North Forest ISD board members walk out of meeting

The recently fired superintendent of the North Forest school district was supposed to have a chance to ask the seven-member school board to reinstate him at a meeting today night.

But in an unusual, convoluted move, the four board members who voted to fire James Simpson in March walked out of the meeting and essentially ended it.

Simpson was scheduled to have a hearing to present his formal complaint against the district — specifically that he was fired "in retaliation" for investigating a board member's former relative.

But before Simpson could state his case, the school board's attorney, Yvonne Taylor, said she planned to call the seven board members as witnesses. The members were sworn in, and confusion began.

Board President Barbara Gaston said all the witnesses in the hearing — and, thus, all the board members — had to leave the room under the district's policy.

The four board members who voted to fire Simpson — Gaston, Charles Taylor Sr., Maxine Lane-Seals and T. Marie McCall — left the room.

"I think this is a ploy," said board member Silvia Brooks Williams, who voted against firing Simpson and stayed in her seat.

Within minutes, Gaston returned to the room and left the approximately 30 audience members in shock.

She ended the meeting.

"There is not a quorum of the board in the room," she said, referring to the mandatory four board members that must be present. "So, therefore, the meeting is now over, and everyone is asked to leave the room."

Simpson's attorney, Neal Adams, called Monday's series of events "a game" and said he has never heard of such action in the 27 years he has worked with school officials.

"That just makes no sense at all," said Adams, whose firm is general counsel for the Texas Association of School Administrators.

Still, Simpson has another chance to ask for his job back. He already has a hearing, scheduled for June, with an independent hearing examiner. The examiner — an attorney with power to subpoena documents and witnesses — will make a recommendation to the school board about whether to reinstate Simpson.

Simpson ultimately can appeal to Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley or file a lawsuit against the district and individual board members, Adams said.

The North Forest Independent School District, a shrinking 9,000-student system in Northeast Houston, has been plagued by financial, academic and management problems for years.

The school board has fired or forced out three of its last four superintendents. In August, eight of the district's 11 campuses netted academically unacceptable ratings from the state, and after the district couldn't produce important financial records, Neeley in March sent in a conservator to oversee money matters.

In a formal complaint filed with North Forest, Simpson said he was terminated as revenge for investigating Gerald Eagleton, a district police officer who once was related to board member Charles Taylor Sr.

Taylor, who was married to Eagleton's sister until she passed away, made motions to fire Simpson on Feb. 19 and March 8. Taylor has said he and Eagleton don't talk often and has denied wanting to fire Simpson over the investigation.

According to Simpson's complaint, community members urged him in early February to examine whether Eagleton viewed pornography while employed at Texas Southern University. After a preliminary review of Eagleton's personnel records, Simpson suspended Eagleton on Feb. 28.

Simpson then contacted the Harris County District Attorney's office. A follow-up investigation found pornography, plus "provocative pictures" of a fellow female officer named Timberly Douglas, on a computer reportedly used by Eagleton at a North Forest high school, according to a memo written by prosecutor Terese Buess.

Eagleton has denied looking at inappropriate images at Smiley High School, saying others had access to the computers in his office there.

In the hours before Simpson was fired, Simpson received e-mails from Taylor and Lane-Seals asking about the suspended police officers, according to the complaint.

Five days later, Gaston wrote Simpson a letter detailing complaints against him.

The letter says Simpson "failed to properly advise the Board of a bomb threat at a District school, failed to timely notify the Board regarding preliminary TAKS results, signed a contract to hire a principal before making the recommendation to the board and failed to notify the Board of a Lifetime Channel movie which aired regarding Smiley High School."

Gaston also accused Simpson of not providing records to the Texas Education Agency in a timely manner and of acting "insubordinate" to her.

Adams, Simpson's attorney, countered: "In every one of those cases, Dr. Simpson took appropriate action.

[email protected]

Source : http://www.chron.com/news/houston-texas/article/North-Forest-ISD-board-members-walk-out-of-meeting-1846174.php

Related Posts