By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
Words of support from two elected officials, a preacher and a former elected official, along with a show of support from three other current and former elected officials, were not enough to sway the convictions — and votes — of four Escambia County Board of Education members during the October 12 BOE meeting.
The four — District 1’s Kevin Hoomes, District 4’s Cindy Jackson, District 5’s Loumeek White and District 6’s Sherry Digmon — held steadfast in their earlier stances and prevailed over Board President Danny Benjamin (District 2), District 3’s Mike Edwards and District 7’s Coleman Wallace in a vote that will bring Superintendent of Education Michele McClung’s local tenure to an end next summer.
Prior to the vote, Atmore pastor Willie Hawthorne, District Attorney Steve Billy, former Flomaton Mayor Dewey Bondurant and State Senator Greg Albritton (an Atmore resident) each spoke on McClung’s behalf.
“This is the first time in a long time we’ve had anybody to reach out to the community of Atmore,” Hawthorne said. “I’ve sat back and seen things go on, and it seemed like nothing was stopping in Atmore. All of a sudden, it seems like things are changing. Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s going to take time, but we can see a light at the end of the tunnel. I think we should keep walking down that tunnel.”
The district attorney chastised board members who might vote against the contract renewal, even before a vote was taken, insinuating that each who might vote “no” was violating his or her oath of office.
Bondurant, who also pointed fingers before an actual vote had been made, said he didn’t understand how anyone could vote against McClung. He also asserted that, “the town of Flomaton, they have called me, and they support Miss McClung.”
Albritton brought more than words of support, presenting McClung with a check for $72,172.72. The state senator said the amount of the annual check is roughly three times the amount it usually is because of the progress and advancements Escambia County Schools has made under McClung’s leadership.
“You have all my support,” he told the superintendent.
As a prelude to the board’s vote, Benjamin heaped another helping of praise on the county schools chief.
“She’s done an extraordinary job, and she plans to do an even better job,” he said. “That’s just how she rolls.”
The 4-3 roll call vote to not renew McClung’s contract brought vocal protests from the BOE members who voted in favor of extending the contract, as well as from others in the crowded meeting room.
“What a travesty; what a travesty,” said Benjamin, shaking his head in disbelief after a moment of dead silence. “We would rather see our children go back to the failing status rather than achieve A-status in all our high schools. What a travesty.”
Flomaton Fire Chief Steve Stanton expressed his anger as he left the crowded meeting room, saying: “I know I ain’t supposed to speak, but this is the most ridiculous thing that’s ever been done in this county.”
McClung, who was hired in 2021, promised she would continue to work until her current contract expires to better the system. She also expressed pride in the progress she and her staff have made in improving the schools.
“I was raised to know that it’s the right thing to do to leave a place in better condition than you found it,” she said. “I assure the board, as well as our community, that I will work diligently through the remainder of my contract to continue and make improvements. The next superintendent will find this place in better condition than I found it.”
Edwards then spoke up, venting his ire over the contract not being renewed.
“For the first time in 12 years, I’m ashamed of being on this board and I’m ashamed of the members who voted ‘no’ because, as Mr. Billy said, they gave their oath to do the best for the children,” he said before speaking directly to Digmon. “I remember you standing in front of a podium in Atmore and saying that. If you think this is best for our children, then we need new members to replace you four.”
Digmon replied that she voted for the system’s teachers and other employees, none of whom she said had expressed satisfaction with the way the schools were being run.
“I have not had one employee get in touch with me and say, ‘Gee, I wish y’all would change your vote;’ everybody has said we need new leadership,” the District 6 representative said. “Ms. McClung is one of the smartest people I have ever served with, I will give her that. I just think the leadership, as far as our employees in our schools who are teaching our kids, the leadership needs to change.”
Wallace took his turn then, echoing the sentiments expressed by Benjamin and Edwards.
“I think it’s a disgrace for people to take an oath of office and then say that the leader of this group is not doing a satisfactory job,” the District 7 rep said. “This is the best work I have seen in the 12 years I have been on this board. This is the best leader we’ve ever had. We will never reach the integrity that’s needed to support our children under the present personnel on this board. I’m ashamed to be a part of it.”
Bondurant then stood and tried to express additional comments, defying a request from BOE Attorney Kirk Garrett to not interrupt the meeting.
“You’ve already had your chance to speak,” said Garrett, to which the former Flomaton mayor replied, “That doesn’t matter; I’m going to speak anyway.” The county sheriff had to step in and restore calm.
Also attending the meeting in a show of support for McClung were Atmore Mayor Jim Staff, Atmore District 1 Councilman Webb Nall and Flomaton Mayor Jim Johnson. Escambia County Republican Executive Committee Chair Jackie Gay and an “observer” from the Alabama State Department of Education were also on hand, but neither spoke.
No timetable was offered for beginning the search for a new superintendent.
In other business, BOE members:
*Heard from Dale Ash, one of the principals of Atmore Pepsi Cola Bottling Co., that the local Pepsi distributor has established a scholarship for the valedictorians ($1,000 each) and salutatorians ($750 each) at Escambia County High, Flomaton High and W.S. Neal High. The scholarships will be presented near the end of the current school year and each year thereafter.
*Heard from Chief Schools Financial Officer Rochelle Richardson that the school system’s unrestricted fund balance on September 30 — subject to audit — was $18,148,777.27. That amount is equivalent to 4-1/2 months’ operating expenses.
