Board of Education Chairman John Weldon and member Chris Taylor couldn’t be two more contrasting personalities: Weldon thoughtful, genial, linguistic; Taylor large, expressive, pointed, a unique sense of humor to boot as recalled in his entertaining petitioning candidacy for mayor in 2015 when he promised free laptops, cable, bicycles and gift cards, if elected.
Over the past several days, with a bunch of officials copied, Taylor and fellow member Maria Pereira have engaged in a back and forth of emails involving school board protocol and Taylor’s insistence that the board order school chief Aresta Johnson to terminate school and city officials outside the board’s scope of authority.
Taylor, as facilities chair, says his concerns center on “poor workmanship” complaints he receives about school buildings. Taylor has called for the firing of two men involved in school construction programs.
As OIB readers have come to appreciate in the comments section, Pereira gives as good as she gets, but in one email Taylor tells Pereira to “drop dead.”
Taylor demanded some controversial items be placed on the school board agenda including Johnson’s employment future at its next regular meeting in mid-January. Weldon, in the email below sent Tuesday, schools Taylor on board rules and regulations cautioning him against disparaging remarks against employees … “I strongly urge you to cease this activity in order to avert any liability toward yourself and the Board that it will certainly create if it persists.”
It provides a window into the maneuverings of school board issues.
Thank you for taking the time to submit the items you did today for placement on the 1/14/19 Agenda. With respect to those items:
1. Superintendent’s Contract – As the last year of the agreement draws near, we will be required to advise the Superintendent as to whether we intend to extend the agreement or not. I appreciate your withdrawal of this item. However, you should be aware that, going forward, it would be inappropriate to address the matter much more than 30 days away from the final year of the agreement. When that window of time arrives, we’ll address the matter.
2. Items Related to Terminating the Employment of Various Individuals – The only employee the Board has direct jurisdiction over is the Superintendent. To the extent members of her staff interact with the Board (i.e., as staff liaisons to Board committees, or those that make regular reports to the Board), we can advise the Superintendent of our satisfaction with those employees’ performance in that very limited regard. In turn, she may apply that to broader performance metrics she may have established for them. Irrespectively, we cannot direct her to terminate anyone’s employment. As such, we cannot place any item directing the Superintendent to terminate anyone’s employment on the Agenda. Conversely, if you are aware of employee activity that may require disciplinary action, by all means report them to the Superintendent for her investigation. However, be mindful that whatever action she determines is warranted (if any) is her own prerogative based on labor any labor agreements or employee work rules currently in place.
3. Item Related to the December 17, 2018 Superintendent’s Agenda – Please be advised that (with the exception of the Superintendent’s own position) any hiring, termination, or change in employment status (promotion/demotion with any commensurate salary adjustment) are the purview of the Superintendent. When they are reported and “voted” on under the Superintendent’s Agenda, the vote taken at the Board level is an acknowledgement of the information reported. It is not a true approval or denial of any employment status change or salary adjustment. As such, we cannot place an item on the Agenda directing the Superintendent to reverse an everyday organizational decision affecting rank-and-file employees which was made using sound business judgment. Irrespectively, if one would like some clarity as to the rationale behind such a decision, the question can simply be asked.
4. By-Laws – While that document was initially placed on the Governance Committee’s agenda in January 2017, it is not ready to be addressed. As such, any item relating to it would be futile. When it is actually ready to be picked up, it will be placed back on the Governance Committee’s agenda for its consideration to move to the full Board. So you are aware, my goal is to have that occur within the first quarter of 2019.
Last, over the past few months, you have made various disparaging remarks on the public record concerning many of the staff members referenced in your proposed agenda items. You should be aware that those employees may come to feel their employment is in jeopardy by you (and perhaps the whole Board) – and that they are also being placed in a hostile work environment – if these remarks continue and are followed by requests to terminate their employment. As such, as your Board Chairman, I strongly urge you to cease this activity in order to avert any liability toward yourself and the Board that it will certainly create if it persists.
I appreciate the active interest you take in your role as a Board Member – I know you are actively trying to do what best. However, in our role, we have to be very mindful to not inadvertently allow that active interest to blur into interference with day-to-day staff activity and to be careful to “stay in our lane.” Given the sensitive legal nature of these topics, I’ve copied our Counsel on this e-mail. If you have any questions, please let me know.