Cloud might finally lift over Shaw's departure

info@islandpacket.comAugust 18, 2013 

Phillip Shaw

PROVIDED PHOTO

Those concerned about how the Beaufort County School District deals with its employees should be thankful former H.E. McCracken Middle School principal Phillip Shaw has asked for a public hearing on his firing.

And they should hope the hearing actually takes place. (It's expected in September.) With Shaw's case, anything's possible, as we've seen over the past 10 months.

At the hearing, the board will hear from district officials and Shaw and decide whether to uphold his firing.

Shaw's hearing before the Beaufort County school board ought to be as much about the school district's performance as his.

The whole affair has been one big muddle since former interim superintendent Jackie Rosswurm walked him out of the school in November.

Shaw hasn't been back since, but he has continued to draw his $93,774 a year salary, even after not showing up in January to a newly assigned job. District officials first said he had been placed on leave while they investigated school policies and procedures and said he would only be gone a few days. That administrative leave changed later to "personal leave." The public was not told anything of note about the investigation. (There was a police report filed by district officials over an "unauthorized" bank account that turned out to be a school PTO account that had nothing to do with Shaw.)

In April, the district, with school board approval, renewed his contract, but Rosswurm said he had to settle problems with the district before he could come back to work. She also said he had refused to meet with district officials.

All the while, the public has no idea (for sure) what prompted Shaw's suspension, reassignment and now firing.

Here are some questions we'd like to see answered:

  • What were the grounds for Shaw's firing?

  • What prompted Rosswurm to suspend Shaw on Nov. 7?

  • What specifically did the district find in its investigation into McCracken's policies and procedures? Why didn't the district conduct the investigation before removing Shaw from the school?

  • Why was Shaw the choice to lead the district's alternative school for at-risk students when the district had problems with his leading McCracken Middle School?

  • Is there any validity to Shaw's claims (in a December interview with this newspaper) that his removal stemmed from his complaints about guidance counselor Annette Ballard? What were his complaints?

  • Shaw's secretary, Denise Gibbo, who left the school at about the same time Shaw did, has sued the district, Rosswurm and Ballard, claiming Ballard harassed her and the district did nothing about it.

  • What role did the school board play in the handling of Shaw's employment?

  • The school board has met behind closed doors at least twice to discuss Shaw -- in December and in July, when it approved Moss' request to "suspend and terminate" an employee, subject to a possible hearing. The board refused to name Shaw after its 10-0 vote July 23, but that came out when Shaw asked for a public hearing.

    Board chairman Bill Evans claims board members have been kept in the dark about the details of Shaw's case so that they can give him a fair hearing. We suspect they know far more than they let on.

    In an interview, he said, "We give the superintendent broad latitude in personnel matters. ... There has to be some place in there for trust that the superintendent knows what he or she is doing, and then go through the process, if necessary, to see if that (trust) is validated or not. We have to accept on face value that he made a recommendation that he can support."

    Evans said in a written statement last week that it would be "inappropriate" for the public to contact board members about Shaw's case. How could he stop it? Why make the statement except to try to intimidate the public and board members?

    He also said this: "The public has had a lot of very understandable questions about this. ... It will be valuable to everybody that there is a public hearing to clear the air on ... what has happened over the past nine to 10 months."

    That's true, and so why hasn't the school district facilitated it. If Shaw hadn't asked for a public hearing, we might never have gotten any of our "understandable" questions answered. It shouldn't take this long or be this hard to sort out the twists and turns in this messy case.

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