*Approved a one-year contract with Book Systems Inc. for library information software, at a cost of $13,750. The software will be paid for with Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER 3) funds.
*Approved the purchase for $18,725 of School Forms Solution Software and JDOX Record Retention Solution for the period October 2023 through September 2024. The purchase, from Harris School Solutions, will be paid for with local funds.
*Approved a contract with Phoenix Restoration Services Inc. for removal and disposal of 38 windows at A.C. Moore Elementary School. The cost — $18,966 — will be paid for with local funds.
*Approved the purchase from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt of two-year digital high school science curriculum. The $37,570.80 cost will be paid for with ESSER 3 funds.
*Approved the purchase of the following equipment from BRESCO, through the Purchasing Association of Central Alabama:
(a) A two-section, reach-in freezer for W.S. Neal Middle School lunchroom for $9,307.24.
(b) A two-section, reach-in refrigerator for Rachel Patterson Elementary School lunchroom for $7,609.88.
(c) A Rational Combi Oven ($22,688.08) and a convection oven ($14,933.60), plus a delivery fee of $832, for Escambia County Middle School lunchroom. The total cost of $38,453.68 will be paid with CNP funds.
*Selected Wallace as the board’s delegate to the Alabama Association of School Boards annual conference in December. Edwards was selected as alternate.
*Announced that the next regular board meeting will be held at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 16, at the Central Office in Brewton. Board members will undergo two hours of whole-board training prior to the meeting.
The Board approved the following personnel recommendations by the superintendent.
The following abbreviations are used:
Escambia County Board of Education – ECBOE
A.C. Moore Pre-K School – ACMPS
Huxford Elementary School – HES
Rachel Patterson Elementary School – RPES
Escambia County Middle School – ECMS
Escambia County High School – ECHS
Flomaton Elementary School – FES
Flomaton High School – FHS
Pollard McCall Junior High School – PMJHS
W.S. Neal Elementary School – WSNES
W.S. Neal Middle School – WSNMS
W.S. Neal High School – WSNHS
1. India LaPalme, pre-k teacher, ACMPS, effective September 13, 2023
2. Latesha Lee, 7-hour lunchroom worker, ECMS, effective August 29, 2023
3. Rhonda Jarju, elementary teacher, RPES, effective September 29, 2023
4. Glyniss Bryce Booker, English / language arts teacher, WSNMS, effective September 18, 2023
1. Brittney Campbell, pre-K auxiliary teacher, ACMPS, effective October 6,2023, replacing Sarah Weaver
2. Lisa Robbins, 6-hour lunchroom worker, ECHS, effective October 13, 2023, replacing Sondra Fails
3. Aundrea Beasley, special education aide, FHS, effective September 22, 2023 (amended date), replacing Victoria Alanis
4. Samantha Pearson, custodian, PMJHS, effective August 28, 2023 (amended date), replacing Rufus White
5. Sherri Glidden, 6-hour lunchroom worker, WSNES, effective October 13, 2023, replacing Donna Avery
6. Allison Lowery, elementary teacher, WSNES, effective September 28, 2023 (amended date), replacing Rachel Wiggins
7. Rachel Mohling, instructional aide, WSNES, effective October 23, 2023, replacing Hillary Durden
8. Aaliyah Bedsole, special education aide WSNMS, effective October 13, 2023, replacing Dalton Shell
1. Tasha McFugerson, from pre-K teacher aide PMJHS to pre-k teacher ACMPS,, effective October 13, 2023, replacing India LaPalme
2. Maurice Bradley, from teacher RPES to drivers education teacher ECHS, effective January 2, 2024, replacing Brad Marciliat
3. Taylor Rollin, from teacher aide RPES to culinary arts teacher ECHS, effective October 9, 2023, replacing Darrell Spencer
4. Rachel Wiggins, from elementary teacher WSNES to math coach WSNES, effective September 28, 2023 (amended date)
5. Hillary Durden, from instructional aide WSNES to office aide WSNES, effective October 2, 2023
6. Allison Murphy, from secretary / bookkeeper WSNMS to payroll and insurance bookkeeper ECBOE, effective October 16, 2023, replacing Veronica Fore
TEAMS (Teacher Excellence & Accountability for Mathematics and Science)
Effective date is August 2, 2023 for these contracts.
1. Adams, Marcia, ECMS, math
2. Andrews, Karen, FHS, math
3. Bell, Philip Curt, FHS, math
4. Calle, Mia, ECHS, math
5. Campbell, Anne Catherine, WSNMS, math
6. Cook, Logan, WSNMS, science
7. Davidson, Wendy, FHS, science
8. Davis, Cynthia, FHS, math
9. Gonzalez, Murraylee, ECMS, science
10. Haney, Jeffrey, FHS, math
11. Hodge, Daniel, WSNHS, math
12. Hunter, Michelle, ECHS, math
13. Newton, Julie Johnson. FHS, math
14. Parker, Tyler, PMJHS, math
15. Phillips, Casee, WSNMS, math
16. Robinson, Samuel Scott, FHS, science
17. Rollin, Memory, FHS, science
18. Sanford, Jude, ECMS, math
19. Sims, Abigail, WSNHS, math
20. Sullivan, Daphne Bell, ECMS, math
21. Turner, Shannon Yuhasz, FHS, science
22. Whatley, Barbara Birge, ECHS, science
23. Wheeler, Anna, ECMS. math
24. Wright, Talia, ECHS, science