A spectrum of emotions were on display at last night's Webster Parish School Board meeting, where discussion on who would be a temporary assistant principal at Doyline School and what non-profit organization would run operations out of the now-closed Union Elementary school were held.
Bridgett Bridges, a Teacher of the Year title holder and elementary school specialist, was named interim assistant principal for Doyline School, for the term of one year, despite her lack of tenure.
"After looking at the strengths of the principal at that school, and confirming with him that he agreed Ms. Bridges would be a good temporary fit, we took our ideas to the attorneys and had both John Guice and Bob Hamonds look over the information and make sure it would not violate the court order," Superintendent Steve Dozier said. "We were told by multiple attorneys, this situation of an interim assistant principal does not apply to the court order."
Showing support of following board attorneys advice were Lott, Ridgel, Long, Ronnie Broughton, and Robert Holloway.
Opposed to naming Bridges as a one-year assistant principal were Mitchell and Kinsey.
Board president Johnnye Kennon abstained.
Brandon Edens, Ouida Garner, and Bruce Williams were absent from the meeting.
According to letters received from Hammonds, which were read by Dozier during the meeting, "As you are aware, your federal court order provides that administrative positions may only be filled with persons who are tenured with in Webster Parish. It is our opinion that such a requirement is not applicable to temporary or interim appointments, which should not exceed one year in length. We would like to point out that procedures contained in your court order are now more than 40 years old and are in dire need of modification. We would recommend the board seek modification of the existing court order to bring it more in line with new state laws and the modern hiring needs of the board."
NAACP chapter president, Kenneth Wallace suggested the court order had not been abided by in the past 40 years and said there was a precedent of the board ignoring the court order.
Board member Frankie Mitchell supported Wallace and repeatedly voiced her objections to appointing a temporary assistant principal at Doyline school, claiming that the position fell under rule of the approximately 40 year old court order and arguing Bridges' lack of tenure was an issue.
"That is just their (Hammonds and Guice) opinion of the court order," Mitchell said. "Anyone can have an opinion, and I don't agree with theirs. I feel we are going about this the wrong way. We have never had a temporary position like this and I say we should still follow the court order."
Board member Jerry Lott recalled a similar situation, where the court order was not mentioned and agreed that opinions on the matter were varied.
"We did have a temporary assignment at Union Elementary of assistant principal, and no argument was brought up then. Why was it okay then, but not now?" Lott asked.
"Yes, we do all have different opinions or interpretations of the court order," Lott said. "However, my opinion is to take legal advice. If we have two lawyers telling us that it is okay to hire an interim assistant principal, then I suggest we continue with the plan."
Mitchell suggested the legal opinions of the board's attorneys legal opinions were not sufficient.
"We may have two lawyers telling us, 'Sure go ahead, this isn't affecting the court order', but I'm not going to agree with them, because you (speaking to Lott) are paying them."
The board has also been paying for a variety of costs associated with their ownership of the now-closed Union Elementary School. However, after a decision made last night by the board, costs will now be defrayed, with Zion Hill Baptist Church picking up the tab for maintenance and insurance.
"This is an opportunity we can capitalize on and make sure that the vacated school building is used to provide services for the Doyline community, where by we would be able to get all people involved in numerous programs and services. "
Zion Hill Baptist Church, told the board it plans on maintaining the property and paying insurance and utilities through volunteer work and monetary contributions.
However, Zion Hill Baptist Church was not the only non-profit to submit to proposal. Rural Communities Empowerment Coalition, Inc, which is a registered non-profit organization, submitted a detailed report. However, representatives from the organization, headed by Sylvia Bryant, Reverend Melvin Smith and Mone' Shyne, were not present at the committee meeting held at 4:30 p.m. yesterday afternoon.
Representatives, who were seated in the meeting room at 5:30, claimed they were told the meeting would be held at 5:30, before the board meeting, and did not know the committee meeting time had been changed.
"Most of you know of Vera Moody's passing; she was instrumental in our organization and in preparing this proposal," an emotional Shyne said. "It is hard for me to gather my strength and speak to you tonight, but she knew, and I know, that this proposal is not about me, or her – it is about how we can enrich lives."
Shyne said the outreach proposed by Rural Communities would have reached Doyline and area residents from "the cradle to the grave."
"I am a product of Doyline, and I know the unique challenges rural communities face when they try and provide services or recreation to their residents," she said. "We started a summer feeding program at our church three years ago, and in the first year the ministry outgrew our church capacity. We have been utilizing the facilities at Union for two years now, and the summer feeding program and recreation program have grown and will continue to grow, if you allow us to continue the use of the facility."
Reverend Smith spoke about enrichment programs and recreation provided to youth this summer.
"It is a unique challenge to give rural communities the same opportunities as those in a larger city," Smith said. "We have found partnerships and have things already in place, activities the kids love doing. We have been taking them, with our funds and vehicles, to these activaties – to food, to basketball, to music and other things – and they love it.
"You can see the changes in their attitudes and demeanor when they are a part of something," he continued. "We want to continue to provide this and more for Doyline and surrounding area."
Malachi Ridgel noticed similarities in the proposals submitted by both organizations and asked Rural Communities if their efforts could be combined.
"I asked brother Jefferson that a year ago, during a planning phase, while we were using the building," Reverend Smith said. "We wanted all stakeholders in the community to have a representative on the board. Our vision for the school building is truly one that involves the entire community. I didn't hear about Brother Jefferson's intent until recently, but Rural Communities and I want to work with him and anyone else to make our community stronger."
Although Rural Communities' proposal was more thorough than Jefferson's, the Building and Grounds committee suggested Zion Hill Baptist Church as their favored proposal.
"It is my hope that Zion Hill will work with Rural Communities over the course of the seven-year lease," Board member Penny Long said.
According to the motion made by Long, the seven-year lease will have the option for renewal, with an "opt out" clause for both parties.
If in the event the school board needs the property back or Zion Hill no longer desires to use the property for any reason, either side may give a one-year notice to the other party of their intent.
"In this day and age of charter schools, it is a bad idea to put the building up for sale, because you cannot control who buys it," Long said. "With Doyline not having any sales tax, there is no way for the city to maintain it. So the proposals we received will take the burden of the building off of us, while supplying the community with recourses."
The board was unanimous in the approval of Zion Hill Baptist Church as the new tenant of Union Elementary School.