School board upholds firing of ex-Bluffton principal

sbowman@islandpacket.comNovember 4, 2013 

  • The motion

    Made by board secretary Laura Bush

    "I move that the Board uphold the superintendent's recommendation that Mr. Phillip Shaw be dismissed from employment with the Beaufort County School District, effective Nov. 5, 2013, based upon the testimony and evidence presented to the board during the hearing in this matter, and that the board issue an order to that effect."

Nearly a year after former H.E. McCracken Middle School principal Phillip Shaw last reported to work, his dismissal became final Monday.

The Beaufort County Board of Education upheld superintendent Jeffrey Moss' recommendation, made this summer, that Shaw be fired. The decision followed a two-day public appeal and about three hours of deliberation by the board.

The termination was upheld 8-2, with board members Michael Rivers and JoAnn Orischak opposed. Evva Anderson abstained. She did not give a reason for her abstention and said she did not want to comment.

Shaw and his attorneys -- Fatima Zeidan and Clifford Bush III -- would not comment after the hearing.

School district attorney Vernie Williams with Childs & Halligan said, "I think it was the appropriate decision to make. ... I think the witness testimony and documentary evidence supported the decision made by the board."

The hearing began Friday and provided the first extensive public explanation for firing Shaw, who was entitled to a closed-door appeal but chose a public hearing.

Shaw was fired in July.

He was first placed on leave in November 2012, after a district examination of McCracken's finances and administration. In January, he was reassigned to a job in the district office, but he never reported to work. Nonetheless, he continued to earn his $93,774 annual salary until the board's July decision.

District administrators said Shaw was often absent from the building and not a visible leader when he was present.

A Beaufort County School District operational services officer also said 10 financial-policy and procedural violations occurred during Shaw's tenure. In her testimony, Phyllis White said Monday those violations included student-collected funds that were not properly funneled through the school bookkeeper and payments for goods that were made in cash.

Moss said Shaw did not comply with district directives while on administrative leave, violated the confidentiality rights of an employee and was not honest in answering questions.

"What I used in my determination for my letter (recommending Shaw's termination) was that either Mr. Shaw knew about what was going on and did nothing, or Mr. Shaw didn't know," Moss testified. "And both of those are serious concerns for me for principal of the school."

Shaw's attorneys called three witnesses, but not Shaw or his office manager, Denise Gibbo, both of whom were deposed.

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 former acting superintendent Jackie Rosswurm in May, alleging she was harassed and libeled by school guidance counselor Annette Ballard and that neither the district nor Rosswurm responded to her complaints.

The district and Rosswurm asked a judge in August to dismiss the suit, arguing that it lacks evidence. The suit is still pending.

Shaw's defense called to testify McCracken drama teacher Sherie Bush Sturgis, Bluffton High School principal Mark Dievendorf and Mike Sanz, who once worked for Shaw at McCracken and who also is a former school board member.

"Shaw was a good principal to me; he was very supportive of me in my classroom, as well as in my personal life," Sturgis said.

She said she read a section on procedures for handling school money in a district handbook and understood them. Sturgis said she didn't know why other teachers did not.

Shaw's attorneys argued that the 10 financial and procedural violations cited in a district report of school operations were attributed to teachers; none were attributed to Shaw.

Dievendorf and Sanz both said Shaw was a helpful and professional colleague.

In his closing argument, Bush said little hard evidence tied any wrongdoing to Shaw.

"All they have given you up to this point is a bunch of hearsay and undocumented incidents about some employees who worked under this man," Bush said. "You have to ask yourself, 'Where's the proof? Where's the proof Mr. Shaw ever did that?'"

In his closing argument, Williams said testimony given under oath was not hearsay but evidence.

Williams said he was surprised Shaw didn't testify but that his decision not to is indicative of the kind of weak leadership that led to Moss' recommendation.

"He does not accept responsibility for his actions, so Moss ultimately concluded that is not the type of principal and administrator he wants in his district," Williams said.

Moss would not comment after the hearing.

A request by The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette for all copies of the documents entered into evidence was not immediately complied with, but Williams said the documents would soon be provided after some personnel names were redacted. However, a copy of Moss' letter recommending termination was provided.


The motion:

Made by board secretary Laura Bush, "I move that the Board uphold the superintendent's recommendation that Mr. Phillip Shaw be dismissed from employment with the Beaufort County School District, effective Nov. 5, 2013, based upon the testimony and evidence presented to the board during the hearing in this matter, and that the board issue an order to that effect."


Document: Superintendent Moss' termination letter to Phillip Shaw

Follow reporter Sarah Bowman at twitter.com/IPBG_Sarah.

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