One of the issues brought forward during last week’s Williamson County Board of Education work session centered around whether or not the board could hire separate professional staff.

Susan Curlee, District 12, advanced the issue Thursday night during the “Board Chairman’s Report, ” when she inquired about hiring individuals to work exclusively for the elected body.

Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney discouraged the idea.

Curlee suggested that extra resources would be helpful to the board when members are faced with handling controversial public issues.

She shared that when “looking at boards of education around the country,” she observed that boards sometimes obtain outside resources, separate from school district resources.

Curlee posed the following question to board members and staff.

“Are there dotted lines we need to be considering from a structure standpoint in regard to accessibility of resources? Because there seems like, especially some things that have transpired over the last week or so, it would’ve been wonderful to have needed access to some things like public relations resources or legal resources.”

In an email sent to Looney early last week and obtained by the Herald, Curlee requested that he cancel a parent meeting scheduled at Woodland Middle School on the grounds of violating School Board Policy 3.206. The policy addresses community use of school facilities.

In a separate public forum, Williamson County Commissioner Kathy Danner also stated her objection to Looney’s meeting.

Jason Golden, deputy superintendent and general counsel, confirmed with Curlee that no violation of policy had occurred.

Curlee explained in the email correspondence that she was concerned that the meeting was organized by a parent group in support of Common Core and opposed to the board’s drafted resolution opposing those standards.

In the email exchange, Looney stated that he was unaware that the parents belonged to any organized group and defended his action in meeting with parents, noting such activities are part of his job as superintendent.

Obtaining board resources

At the work session, Curlee explained her inquiry for additional board resources and asked Golden for legal parameters.

“Is there a proper way to evaluate that [outside resources]?” she asked.

Golden confirmed that hiring resources falls within the board’s authority, according to policy.

“Tennessee Code allows boards to use the county attorney or hire another attorney if you choose,” he said.

Golden further explained.

“There’s no law against you doing a request or proposal for a public relations firm” or even a board secretary, Golden said.

He explained, however, that in the event of a dispute with the superintendent, county attorneys would not be able to advise board members. .

Looney commented on Curlee’s inquiry beginning by acknowledging the “tumultuous start” with the new board.

“In every other district I’ve worked with, the board and superintendent work as a team,” Looney said. “I think the sooner we get there, the better off we will be.

“My impression would be it would be extremely problematic if the board hired a PR firm. We don’t have a PR firm; we have a communications department and their focus is on communicating about kids and not about the grown-ups.”

Looney addressed the conflict of interest in the board obtaining counsel outside of board attorneys Jason Golden and Bill Squires.

“It’s true what Jason said if you have a concern about my continued employment, then I would be the first to say, you need to get an attorney because that compromises Jason and Bill’s position because they report to me,” Looney said. “I don’t think we are at that point, but that is your decision to make.

“I think we have the resources here to do the work.

“I think part of it is understanding. I don’t mean to be rude — that you don’t have any authority,” Looney continued. “The only time you have any authority is when you are in session and voting. Please don’t take this as disrespect, but you can’t call Carol up and say, ‘I want you to do a newspaper rebuttal on this or that.’ That’s not how it works. I think some of that will go away when you have had board training and understand what the law allows you to do.”

Looney called himself “pretty responsive” in responding to board member concerns.

Curlee clarified that she wasn’t advocating for a “PR firm,” but that she meant to work more with [school district] communications.

“Being able to leverage some of those things like “Rumor Mill” pretty quickly would have been beneficial and still might be beneficial just based on what I have seen and heard.”

“Rumor Mill” is a featured element on the district’s website established to clarify and correct misinformation that circulates about

The desire to “set the record straight” on issues like “privatization” of public schools is what board members say led to the request.

Looney noted that the role of district staff is very specific to information about the schools and students served by the district.

“Carol can’t come to my defense in the ‘Rumor Mill,’” Looney said. “If a radio host says something nasty about me today she can’t say, ‘what so-and-so said about Mike Looney is not true.’”

“There might be a way to accomplish what you want to accomplish, but there’s a really fine line,” Looney stressed.

“I think some of what you are contributing to a rough start are some of the rumors still in the community,” Curlee noted.

Request for emails

Rick Wimberly, District 9, referenced a string of emails exchanged between board members.

“I really appreciate this conversation, and I’m not so sure that we don’t have a problem with the Superintendent,” Wimberly said.

“In the last couple of weeks, there has been an extraordinary request by a board member to view the Superintendent’s correspondence with other board members.

“There’s been a request for the Superintendent to cancel a parent meeting. There has been a refusal by a board member to have one on one discussion with the Superintendent. To me these things are extraordinary.

“If there is a problem that one of us has with the superintendent that would warrant this type extraordinary action, we need to discuss it as a board. What is the problem that would cause this to occur? And, if there’s not a problem, then don’t do it anymore.”

Ken Peterson, District 1, shared his view that board members should address issues with their constituents “face-to-face.”

