McCracken principal says leave a cover-up for ongoing problems with school counselor

rheaton@islandpacket.comDecember 5, 2012 

Phillip Shaw

H.E. McCracken Middle School principal Phillip Shaw said Wednesday he believes he's been placed on leave by the Beaufort County School District because of complaints he has made about a guidance counselor at the school.

Shaw, who has been on paid administrative leave since Nov. 8, said he was initially told the leave was based on concerns related to the transportation of a student to the hospital on Nov. 7. But that's a cover-up, he claims.

Interim superintendent Jackie Rosswurm again declined to say why Shaw was on leave Wednesday.

District officials have said earlier that the issue with the student is unrelated to Shaw's leave, but have given no reason beyond "personnel issues" involving Shaw to explain his nearly month-long absence from the school.

Shaw continues to draw his $93,774 annual salary while Joe Warfield, an assistant principal at McCracken, leads the school.

HOSPITALIZED STUDENT

On the afternoon of Nov. 7, a McCracken student was taken to Beaufort Memorial Hospital because of concerns about his mental health. The student was driven to the hospital by the school resource officer around the time school was ending, 2:30 p.m.

Shaw was not in the building at the time, he said. That day, a Wednesday, he had attended one of the bimonthly meetings between district officials and principals in Beaufort. That meeting ended at about 12:30 or 12:45 p.m. From there, Shaw said, he stopped to get gas and eat lunch, picked up something from his house and ran an errand. He wasn't at the school during school hours that day, he said.

He knew about the issue with the student because he had checked in with school staff and was told. To his knowledge, the situation was handled correctly, he said.

PRINCIPAL QUESTIONED

The next day, Nov. 8, Rosswurm and Alice Walton, the district's head of human resources, came to McCracken Middle shortly after school started at 7:30 a.m.

Shaw said the two came straight to his office and for more than an hour asked him a series of questions, mostly about his whereabouts the day before and the transport of the student.

Shaw was told he was being placed on administrative leave, and was asked to write a statement about the student's transport. Other employees at the school also were interviewed that day about the student's transport.

Shaw said he was told his leave would be referred to as "personal leave." It was only expected to last a few days at the time, he said.

Shaw turned over his keys, ID badge, computer, laptop, phone and iPad as requested. He said he was walked to his car by Rosswurm and Walton.

He hasn't been back at the school since.

District officials have declined to say whether Shaw was placed on leave or chose to take it.

Although district spokesman Jim Foster initially said Shaw would be on leave for only a few days, Foster and Rosswurm now say Shaw's leave will continue until a comprehensive review of policies and procedures at the school is complete.

BANK ACCOUNT

Shaw says in his one interaction with district officials since then, no questions were asked about the transport of the student.

Instead, he met with district chief of operations Phyllis White and Walton on Nov. 28 to discuss an unauthorized bank account in the school's name. He knew nothing about the account, he said. The account has since been linked to the school's PTO and student council.

In that meeting, Shaw said, he wasn't told when he would return to school nor was he updated on the status of the district's review into the transport of the student to the hospital, he said.

White has previously declined comment on the meeting.

SHAW'S THEORY

Shaw believes his leave has little to do with the student transport issue -- after all, he says, the assistant principal in charge at the time, Warfield, isn't on leave and no more questions have been asked about the issue.

Instead, Shaw believes his leave stems from complaints he had lodged against a guidance counselor at the school, Annette Ballard.

Ballard has irritated members of the school's staff for a few years, Shaw said. In June, after hearing about a dozen teachers complain about Ballard, Shaw took his concerns to Rosswurm, who then was head of human resources.

In an email dated June 8 from Shaw to Rosswurm, delivered anonymously to the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette, Shaw details some of his concerns about Ballard and says he will spend the next day bringing "all the information together so our time on Monday can be as productive as possible."

That email was not included in the district's recent response to a public records request from The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette. The district provided 10 emails but none shed light on the reasons for Shaw's absence. In its response, the district said it withheld five emails because "they deal with personnel issues with two employees" at the school.

Other statements and emails provided anonymously to the newspapers detail McCracken employee's complaints about Ballard regarding scheduling and personal disagreements.

An attempt to reach Ballard at the school Wednesday was unsuccessful.

Shaw said his and other complaints about Ballard have not been addressed by the school district. In the past, when he has filed human resources complaints, they got a response or some action, he said.

Rosswurm declined to comment or confirm that she had received complaints about Ballard, saying it is a personnel issue.

Shaw said Ballard has repeatedly referred to Rosswurm as a personal friend.

Rosswurm confirmed Wednesday that she worked with Ballard in the early 1990s, when she was principal at McCracken. When asked, what her relationship with Ballard was, Rosswurm said she knew Ballard as "an employee of the district."

Rosswurm said Wednesday she is still does not know how long the review of the school might take.

Follow reporter Rachel Heaton at twitter.com/HomeroomBft.

Related content:

Police close investigation of 'unauthorized' McCracken Middle account; Dec. 5, 2012

'Unauthorized' McCracken Middle bank account was PTO's; Dec. 4, 2012

Beaufort County School District discovers unauthorized McCracken Middle bank account; Nov. 30, 2012

Beaufort County School District: McCracken Middle School principal to return soon; Nov. 15, 2012

School district mum on principal's absence; Nov. 14, 2012

McCracken Middle School principal on leave; Nov. 13, 2012

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