Public deserves answers on McCracken principal

info@islandpacket.comDecember 7, 2012 

Beaufort County School District officials have done neither themselves nor Phillip Shaw any favors in their handling of his absence from the principal's job at H.E. McCracken Middle School.

The people who pay his $93,774 salary, and especially parents whose children attend that school, deserve better and more timely information about what is going on. Not only is he a public employee, but he is -- or was -- responsible for the welfare of more than 900 children. Circumstances surrounding his absence from school should not be left in doubt, subject to speculation and innuendo.

Any investigation that warrants his removal from school, as Shaw describes his "personal leave," warrants more than a note to parents stating he will be gone from school for "a few days." That message came only after his absence was reported by this newspaper.

Now that he has been gone for a month, with pay, it is even more imperative that district officials conclude their review of policies and procedures at the school and decide -- if they haven't done so already -- whether Shaw stays as principal. Quite frankly, his departure before this review was conducted raises even more questions. What prompted such drastic action ahead of a review? Why not do the review and then remove him if that's what is called for?

For his part, Shaw says he's under fire for complaints he made about Annette Ballard, a guidance counselor at the school. District officials refuse to comment, citing "personnel issues." They also gave that as the reason for not releasing some emails in response to our Freedom of Information Act request.

But how personnel issues can be handled under the law isn't as clear-cut or all encompassing as many public officials would like you to believe.

Under the law, public bodies may -- but aren't required to -- meet in secret to discuss employee hiring, firing, discipline or promotion. If a hearing involving the employee is held, the employee can demand that the hearing be public. Personal information, whose disclosure would constitute an "unreasonable invasion of personal privacy" can be withheld. The law goes on to say that the provision can't be interpreted to restrict access to information contained in public records.

In recent years, district officials have demonstrated a knack for making complicated personnel issues even more complicated because of the way they handle them. Dan Durbin at Beaufort High School and Constance Goodwine-Lewis at Broad River Elementary School are but two examples.

Goodwine-Lewis is a particularly puzzling case. First, the district announced she would have to reapply for her job because test scores were not improving as well as they should and were not on par with improvement at similar schools. Then Goodwine-Lewis was to return as "principal apprentice" with an executive principal in charge who would help her develop her leadership skills. But when test scores were released in August, Broad River Elementary earned an "A" from the state, and Goodwine-Lewis was back in as solo principal.

Interest in whether a principal stays or goes is often high. The comings and going matter to the community, particularly to the people whose children and their education are under that principal's care. Members of the community often are involved in their hiring.

Interim superintendent Jackie Rosswurm, who is still handling human resources matters for the district, must do better than she's done with Shaw. She's left herself, the district, Shaw and Ballard open to needless speculation. This matter needs to be resolved and the public told what has happened and why.

The Island Packet is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service