Roper: I have no intention of hiring family members

By Thomas Wilson
star staff
twilson@starhq.com

  Elizabethton Superintendent Dr. David Roper made his feelings known about the city Board of Education's review of the system's existing nepotism policy at Thursday night's board meeting.
  "I couldn't care less if it is changed or not," Roper told board members. "I have no intention in hiring any of my family members into the school system."
  Currently, the city's policy prohibits hiring immediate family members of school board members or the system superintendent. The policy came up for debate at the board's September meeting during policy review. At that meeting, board members wanted the nepotism policy placed on the October meeting agenda for review. The initial agenda did not include the policy; however, an agenda addenda brought the policy up for review.
  Board member Catherine Wooten Armstrong said she had talked with another state school system where a superintendent's wife had been hired. "It didn't last long," Armstrong said.
  Roper's wife, Sandy, who attended Thursday night's meeting, is a special education professional in Alabama. Roper took offensive to Elizabethton's ever-active rumor mill about whether there was a hidden agenda behind the nepotism policy adjustment. He said he was amazed by speculation about the review's intent, and said he had no motivation in bringing a family member on board.
  "Leave it how it is; I could care less," Roper said. "It is just ludicrous."
  Carter County School System's nepotism policy allows the hiring of family members of school board members and school administrators, including principals. The policy also permits hiring relatives of Carter County Commission members or any other elected county official provided the relationship is publicly disclosed.
  Board member Bob Berry reiterated his concern Thursday night that the system might be missing out on quality employees because of the policy. Board members discussed a small pool of applicants for some positions that required certain degrees or educational designations.
  "My concern is missing out on a great employee," Berry said.
  Board Chairman Dr. Bob Sams said he had no preference about the policy. He said the recommendation to open the policy up came from Tennessee Education Secretary Lana Seviers.
  "That is where the idea came from," Sams said.
  Harry Farthing, president of the Elizabethton Education Association representing the system's teachers, urged the board to leave the existing nepotism policy intact.
  "It has worked well for us and we see no reason to change the policy," Farthing told the board.
  The board did not take any action to review or alter the nepotism policy on Thursday night.
  The board removed an item from Thursday night's agenda to discuss naming the softball field at Elizabethton High School after Charles Robinson, late publisher of the Elizabethton Star. The board's decision to remove the Robinson naming came the same day the Star published an article stating the board might consider revising the nepotism policy at Thursday night's meeting.
  The board also heard complaints from parents at West Side Elementary School about what they feel is a change in attitude about parental involvement at the school.
  Bill Plummer, who addressed the board last month, said parent participation at West Side has dwindled this year.
  "We are struggling to stay involved," he told the board.
  Trudy Colbaugh said she and her daughter, a tuition student at West Side, loved the school last year, but she noticed a change in atmosphere this school year.
  "I'm hurt this year," an emotional Colbaugh told the board.
  Stacy Waugh, who's daughter is a first-grade student at West Side, said teachers and staff intercept parents from accessing teachers or their children's classroom. She said parents are no longer allowed to go to their child's classroom to provide snacks or even refreshments for birthday parties. Waugh said she supports security around the school and the policies for safety, but feels the attitude at West Side is no longer welcoming for parents.
   "When you start closing doors, small things matter," she said.
  Roper said the policy regarding access to teachers and students is uniform across the school system. He added that the rule at West Side may have been more lax than at East Side or Harold McCormick Elementary schools in years past. He also said activities at the school involving parents are many, and he disputed any notion the policies were designed to keep parents away from participating in their child's education.
  Roper said the system stands ready "to work with any parent" regarding West Side's atmosphere.
  In other business, the board voted 5-0 to approve an architectural study for future expansion of East Side Elementary School. A jump in enrollment figures forced the school to add a third kindergarten class this year. The growth forced the school's computer lab into the library and limited rooms once used exclusively for art and music instruction.
  Parents of East Side students attended the meeting Thursday night to thank Roper and Armstrong for meeting with them two weeks ago to discuss the school's future expansion.
  Board member Dr. Jonathan Bremer attended what was likely his last full board meeting. Bremer's four-year term on the board ends next month. He opted to run for a third term in the Nov. 2 city election. He said the low points of his time on the board came under rough political circumstances.
  "The high points have come from the hard work and extra effort given by the school system's teachers and parents to make this a great school system," he said.
  Bremer said he read candidate profiles appearing in the newspaper last week and was struck by candidates who said they want politics removed from the school system process. Bremer said he has learned that is often easier said than done.
  "You think it shouldn't be political, but it is," Bremer said, "and you have to work with that and through that to achieve your goals."