Muscogee County School District assistant superintendent Rebecca Braaten has resigned.
MCSD made the announcement Thursday. No specific explanation was given in the news release from communications Valerie Fuller, other than “to pursue other career opportunities outside the district.”
The news release quotes only superintendent David Lewis, who brought Braaten with him to MCSD in 2013, when the Muscogee County School Board hired him from Polk County, Fla., where he was an associate superintendent.
“I have had the pleasure of working with Mrs. Braaten in various roles for the past 15 years and appreciate the commitment she has demonstrated to the educational improvement in the MCSD for the past three and a half years in her role as assistant superintendent,” Lewis said in the release. “During her tenure here, she has spearheaded many of the successful initiatives outlined in our Strategic Plan and my Initial Recommendations Report. I hope you join me in wishing her well in her future endeavors.”
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Braaten’s resignation comes three days after the board, in a 4-5 vote, rejected Lewis’ recommendation to hire Camelot Education, a private, for-profit company based in Austin, Texas, to run three alternative education programs for $6.4 million annually. Braaten was among the chief administrators who helped Lewis propose the controversial deal.
The Ledger-Enquirer left phone messages for Braaten, Lewis and Fuller for further explanation, but they haven’t responded. Five of the nine board members, however, were reached for comment Thursday night – and all of them said Braaten’s departure was unexpected and nobody to their knowledge asked her to resign.
Vice chairwoman Kia Chambers, the board’s lone county-wide representative, was one of the swing votes that rejected the Camelot proposal, but she said in a voicemail, “I don’t think it (Braaten’s resignation) had anything to do with any recent occurrence.”
Chambers said the news “shocked” her and “I want to wish her well in whatever endeavor she wishes to do in the future … I thank her for her service and her time with Muscogee County.”
District 6 representative Mark Cantrell was considered the other swing vote that rejected the Camelot proposal. He also said he was “shocked” about the news.
“It came out of the blue,” Cantrell said.
Asked whether anyone of influence had expressed displeasure about her performance, Cantrell said. “I haven’t heard any negatives about Rebecca. … As far as I could tell, she was doing a good job, and the superintendent seemed like he was happy with her.”
Asked whether her departure is linked to the rejected Camelot proposal, Cantrell said, “I can’t speculate.”
District 7 representative Cathy Williams, however, did speculate that this rejection was part of “the culmination of having accusations thrown at you and your motives being questioned. I think that Becky and Dr. Lewis both have the best interest of the children at heart and are just trying to move our district forward. It’s a battle, and it shouldn’t be, and it wears you down.”
Williams, who voted from the Camelot proposal, emphasized she hadn’t talked to Braaten about the resignation, “so that’s not coming from her – she’s way too professional – but I feel like the cabinet has to struggle too much. … I think she’s just tired of how hard the job got to fight the school board politics. It seems like we have to fight every step forward, and I don’t blame her.”
District 2 representative John Thomas, who voted against the Camelot proposal, disputed Williams’ assertion.
“I know for certain that the board did not run her off,” Thomas told the L-E in an email. “The board's contact with Ms. Braaten has been minimal, and largely ceremonial in nature. I think the only time I ever had a conversation with her was during graduation exercises. It may be purely coincidental that her announced departure comes concurrently with the failure of the Camelot proposal; I can't understand why she would be affected by that failure. Camelot was 100 percent a Dr. Lewis project -- it was her job to be a cheerleader.”
District 5 representative Laurie McRae, who voted for the Camelot proposal, said Lewis informed the board about Braaten’s resignation in an email at 4:30 p.m., approximately 20 minutes before the news release, which contained the same quote from Lewis he sent to the board. McRae, however, didn’t see Lewis’ email before her husband saw the story on ledger-enquirer.com and broke the news to her.
“I really don’t know anything about why she resigned,” McRae said. “… I’m trying to get my head around it.”
In fact, McRae added, she saw Braaten at the Partners in Education awards ceremony Wednesday night and there was no clue that she would resign the following day.
“Not at all,” McRae said.