“Ultimately, I think we have the ability to stand in front of the people we are responsible to and have those conversations,” Peterson said.

“We have conversations outside of having conversations with each other, and it tends to be kind of back door.”

Peterson emphasized that the board should have conversations with parents and “stand in front of them” and confront issues as public servants.

“The last two work sessions have been very productive,” Peterson said. “We are having a very productive work session. It’s important to talk to each other face-to-face and work out any issues we might have and move forward. If we do that, I think that all of this goes away.”

“We have two fabulous attorneys, a fabulous communications department and fabulous superintendent and fabulous teachers. I think all of this negativity will go away.”

He also added, “If it’s not broke don’t fix it. Why are we trying to fix something that’s not broke?”

Curlee further explained her request.

“That’s why I cited that particular policy. The meeting was a parent meeting, and one of the things was that we had a county commissioner whose child was attending the school and she wasn’t aware of it.”

Curlee explained that board members are “charged” by constituents to go out and make sure policies are being followed.

“And there is a policy that exists, and about the use of facilities. In this case, it wasn’t necessarily followed,” Curlee said. “It was more that there are concerns because of a number of things that have been circulating, and I thought I did offer, in my email, an alternative, which was including it in ‘Lets Talk Schools.’ Let’s get out there and talk about this, but let’s do it in a way where we are inviting the entire community to come.”

Curlee urged the board to be proactive.

“Knowing that something is out there, [let’s] answer questions on people’s minds …but let’s do it in the policy that the board has established.”

“It wasn’t a public meeting,” Looney said. “They [parents] specifically asked to speak to me.”

“Honestly, I don’t think I can be successful as your CEO if I can’t meet with parents when they have concerns. It’s part of the nature of the work.

“I think the perception that I had, and I think that parents had of this debacle, is that it wasn’t just you. It was commissioners too, who tried to prevent me from having this meeting. [They] see that as putting up a wall instead of embracing parents.”

“I will never knowingly violate policy.”

“I also think that if legal counsel tells you it doesn’t violate policy and the superintendent tells you that it should be sufficient let’s just move on.”

Looney also said that “other people,” showed up at the parent meeting, which was inappropriate because it was not a public meeting.

A few school board members and county commissioners attended the parent meeting at Woodland Middle School, as well as, Lee Douglas, founder and president of 912 Project Tennessee, an organization of “like-minded Americans who desire to take concrete steps directed toward taking back the control of our country,” The organization refers to itself on the website as “a political movement, but we are not associated with any political party.”

Hullett suggested that board members’ and the superintendent’s calendar cannot be “so controlled,” but as public servants it is typical that they be available when citizens would like to converse.

A board retreat will be scheduled for November.

(5) comments

VictorA

Sorry Kerri, but it sounds like you are 'leaning again'. No one buys that this was a harmless 'parent meeting ' at Woodland, most parents over there did not know a thing about it? CAN THAT BE A GOOD USE OF A PUBLIC BUILDING? Instead of insinuating that Susan may be on a witch hunt, why did you not ask the question of the parents? Why didn't you ask Looney if this set a future precedent? Would he meet with me and some Grassland Parents outside of the LETS TALK program? Do you buy that Looney does not really know what political group this was? I think more questions are in order. Instead of buying that he proclaimed that he "can't be a good leader without meeting with parents" and compared it to 'settling a dispute with parents and their arguing kids'? I smell a RAT, and if you think this was just an ordinary meeting of parents you are not the journalist you should be - ask a few more questions next time and don't just accept the a-la-cart explanations of the 'powers brokers'. Now that would be real journalistic approach.

WalterKurtz

Dear Williamson County Parents,

You and your kids to can go straight to Hades. Now shut up and get out of the way of our privatizing your schools

Sincerely,
The new board and their supporters like the one below.

We surround you

VIctorA-Where do your children attend school? Dr. Looney speaks regularly at schools ALL THE TIME. Where was the uproar when Mark Gregory used Winstead to meet with his District 11 constituents 3 weeks ago? or the following evening when Dr. Looney met with the Winstead PTO?

FranklinNative

Here are some other questions, Victor. 1. Why did Curlee, who represents the 12th district, ask Dr. Looney to cancel a meeting with parents NOT IN HER DISTRICT? The parent who requested this meeting is a Brentwood parent, and the meeting was publicized on social media. Any parents with children in the district were welcome. 2. Please provide details of what political group was involved in this meeting. I did see that many members of the 912 Project attended the meeting, many of whom were not WCS parents. 3. Are you aware that Susan Curlee specifically mentioned at the Thursday work session that the reason she wanted to call off the meeting was that "A County Commissioner who has a child at Woodland (Kathy Danner), didn't know about the meeting?"

GE

As a local grandparent with eight grandchildren who are or will attend WC public schools, recent events associated with the AFP backed WCSB members make me sad and sincerely concerned for the future of an outstanding school system. Politicization of kids education does not right seem right.

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