Southern Anti-Racism Network regional director Theresa El-Amin on Wednesday filed a complaint with the Muscogee County School District’s accreditation agency, AdvancEd of Alpharetta, Ga.
El-Amin asserts that the Muscogee County School Board’s 5-3 vote April 10 to table for three months superintendent David Lewis’ controversial recommendation to hire Camelot Education, a private, for-profit company based in Austin, Texas, to run three alternative education programs for a total of $6.4 million annually “jeopardizes the health and safety of special needs students and the improperly trained staff who serve them.”
The Ledger-Enquirer didn’t reach any AdvancEd official for comment Wednesday, but El-Amin forwarded AdvancEd associate director Jay Wansley’s email to her, which was copied to Lewis, board chairwoman Pat Hugley Green of District 1, vice chairwoman and countywide representative Kia Chambers and board attorney Greg Ellington.
“Per AdvancED policy, the information you have submitted will be submitted to our Complaint Team,” Wansley wrote. “As noted in our policy, all further communication will be with the system.”
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Green has been the only MCSD official to reply to the Ledger-Enquirer’s request for a response to the complaint.
“I did see the email of the complaint to Advance Ed regarding the Camelot vote being delayed,” Green wrote in an email to the Ledger-Enquirer. “We will have to await a response from Advance Ed.”
El-Amin’s request for an investigation came two days after a tense exchange she had with Green during the public agenda portion of Monday night’s board meeting.
“There are so many great things going on in the district under the leadership of Dr. David Lewis, and I’m here to support him in his moral and ethical imperative to get the help for the students with special needs that they need,” El-Amin said.
El-Amin said she notified Green, Chambers and District 4 representative Naomi Buckner that she would name them in her remarks. Board policy says, “Personal attacks on individuals will not be allowed.”
Green told El-Amin, “If you would, refrain from calling any names or any kind of …”
El-Amin: “I’m sorry, but I did notify you that I would do this, and I will read my remarks as they are.”
Green: “That’s true, but I did not get your attachment that said what your remarks were going to be. Dr. Lewis forwarded them to …”
El-Amin again interrupted and noted Green’s comments were taking up her 5 minutes the board allots for each person to speak during the public agenda.
Green: “Well, I’ll be glad to start it over, but I did want you to understand that I want you to honor and respect our policy and not …”
El-Amin: “I’ll just say ‘blank’ in place of the names. Is that satisfactory, Madam Chair? …”
Green: “Yes, ma’am, and I will have to stop you if you mention any kind of name-calling or disparaging comments. So I will start the time now.”
El-Amin proceeded to read her prepared remarks, except she said “blank” for each name. She provided the Ledger-Enquirer a copy of the complete version. Here are excerpts:
“On March 27, a vote of the board was unanimous to take a vote on April 10 on the Camelot Education contract proposal. On April 10, a motion was made to vote on the Camelot proposal and properly seconded.
“In the discussion, Board Member Chambers combed through the contract and made statements indicating the MCSD was not protected from liabilities that could cost millions of dollars. Ms. Chambers proposed that the vote be put off.
“Clearly, the board chair knew nothing of the unreadiness expressed by Ms. Chambers. In her stunning presentation, Ms. Chambers mentioned she had received numerous phone calls on the Camelot issue.
“I’m sure that’s true. What isn’t known is whether Ms. Chambers spoke with any of her constituents who called and emailed her. Her constituents I know reported that she never responded to their calls to ascertain her position on the Camelot Education proposal.
“I find the behavior of Ms. Chambers lacking in transparency and accountability. She is the only at-large member of the board. We are all her constituents. Did she only communicate with community members who called for a ‘No’ vote? I would like to hear her answer on whether she engaged in selective communication with constituents on the Camelot Education proposal.
“On April 10, a lot went wrong. As I watched Board Chair Pat Hugley Green attempt to support Ms. Chambers, I saw a train wreck about to happen. The recommendation for Ms. Chambers to make a substitute motion to ‘kick the can down the road’ and avoid the vote on the Camelot proposal was out of order. And maybe illegal.”
“… I left the board meeting thinking the substitute motion would fail on a 4-4 vote since Mr. Cantrell was absent and only 8 board members were present. I learned later that Ms. Chambers got her way on a 5-3 vote. Shocking! As stunning as Ms. Chambers was, she was wrong on so many levels.”
El-Amin didn’t read the following comments but wrote them in her prepared remarks about Chambers: “She was wrong not to ask her questions of the board attorney before the April 10 board meeting. She was wrong not to speak with the board chair about her concerns. If Ms. Chambers was not ready to vote, her best option was to abstain.”
El-Amin continued with her spoken remarks, still saying “blank” instead of names:
“The other option was for Ms. Chambers to make a motion for reconsideration of the March 27 vote to vote on April 10. This is the procedural question that I think should be addressed later with an investigation. Had she prevailed, her new motion to vote in 90 days would’ve been in order. Ms. Chambers owes the board chair, all board members and the whole community an apology.”
El-Amin added, “This whole process of the Camelot proposal has been fraught with secrecy and intrigue, and I have to say to the superintendent that I thought it was wrong for him to keep it this secret from the board and from the community for a whole year. It is too big an issue not to put it out on the table, to give people plenty of time to go over it.”
Other than Green saying, “Thank you very much,” no board member responded to El-Amin during the meeting. Wednesday, Green emailed the Ledger-Enquirer the following statement:
“Citizen input and criticisms are welcomed and we request that all speakers adhere to the policy code section Addressing the Board. The Muscogee County School Board operates according to policy code BCBI which encourages citizens to address items on the Board meeting Agenda or Work Session Agenda.
“I believe that is mutual for citizens and board members together to expect and demonstrate professionalism, common courtesy and a keen focus on our common goal of providing access to public education for All students. Our collective efforts, skills and expertise will lead the way to modeling a premiere school district and board.”