Group of more than 100 sign letter of complaints against recent Danville School Board action

Published 8:47 am Wednesday, February 28, 2018


Email newsletter signup

A group calling themselves “Concerned Staff and Citizens of the Danville Independent School District Community” has levied some hefty complaints against the school board in the wake of its decision not to reinstate the superintendent for next year. A formal letter outlining the group’s specific gripes was handed over to The Advocate-Messenger during Monday night’s special called meeting, called to discuss the search to replace Dr. Keith Look. 

The letter — which was given to every board member, school board attorney Vince Pennington, an attorney with the Kentucky Department of Education, KDE Commissioner Stephen Pruitt and to the Office of the Attorney General — was accompanied with 108 signatures of support. 

Look, who has been with the school system since 2014, was voted out 3-2 as superintendent during the Feb. 19 meeting. The move, initiated by Board Chair Paige Matthews and backed by board members Susan Matherly and Lori Finke, left the community guessing why there were “concerns” about Look’s job performance, as no public discussion was held. The fact all three who were in favor of Look not returning came with prepared statements was also questioned. Board members Steve Becker and Troy McCowan voted against the move and did not have statements prepared. 

The group’s letter alleges three areas of violations and offers supporting details for each.

Allegation: Open meeting violations

The group alleges open meeting violations occurred at the Feb. 19 meeting where board members voted not to renew Look’s contract. Allegations range from inadequate space — which the group argues forced many to stand in the back and sides of the room, as well as out in the hallway — to bad acoustics due to board members’ “inability to speak into” microphones. 

The group alleges “manipulation” of the public comment segment by Matthews, claiming she did not call people to speak according to the order on the sign-in sheet. Matthews had individuals who provided negative comments about Look go last, “creating a seamless transition to support the chairperson’s motion to declare a vacancy of the superintendent’s position,” the group’s letter argues.

It also accuses Matthews of texting to individuals present in the audience during public comments, stating two people saw “text messages bearing the chairperson’s name pop up” on phones of those in the audience at the time, claiming it can also be seen on the video of the meeting posted on the board’s site. 

The group argues there was an intentional effort to mislead the public about the intended action of the board by listing “discussion of superintendent’s contract” as the last item on the meeting agenda, since no discussion was held about his contract before the motion was made to vacate Look’s position. 

The group’s letter also points to the prepared statements by Matthews, Matherly and Finke, and alleges the statements indicate they had “colluded to declare the vacancy well in advance of the meeting” in violation of state law.

Allegation: Bad faith, violation of trust

“No reason, proof or justification was given to support the motion to declare a vacancy …” is the main complaint of several the group says show “board actions indicating bad faith and a violation of public trust.”  

The group says the decision to replace the superintendent and the way it was handled “insults and demeans every citizen of this community who cares about our children’s education,” and argues board members should be asked to explain the rationale for not renewing Look’s contract. 

The group also asks for an apology from Matthews to a staff member it says was treated inappropriately following the meeting, claiming Matthews told the staffer, “You don’t even live in the school district,” after being approached with concerns. The group goes on to say the board’s decision shows it lacks confidence in its school staff, citing the large number of current and former staff and administrators it says were in attendance to support Look. 

Other complaints 

The group’s letter also outlines several allegations of “behavior displayed and actions taken that cause discord and chaos,” and says several staff members and others in the community wrote to board members about their concerns over the scrutiny of Look’s contract and were not answered. 

One complaint concerns “lack of a strategic plan,” stating Look assembled a committee of certified and classified staff to “develop a well-researched and aligned plan which gave mission and vision,” providing “administrative direction for meeting student needs.” The group claims the committee Look assembled worked for months developing a draft plan for district goals, but was “abruptly shut down,” and was given no explanation, which was done under direction of the previous board chair. It says the current board has no strategic plan. 

Claims of public humiliation of principals are included in the letter, detailing a board meeting last year with positive results from the K-Prep, end-of-course exams and ACT assessment. The group alleges “specific board members refused to celebrate the achievements,” instead comparing the scores to other districts. 

“Most conversation was directed at the high-school principal, with comments such as ‘still not as good as Boyle County and still below the state average,'” the letter states. 

Various other complaints are outlined, including: rejection of recommended policy; attempt to discard MAP assessments; chairperson soliciting negative comments about superintendent; and attempts to interfere with supervision of school district personnel. 

Signatures of support 

Clay Albright, a Danville graduate and parent, is one of the more than 100 who signed the letter. He said the group has a lot of concerns about the board’s action, which prompted the letter.

“We would like a good-faith effort from the board to work with all of the stakeholders. We would like to hear back from the board,” Albright said. “We want what’s best for our children and our community.”

He said that the number of signatures is a sign that people in the community genuinely care about Danville Independent Schools.

“If people didn’t care about our district, none of this would happen and people wouldn’t sign things … We want to do the best we can for our district.”

Gail Wright, who also signed the document, said, the whole thing has been a really difficult situation. Wright taught in the district for 31 years and has volunteered in the district since retiring a few years ago.

“I hope, moving forward, there can be cooperation between the board and the staff. This is a wonderful district,” she said. “I’m hoping things can move forward from here on a more positive and collaborative note. The Danville phrase right now is ‘All means all,’ and that means every child and every teacher. I would hope that we can see a collaborative effort to work together and give the best for the children.”