School district completes first day of Shaw public personnel hearing

Ex-principal "insubordinate" district says

sbowman@beaufortgazette.comNovember 1, 2013 

Former H.E. McCracken Middle School principal Phillip Shaw "willfully violated financial policies and protocols" and was "insubordinate," a lawyer for the Beaufort County School District said Friday.

The explanation, during the first day of Shaw's public hearing to appeal his dismissal, marked the first extensive explanation by the district of its handling of the former principal's employment. He was terminated in July but had not reported to work since leaving McCracken in November 2012.

Shaw's attorney countered that the principal had received exemplary reviews just before his termination and had helped improve the school's academic standing.

Shaw's appeal, conducted much like a trial, is being heard by the Beaufort County Board of Education, which will decide whether to uphold Shaw's firing.

Shaw was put on administrative leave from McCracken Middle on Nov. 8, 2012, but continued to be paid his $93,774 annual salary while on leave. The school board voted July 23 to fire Shaw, on the recommendation of superintendent Jeffrey Moss.

Shaw requested the public hearing Aug. 13.

Six witnesses were called by the district's lawyers Friday, and the hearing will continue Monday at 8:30 a.m. at the district office at 2900 Mink Point Blvd. in Beaufort. The district will call another witness before Shaw's attorneys present their case.

In an opening statement, district lawyer Shirley Fawley said that Shaw failed to follow "simple directives."

Those orders included assuming a more visible leadership role in the building, keeping regular hours required of all administrators and failing to move his secretary's office out of his own.

District human resources chief Alice Walton said in her testimony Friday that Shaw was an ineffective leader.

"As an administrator in the building, the tone is set from the top," Walton said. "They have to ensure everyone in the building has a safe and healthy working environment ... (and) I don't believe Shaw has exhibited that in his dealings with me."

On Nov. 6, 2012, Walton and Jackie Rosswurm, acting district superintendent at the time, contacted Shaw to schedule a meeting the following day to discuss several of their concerns. He was not at the district office when Rosswurm and Walton went to meet with him the next day. Walton said Shaw was contacted on his cellphone, and he said he was not far from the office and would be there shortly.

But according to Walton, the district never was able to reach Shaw again and officials did not meet with him that day.

On Nov. 8, Rosswurm and Walton went to McCracken to ask Shaw why he did not return to the district office for their meeting the day before. The principal also was asked why he had not moved his office manager's desk out of his office, to a more appropriate location, as instructed.

Walton said Shaw provided no clear answers to their questions. Rosswurm said she decided to put Shaw on administrative leave.

Rosswurm stated she initially thought the leave would only last a few days, but it was extended when financial issues were discovered.

Funds raised by the school were not being properly routed through the school's bookkeeper, Rosswurm said. Walton and Rosswurm found a lock box in Shaw's office containing more than $600, and a week later Walton received an email from school bookkeeper Barbara Williams alerting her to financial problems.

Williams testified Friday that money raised at the school often was not brought to her to deposit into the school's student activities account -- a violation of district policy.

She said she told Shaw this on several occasions, and he said "he would take care of it." But nothing changed after those conversations, Williams said.

McCracken English teacher Sonia Merrick testified that for her first two years as student council sponsor, during the 2010-12 school years, she had been advised by Shaw to take money raised to Shaw's office manager, Denise Gibbo. Merrick said she was not informed this violated district protocol until Walton and district chief operational services officer Phyllis White began looking into Shaw's handling of money.

Both Merrick and science teacher Susan Dee testified that Gibbo was always in Shaw's office, often behind a closed door where it was very difficult to speak with Shaw. They said Gibbo was rarely in the adjoining office that was supposed to be hers.

Gibbo took a leave of absence at about the same time as Shaw and no longer works for the district. She filed a lawsuit against the school district and Rosswurm in May, alleging that she was harassed and libeled by school guidance counselor Annette Ballard and that the district nor Rosswurm never responded to her complaints.

The distirct and Rosswurm asked a judge in August to dismiss the suit, arguing that it lacks evidence to pursue action against them. That suit is still pending.

White said she found McCracken in violation of several policies. That included the existence of an unauthorized account that Shaw said he was unaware of. White said that "any principal is responsible for activities that occur at that school."

According to Rosswurm, Shaw's behavior "warranted immediate termination," but he was allowed to continue working for the district because White's financial investigation was not yet completed and because he had not been placed on an improvement plan.

After Shaw missed a December meeting to discuss his future with the district, Rosswurm reassigned him to the Right Choices alternative-education program, where he would serve as director.

However, Shaw failed to report for his first day at the program Jan. 2, Walton testified. She said he later informed her that he was on sick leave.

Rosswurm testified she also got an email from Shaw on Jan. 3 saying he had never received her reassignment letter.

Shaw's lawyer, Fatima Zeidan, said Shaw received proficiency ratings on an August 2012, evaluation and received a letter noting his exemplary work in exceeding academic expectations at the school Sept. 5, two months before he was placed on leave.

Zeidan said many of the accusations about her client -- including Shaw's lack of visibility, irregular hours and failure to relocate Gibbo's office -- were the product of hearsay from teachers that district officials could not have known first hand.

She also said the teachers who testified did not know district financial protocol because they did not read their teacher handbooks, where that information is provided.

A request by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette for copies of the documents entered into evidence Friday was denied, after attorneys for both parties said some employee names would need to be redacted before the documents are made public. They also said many witnesses are still "sequestered" -- they are not allowed in the hearing unless they have already testified -- so they would not release their names Friday. The lawyers said the documents would be provided when the proceedings were completed.

Fawley and Vernie Williams of Childs & Halligan are representing the district administration in Shaw's hearing.

Shaw is represented by Zeidan and Clifford Bush of the Law Offices of Clifford Bush III.

Video: Highlights from opening arguments in Phillip Shaw hearing

Highlights from the Nov. 1, 2013, opening arguments during former H.E. McCracken Middle School principal Phillip Shaw's hearing to appeal his firing by the district. Sarah Welliver

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman on Twitter at

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