Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hattabaugh: Board members bullied teachers

A clash that started two weeks ago with a school board presentation on teacher effectiveness continues to roil Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leadership.  Interim Superintendent Hugh Hattabaugh, normally a mellow guy, sent a strongly worded memo to the board accusing two members of bullying faculty, "behavior so egregiously unfair that I cannot remain silent" (read it below).

During the Feb. 28 discussion of  "hard to staff schools," board member Richard McElrath peppered teachers with questions about that label.  Somali Davis-White, a teacher at Thomasboro Academy,  attended the meeting as part of a teacher study group that crafted the report.

Afterward,  McElrath and board member Joyce Waddell made unannounced visits to Thomasboro and other schools that are part of Project LIFT.  I talked to McElrath the afternoon of March 1 about some of his remarks at the meeting, and he told me he was visiting LIFT schools to ask principals and teachers about the philanthropic program and its support of segregated schools.  A few hours later,  Hattabaugh emailed board members about complaints he'd heard from the Thomasboro visit.

Hattabaugh's memo sparked a heated discussion of school board behavior last night,  one that's likely to continue at Friday's meeting on the superintendent search.  Today I got a copy of Hattabaugh's email to the board.

From: Hugh E. Hattabaugh
Sent: Thursday, March 01, 2012 6:08 PM
To: Ericka Ellis-Stewart; Mary T. McCray; Eric C. Davis; Tom Tate; Richard McElrath; Joyce Waddell; Amelia Stinson-Wesley; Tim Morgan; Rhonda Lennon
Cc: George E. Battle
Subject: Action Required: Review of Board Policy Constituent Services

Dear Board members,

On Wednesday, two Board members visited Thomasboro Elementary.  They spoke with several teachers,  challenging the assertion put forth at Tuesday’s Board meeting that Thomasboro is a  “hard to staff”  school.  One Board member suggested that racism was a factor in that description of Thomasboro.  Both members asked questions but did not allow teachers to answer them,  talking over teachers and the principal as they tried to answer the questions they’d been asked.  The Board members spoke in a denigrating way about one of the teachers on a work team to her Thomasboro colleagues as they gathered for a meeting.  The work team’s discussion of the challenges facing the school was characterized as  “dirty laundry”  that should not be aired in public.  The Board members suggested to several teachers that they had been tricked or treated unfairly in matters of salary.  They spoke in a critical way about Project L.I.F.T. to several teachers and the principal.

All of these actions violate the Board’s own policy governing how Board members interact with staff and the public.  I have attached Policy BHE,  Constituent Services,  for your reference.  It states in part:  “Each Board member will avoid involvement in management activities or giving direction to staff  …  In making this commitment, Board members recognize that their involvement in management and administrative matters creates confusion among district employees,  leads to dysfunctional management systems,  undermines the authority of the Superintendent and the administration,  and weakens the Board…”

To this clear and unequivocal statement of why the two Board members’  actions on Wednesday were in violation of Board policy,  I would add the following:

What message has been sent to staff by these actions?  How can teachers avoid the conclusion that speaking up can lead to a visit from Board members who will bully and belittle them in front of their colleagues?  How will these actions affect teacher and staff morale?

What message does this send to the public about the Board’s role in governing CMS and its responsibility to work in the district’s best interests,  helping all students and schools?

What message does this send to potential superintendent candidates about Board governance and a clear division of duties between the superintendent and the Board?

What message does this send about transparency of district operations and equitable treatment of employees?

I recognize that my speaking out in this way puts me at some personal risk.  However,  the behavior reported to me by the staff at Thomasboro was so egregiously unfair to our teachers and staff that I cannot remain silent.  As the superintendent,  I ask that Board members please follow the policies that you have set.  We may disagree often about what the right choices are for CMS.  Such disagreement is expected and even healthy.  We are dealing with the future of children and all of us have great emotional investment in our work.  But we must remain civil and professional in our dealings with one another.  Open disrespect and abuse of the staff by Board members is wrong . It is damaging to CMS.  It can do very serious harm. Therefore I feel I would be remiss in my duty if I did not share with all of you my very serious concern about this matter.


Hugh E. Hattabaugh
Interim Superintendent
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Government Center
600 East 4th Street
Charlotte, NC 28202

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