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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

IMS charter in jeopardy, decision Monday

The moment of truth for Island Middle School parents and staff will be at 7 p.m. Monday, March 15, when the Manatee County School Board will decide if the IMS charter is worthy of renewal.

In the past week, the IMS board of directors received word from its school board liaisons during the charter renewal process that the recommending body was not in favor of renewing the charter.

Several issues were raised by Manatee County District Schools Assistant Superintendent Lynette Edwards in phone conversations with IMS board members, which the IMS board attempted to address in a series of lengthy evening meetings last week.

A seven-hour meeting held at IMS Tuesday, March 2, began a chain of events leading to major changes in the membership of the board and school administration.

Parson's termination
What began as an inquiry into the powers of the president of the Island Middle School nonprofit corporation quickly turned into an inquiry of executive director Kelly Parsons' ability to perform her duties.

Board President Genie Salter, who serves as the corporation's president, us enpowered to act as "educational and administrative head of the corporation." She has "general superintendence over the institution," and is in charge of bringing such matters to the attention of the board for it to meet its policy-making responsibilities.

The bylaws also state that the president has the power, on behalf of the directors, to "perform all acts and execute all documents to make effective the actions of the board."

Parsons said she has been receiving directives from board members since January asking her to "fix" decisions she has made.

"I assumed I worked for the board as a whole and recently learned that isn't the case," Parsons said. "Who do I take orders from? I get orders from Genie on a daily basis and I wonder if my decisions will stick or if I'll be fired for insubordination. I do a dance to make each one of you happy. I'm looking for a solution - not to lay blame."

"If you can't make good choices," Salter told Parsons, "I'm going to make them for you."

Board member Kimberly Holmstrom said she was unaware of the distinction between the board and the role of the president and that the bylaws need to be changed.

Parsons was called away from the meeting before the issues surrounding her role as executive director could be resolved.

Julie Krokroskia, the school's accountant, stated that Parsons has done her best to lead the school but everyone could "kiss it goodbye if the board doesn't do something drastic.

"If you can't do the job, put a smile on your face and get it done - don't come to work," Krokroskia said.

Salter said she had several problems with Parsons' recent job performance. Salter said Parsons failed to fill a public record request for alleged video tapes of board meetings, although Parsons told Salter she could not turn them over because they were never in her possession.

Salter had a number of reasons for wanting to dismiss Parsons, but a major factor was Parsons' response to the district's charter renewal team's inquiries. Salter said Edwards told her that the response was "grossly inadequate."

Salter moved to fire Parsons and the board unanimously agreed.

Parsons said she learned about her termination in the morning newspaper and that she was later notified by Salter of the board's decision through e-mail.

Parsons said the board never reviewed her performance and did not address her questions regarding the chain of command.

"I felt paralyzed trying to meet the needs of the kids, run the school and pacify the board president on a daily basis," Parsons said.

Holmstrom is presently running the school office until the board decides whether to hire an interim director.

Board membership
Salter said she understood that a prime concern of parents was the need to add more expertise to the board. Two parents, Jim Ferguson and Ed Upshaw, had submitted letters of interest.

Ferguson said he would bring his expertise in finance to the board and that he has a vested interest in seeing the school succeed as a parent of a sixth-grader.

Upshaw said he would defer to Ferguson and wait for the board to elect members in April when terms expire for all current board members.

Ferguson was unanimously voted onto the board.

Shellie Hodges position as the parent representative to the board was then brought into question and Holmstrom indicated she overheard Hodges make disparaging remarks about the board.

Salter indicated that Edwards called to question a possible conflict of interest for board members to be employed by the school.

Holmstrom moved for Hodges' removal from the board and Salter seconded. Hodges then resigned.

Pam Bertrand was later nominated by the parents to fill Hodges' position until the annual corporation meeting in September, when the parent representative is duly elected for the new school year.

By the end of the week, Noranne Hutcheson resigned her position from the board - her second such resignation since the charter was formed.

In her resignation notice, Hutcheson wrote that Salter has shown a lack of respect for fellow board members, the IMS community, and the students, which has caused a disruption of school operations.

Hutcheson said there will likely be more lawsuits following the board's recent actions and the powers Salter has assumed as president of the corporation.

"I can no longer condone your actions or the recent actions of the board of directors," Hutcheson wrote.

Ed Upshaw was approved to serve the rest of Hutcheson's term on the board.

Budget update
Krokroskia re-addressed the school budget cuts with board members and indicated several cost-cutting measures had been taken to reduce the school's $27,000 deficit to $9,974.

Krokroskia told the board she received a call from the Manatee County School District's finance director after reading reports about the school's budget crisis in local newspapers.

Krokroskia told the board more cuts need to be made and the board agreed to her suggestions. The latest round of budget cuts include eliminating all consultant fees, including Noranne Hutcheson's position as the school's curriculum consultant, effective March 10.

The administration is also restricted from purchasing any additional supplies, including text books, and from incurring repair costs for technology equipment. The budget for cleaning and repairs made over the summer has also been reduced.

Krokroskia said she assured the remaining full-time teachers, Jimi Gee, Sandy Brousseau, Ashley Elles, Lori Guerrin and Micheline Grenier-Jones, that they would continue to be paid.

Krokroskia recommended reducing health insurance benefits for Parsons and Hodges. Both administrative employees had opted to receive health coverage for their dependents in lieu of higher salaries. Krokroskia suggested they be required to pay for their dependent health care.

The board's termination of Parsons, however, made the suggestion moot.

Krokroskia said the school could save an additional $6,000 if it asks teachers to pay half the cost of their health benefits for the remainder of the school year.

"Nothing is left but the bare bones," Krokroskia stated.

Transportation costs are still a big issue in the budget because the school pays a driver by the hour and per mile from IMS to 26th Street in Bradenton. Ferguson said he would investigate how many students are using the bus service and determine if any reduction in services can be made.

If the school were to close, Krokroskia reminded the board members, they would be responsible for the deficit. Krokroskia made it clear that the MCSB would absorb all the school's assets and the board members would be accountable for its entire debt.

Krokroskia said she was still unsure which board members would absorb the cost, the current members or the members serving when the budget was approved.

"We may be looking at a shut-down budget," Krokroskia admitted, "but I refuse to accept that fact until [the school board] makes its vote. If we don't do something drastic we'll seal our fate."

Charter renewal
Krokroskia urged parents to get involved and get the attention of the school board members who will vote on the fate of the school.

"This is the time to write a letter as a parent, explaining why you would support renewing the charter," Krokroskia said.

Krokroskia also suggested the board find someone the school board respects to come in and save the school and fix it.

Salter said she determinted from her discussions with Edwards that the problems with the charter renewal stem from the current school year. Salter said the school district has concerns with the IMS curriculum.

Salter said she learned the school has a marginal chance of remaining open next year.

Both Salter and Holmstrom met independently with Edwards to discuss the school's curriculum and address some of the school district's concerns.

The board agreed it would be wise to seek a one-year charter renewal when the school board votes March 15.

In the meantime, board members are searching for an interim director and pursing the possibility of bringing back some staff that parents favored in the past.

Hutcheson threw her hat in the ring for consideration as the interim director if a majority of parents support her, and if Holmstrom and Salter resign from the board.

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