Charleston Gazette

July 10, 2007

Board waives conflict policy

By Davin White
Staff writer

Access to an online video library and a full-time consultant are some of the perks of a new $1 million Kanawha County teacher-training program.

Board of Education members cleared the way Monday for Leonard Allen, the outgoing assistant superintendent in charge of elementary schools, to be that consultant.

Board members voted 3-1 to waive a conflict-of-interest policy that could have prohibited Allen’s work with the Seattle-based company. Allen will step down as assistant superintendent July 31, and start his new job in August, Superintendent Ron Duerring said.

“If you can’t smell this one, I’m sorry,” said dissenting board member Pete Thaw. “The odor is so bad.”

Duerring strongly defended his position, asking board members to waive the conflict-of-interest policy. He said some people were trying to make it “a big conspiracy that’s second to Watergate.”

The entire process was handled above-board, he said. Allen was not involved in the early stages of bringing TeachFirst, the name of the program, to the school system, Duerring said.

“To insinuate otherwise is wrong,” he told Thaw.

Jim Withrow, the board’s general counsel, said a section of the policy Thaw cited didn’t really apply. That prohibits direct consulting with the Kanawha County schools a full year after a person was employed by the school system.

The language, Withrow said, is intended to prevent someone from retiring and then coming back to say, “Hey buddy, invest in my business.”

The board signed a contract with TeachFirst in April. Allen’s resignation was approved last month. Plus, Withrow said he double-checked the situation with the state Ethics Commission.

Still, Duerring said he was at first unaware of the detail that prohibits direct consulting when Allen asked if it would be OK to apply for the TeachFirst job. Knowing of Allen’s intentions to retire, Duerring told him it would be fine.

Thaw asked why Duerring wouldn’t know about such a detail, saying, “that’s pretty standard in business, doctor.”

“I understand policy very well,” Duerring said. “I’m sorry I didn’t know that particular [section].”

Thaw also criticized paying TeachFirst more than $646,000 of a $969,000 contract just 10 days after board members decided to go with the company. Duerring said that was necessary to start rolling out the services.

Allen did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Monday evening. Jane H. Roberts, principal at Alban Elementary, will take over as assistant superintendent in charge of elementary schools this August.

Board member Bill Raglin suggested that in the future, such conflict-of-interest waivers should be requested before another employer hires the person.

“We have to be as much concerned about the perception ... as if it is morally, legally, or ethically right,” he said. Raglin, however, said he considered nothing improper in this case.

Also Monday, board members:

·  Approved a change that would allow Duerring to choose among any of the top eight candidates for an administrative job, like a principal’s post. Duerring said it opens the pool to more local workers who have put in the years and are as equally qualified for a leadership role as, say, an out-of-county applicant.

At first, Raglin questioned the move for favoring in-house applicants, but later decided to try it out for a year.

·  Agreed to pay for new stadium lighting at Nitro, Herbert Hoover and Sissonville high schools. Raglin asked the board to hold off on lights at South Charleston High School until he knows more about the electric costs and how much the community will be using the field at night.

·  Approved a one-semester high school orientation course for ninth-graders at St. Albans, Capital, George Washington and Riverside high schools.

“It’s just helping them adapt to the high school,” said Mark Milam, assistant superintendent in charge of high schools.

He said one of the most important courses will teach them about personal finances and responsibility with money, an issue of growing need.

The amount of success will be tested at those schools (three of which have different class schedules) before they’re expanded to the other county high schools.

·  Approved the resignation of Mary Ingles Elementary Principal Karen Vickers and the transfer of former Clendenin Elementary Principal Karen M. Scherr to Alum Creek Elementary.

To contact staff writer Davin White, use e-mail or call 348-1254.