Did the punishment fit the crime?
Despite objections from two of its members the Wilson County School Board voted Monday night to uphold the ruling which left a former Tuckers Crossroads educator suspended for one semester without pay.
Tenured Wilson County teacher Matt Mock landed in hot water with the board in spring 2015 after playing pranks during a teacher work day. These pranks included putting lotion on door knobs, taking other teachers' car keys and moving their vehicles and rearranging furniture in the classrooms - which members again pointed out as "unbecoming conduct" for a man in his position.
Mock was originally terminated from his position on July 6, 2015, on charges which included insubordination, neglect of duty and harassment and intimidation of an African American teacher. Mock appealed the termination.
Hearing Officer Robert Wheeler ruled that except for the unbecoming conduct charge, other allegations against Mock were unproven and that termination was excessive. Wheeler imposed a one-semester suspension without pay on Oct. 23. It was announced in December that Mock would be reassigned for the spring semester to Mt. Juliet Middle School.
However, the latest appeal argued that the one-semester suspension without pay was also excessive for his actions.
WCS Attorney Mike Jennings presented the appeal at Monday night's meeting - explaining to board members that they had four options: (1) they could sustain the hearing officer's ruling, (2) send it back for more evidence, (3) revise the penalty to make it more or less harsh or (4) reverse the decision.
Board Member Don Weathers was the first to share his thoughts, saying that he "could not support" taking six months of pay from Mock.
He brought up a past incident in which at Watertown educator was charged with DUI and given five days of unpaid time-off before getting his job back. Weathers argued that the former incident was an illegal action - which Mock's was not.
"Really the only thing he (the hearing officer) found Mock guilty of was conduct unbecoming of a teacher. He did not find on the matter of discrimination or harassment - the way I read his finding," Weathers broached the subject. "There was not enough finding to convict him of intimidation."
Weathers continued to question the Board's policy - even requesting a work session to investigate it prior to February's BOE meeting.
McNeese questions director of schools
Board Member Wayne McNeese was next to step in with his concerns over how the investigation was handled.
"The list of charges we read, obviously some of them he was guilty of, but where we came up with them... We had two teachers in my mind, one especially wasn't an administrator of that school - conducting the interview. The other hadn't even taken office over there," he said, referring to an earlier argument by Mock's attorney Michael Clemons who said Anna Raines, who at the time was assistant principal at Lebanon High School but is now TXR principal, contacting the Central Office to report the incident.
Clemons earlier said that a teacher at the school, Melanie Mundy, had texted Raines, who then contacted Deputy Director of Schools Mickey Hall. Clemons alleged that Raines and Mundy began collecting statements from the teachers at TXR, adding that no person who at the time was an administrator spoke to the minority teacher or asked her about what happened before the case was presented to the board on July 6.
"For us to go out here and do what we did - I gotta be careful how I say that, too - it goes back to what we were told by our director of schools. Most of it was made up or a lie - or - what she was told was made up or a lie. One of the two," McNeese said. "I don't want to throw anybody under the bus, but we found a lot of HR (human resources) problems in our system that have made us the laughing stock of the state. We've had people fired who file a lawsuit and they get their jobs back.... Where is the accountability for all this stuff?"
"Mr. McNeese, is that directed at me, as far as I've been called a liar?" Director of Schools Dr. Donna Wright questioned.
"I didn't say that, Donna," McNeese retorted, explaining that somewhere he felt the investigation was lacking. "Whose job is it to do an investigation?"
Wright looked to Jennings as far as "what I can say."
"I would like to say all of us have had the opportunity to read the transcripts thoroughly. Some of your references are inaccurate as far as what is in the transcripts. They are different from how you are explaining what you feel and what you have heard or been told," Wright continued, before saying that she stood behind the hearing officer's decision.
"This has not been in any way an easy decision for any of us - in any form or fashion," Wright said, pointing out the eye witnesses, statements in the transcript and what has transpired since that time.
Chairman Larry Tomlinson and Board Members Linda Armistead and Bill Robinson voted in support of the hearing officer's decision to suspend without pay, while McNeese and Weathers voted in opposition.
"The hearing officer could have found that he no longer deserved to work in the Wilson County School System," Tomlinson said. "(Mock) will have a job tomorrow (Tuesday) morning when school starts back. Matt is not the only one that this decision has affected. There are other folks affected by this that haven't had the same opportunity that Matt has had in being able to retain his job."
Staff Writer Sabrina Garrett may be contacted at email@example.com
WC School Board hears from bus vendors
Representatives from three bus vendors appeared at a work session before the January Wilson County School Board meeting to share their thoughts on the bidding process.
The board was concerned when only one of three vendors chose to participate for 2016.
Transportation Director Jerry Partlow asked each representative to share their thoughts in order to determine whether "bid specs are fair or biased in some manner."
The lone-bidder, Mid-South Bus Sales, represented by Steve Benefield, felt it was "as fair as we deal with on a daily basis" - however, others saw it differently - believing specifications swayed toward a particular vendor.
Chuck Harvill, General Manager/Tennessee Operations for Central State Bus Sales said it is a situation they see frequently. "We have school districts who ask us to help write their specs - that's okay," he explained. "But when we see they've done that with another bidder we step away."
"We've not protested or taken legal action of any kid," he said. "We don't plan to do that. We just want a chance to earn your business."
Out of the estimated 70 opportunities he's had to bid this year, Harvill said he's only passed on three - one of them being Wilson County.
Ashley Hailston, with Cumberland IC Bus Sales, felt the same.
"I couldn't win this, so I chose not to participate," she said, holding up sheets where she highlighted 75 exceptions within the first five pages. "I don't want to say I wasn't treated fairly. I did have the opportunity, and it was my choice to no-bid."
Hailston admitted that she was at a disadvantage from the get-go due to specifications such as a 3-year, 50,000-mile warranty specific to another vendor - when her company only offers 12-months.
McNeese said it was concerning that they would spend $1 million with only one vendor on the list.
"We need to reject it and start again," he said. Weathers also said that he couldn't support the motion.
Robinson stood in support of Partlow's specifications.
"I feel like he wants to put us a top-notch transportation system together. I feel like he is going to do what is in the best interest," he said.
McNeese responded that he also supports Partlow, but had questions about who wrote the specifications - since Partlow was recently selected to fill a position left vacant after recent terminations of Tiffany Lowery in Sept. 2015 and Joshua Hinerman in 2014.
Staff Writer Sabrina Garrett may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org