BROOKLAND — Some residents aren’t happy with the results of an investigation into the alleged misuse and theft of Brookland School District equipment conducted earlier this year.
More than a dozen residents have taken matters into their own hands and formed the Leadership Accountability Team, part-time bus driver Amber Richbourg said. She said she is being contacted every day by more people expressing interest in joining.
Two investigations into the district’s alleged misconduct were both closed with no one being charged. District Superintendent Keith McDaniel admitted he was aware of some of the activities going on and gave permission to district employees to borrow school equipment.
He said there was no school policy on how to handle school inventory and deleted fixed assets. Members of the citizen group were able to obtain a copy of a school board policy book dated 2011-12 that outlines every policy the school district is supposed to follow, Richbourg said.
In February, school board members placed McDaniel on a school improvement plan after a motion to terminate his contract failed by a 4-3 vote. She said McDaniel was supposed to present a report regarding the improvement plan at the March 1 board meeting.
“We established stricter guidelines,” board president Josh Gallion said regarding the disposal of retired assets.
Gallion admitted he had a handbook but he was unaware there was an existing policy on how to handle fixed assets. As for which policy would be in effect, he stated he thought the one the board passed in March would take precedence.
“I can’t remember what I read eight years ago,” he said.
Richbourg said the accountability team attempted to get a representative from the newly organized group on the agenda for Monday’s school board meeting, so far with no success.
“We request to be on the agenda at the next board meeting in April,” she wrote in a March 12 email to McDaniel. “Please email me the date and time of the meeting and any rules or guidelines we must follow.”
In a response, McDaniel stated that the group had five days to send in requests to be on the agenda. He denied her request due to a lack of information.
“It must be sufficiently descriptive to enable the board president and myself time to fully understand and evaluate its appropriateness to be on the agenda,” he wrote. “Since you have not supplied the descriptive information, you are not approved at this time.”
Other requests to be on the agenda were made on March 19 by former board president Kelly McGaughey and Rick Hathcoat, a former board member.
“As former board president of the Brookland Public Schools, I am requesting to be on the April agenda. The topic I want to address is ‘The Improvement Plan,’” McGaughey wrote in an email to McDaniel and Gallion.
Gallion denied McGaughey’s request via email.
“While you were not specific, any improvement plan relates to the job performance of an individual employee of the district,” he wrote.
Any requests to be on the agenda are taken to the district’s attorney, Donn Mixon, Gallion told The Sun Wednesday. Mixon didn’t respond to several requests for comment.
“I want to get these people on the agenda and let them be heard, but it is illegal to discuss personal matters with the public,” he said.
Hathcoat’s request to be on the agenda referred to an incident that occurred during the 2019-20 school year.
“The topic I want to address is ‘Free Lunches and Petition for Staff,’” he wrote.
The Leadership Accountability Team took photographs of a checklist in the school cafeteria where several administrators had access to free lunches. While the administration had access to free meals, the group is outraged because parents struggling to pay lunch fees were denied access to field trips, Richbourg said.
“I personally know of teachers who paid lunch bills out of their own pockets so kids could go on trips,” she said. “I know (because) I was the bus driver for day trips.”
Gallion requested more information in his response Hathcoat’s request to be on the agenda. Hathcoat complied with the request for an outline.
“How were certain staff members allowed to eat for free, while our children were being denied to go on field trips for outstanding debt. Why was the petition allowed to be done and passed around on campus,” he wrote in an email Tuesday.
Richbourg said Gallion finally approved Hathcoat’s request to be on the agenda late Wednesday night. McDaniel said he had not heard any response from Gallion confirming on denying that request as of Thursday afternoon.
The superintendent denied any student ever being punished for school lunch debt. The Hunger-Free Student’s Bill of Rights Act 428 of 2019 prevents districts from penalizing students who could not pay lunch debts.
“A counselor had sent out the wrong reminder to parents stating they would not be allowed to attend field trips if they owed a lunch debt. The law had just changed and it was an honest mistake,” McDaniel said.
Regardless, Richbourg said the accountability team isn’t going to stop until they get answers about certain things.
“There is simply no one being held accountable,” she said.
Richbourg said that is not the only complaint she has.
“McDaniel said I had five days before a school board meeting to submit an agenda request, but the school board policy handbook clearly states we have to submit requests 14 days before,” she said.
McDaniel provided a copy of the guidelines issued by the ASBA which stated, “District patrons wishing to have an item placed on the board’s agenda meeting must submit their requests, in writing, to the superintendent, at least five days prior to the meeting of the board.”
The revision date was Nov. 29, 2016.
“We print out a copy of the Arkansas School Board Association handbook every year. That policy was updated in 2016, which allows patrons five days before a school board meeting to submit their request to be on the agenda.”
Lack of communication seems to be an issue within the district, Richbourg said.
“The school board is supposed to be accessible to the public,” she said, noting every time she sent Gallion an email it was marked undeliverable. “I didn’t even have their numbers until last night.”
Richbourg said if patrons can’t get their voices heard, the next step might be legal action.