like I had the go-ahead from Mr. Berry and that was the attempt," said Hull. "The result of that attempt was this grievance filed against Dr. Blevins."
   After Alexander filed the grievance against Blevins on Nov. 7, Greeneville attorney Thomas J. Garland conducted an investigation into Alexander's complaint. His report found no wrongdoing by Blevins.
   School system policy assigns the director of schools to review the findings of a grievance investigation of a school employee. Since Blevins was the subject of the grievance, assistant director of schools Rondald Taylor was appointed to review Garland's report.
   In a letter to Alexander dated Nov. 25, Taylor wrote that Garland's investigation found no wrongdoing by Blevins and no grounds for his complaint.
   Referencing the decision and review made by Taylor, Alexander said that Blevins was Taylor's immediate superior.
   "Would any fair-minded individual consider this justice?" Alexander said.
   The high school's director of vocational education, Adeline Hyder, has filed a discrimination complaint stating that Alexander had questioned her integrity, loyalty to him, and her friendship with Blevins.
   In his address to the board, Alexander stated he had spoke with Blevins and Dr. Carol Whaley regarding what he felt were salary inequities among administrative members, particularly the assistant principals at EHS.
   Alexander had requested the high schools' assistant principals receive a raise, to which Blevins had replied that she could not, since those salaries were negotiated through the Elizabethton Education Association.
   According to Hull's statement in Garland's investigative report, Alexander had "expressed a belief that Mrs. Hyder was being paid more than she was entitled to because of her relationship with Dr. Blevins." A statement Hull had remarked as "strange", according to Garland's report.
   Alexander denied making that statement or averring a problem with Hyder's salary at the board meeting.
   "Mr. Hull asked me in that phone conversation about Ms. Hyder's salary - how someone, anyone, could receive special treatment, and I said 'look at the extended contract and the performance contract,'" said Alexander. "At absolutely no time did I say Ms. Hyder was making too much or was not earning what she was making."
   According to the administrative salaries presented at the meeting by Alexander, the two assistant principals at EHS average salaries for the 2002-2003 school year were $42,000 and $44,000 annually including career ladder and performance contract numbers. Hyder's salary as vocational education director was $56,000 including career ladder and extended contract money.
   However, according to those salary scales, Hyder has 29 years of classroom experience and six years as an administrator. EHS assistant principals Amber Honeycutt and Randy Little had six years and 10 years classroom experience, respectively, and one year each as an administrator, according to the salary scale.
   Alexander asked the board to publicly acknowledge that he had done nothing dishonest or unethical in nature.
   "I would like my reputation and credibility as an honest and decent person restored," said Alexander.
   He also requested a "reasonable amount of autonomy" to adjust the roles of personnel at the high school and stated the board should not allow "petty patronage and cronyism" to overpower the mission of educators.
   Prior to Alexander's address, Sams stated that the appeal was "not a hearing". The board had three options to affirm the ruling, overrule the findings or modify the investigation's findings.
   Board member Judy Richardson made the motion to affirm the ruling and received a second from Berry. Board member Catherine Armstrong voted no. "I don't feel comfortable with the complaint manager's decision," she said.
   "I feel very good about that because I could not see how a phone call from another person could be harassment from me," said Blevins after the meeting. "I am hopeful that we can move on and focus on the education system."
   Procedures in the grievance filed against Alexander by Hyder are expected to begin next week.