'Short' Tempers: Rumors, Sparks Fly At School Board Meeting

TONY STINNETT, Courier Co-Editor

Rumors and innuendos took center stage during the Cannon County Board of Education July meeting at Woodbury Grammar School Thursday (July 12).

Near the end of an otherwise uneventful and quick meeting, Board member Shannon Davenport addressed the partisan Short Mountain crowd concerning rumors started this week that she wanted to "close Short Mountain School."

"I never said that and those words have never come out of my mouth," Davenport told the audience. "I know you are all here for a reason. I have received phone calls this week and I am going to address those issues."

Apparently, following Tuesday's School Board Workshop, which included eight persons - the five Board of Education members, Director of Schools Barbara Parker, Short Mountain School Principal Robert Pitts and Director of Special Education Pam Sonderman - rumor began to circulate that Davenport had suggested Short Mountain's K-8 grammar school be closed in an effort to save tax dollars.

According to Davenport, it could not have been further from the truth.

"I have talked to a lot of Short Mountain people the last two days and I know rumors are amuck," Davenport said. "I feel like I have a lynch mob on me for something I didn't say, and I have no reason to lie."

Board members discussed what the future may hold if cuts continue to be made but nothing specifically was stated as to how those cuts would be levied during the workshop.

The Cannon County Board of Education has not requested additional funds for the 2012-13 school year yet there remains a chance the proposed budget could be sliced anywhere from 3 to 5 cents.

"What was stated is if we continue down this path year after year after year and we continue to get cut and we don't get money then there could be changes that could occur," Davenport said. "Some of those changes could be closing a school, consolidating a school, cutting positions or even cutting transportation. All these ideas were thrown out but not one individual school was called by name or mentioned. I don't appreciate people going out and telling lies about me."

Board members confirmed Davenport never made such statements regarding closing Short Mountain School; however, Mike Mayfield did create a bit of a stir when he started proposing hypothetical questions of Davenport and fellow Board member Chris Blackburn.

"Would you vote to close Short Mountain School this year?," Mayfield inquired.

Of course, the current 2012-13 budget does not call for the closing of any the six Cannon County Grammar Schools.

"I would not vote to close any school, ever," Blackburn said. "We are going to keep them open as long as we can and until we can't do anything more, then we can let the state take over and run them however they want."

"I will answer your question," Davenport said. "It is not on the budget this year for a school to be closed, but if you want to own up to leaving the meeting and starting this here in front of everyone that would be great."

"I heard you say you would close every grade school in the county and just have one," Mayfield said. "Mr. Blackburn has said it, too."

While Mayfield stirred the pot, other board members defended what transpired at the workshop.

"There was never anything said about Short Mountain School," Chairman Randy Gannon said. "Consolidation was mentioned and closing schools was mentioned but not any specific school. The statement was if we keep going down this road then tough decisions will have to be made, probably not this budget year, probably not the next or the one after that, but if we continue down this road then, yes, there will be tough decisions made. Closing Short Mountain? I don't know. I will do everything I can to keep Short Mountain and East Side open."

Blackburn and Hyatt echoed Gannon's sentiments.

"I was at the workshop and there was no conversation about shutting down Short Mountain," Hyatt said. "I was just flabbergasted hearing the rumors."

"I sat beside (Davenport) and not once did anything like that come out of her mouth," Blackburn said. "I never heard any one of the five talk about shutting down schools."

Davenport read the Mission Statement and Shared Vision Statement of the Cannon County Board of Education before addressing the crowd.

"When I got elected to this position it was for all 2,000-plus kids in Cannon County, not just my district at West Side," Davenport said. "As a Board we represent each and everyone of those kids. I am not here to close down a school building. I want kids to prosper. I stand for every child in this county. When I vote, I vote for what I think is best for your child."

When citizens started shouting questions and remarks toward the Board members following Mayfield's hypothetical question, Gannon reminded everyone the meeting was recessed. He, along with other Board members, did remain afterwards to answer questions.

In other business, the Board extended Parker's contract one year, pushing it back to the full four years and through 2016. The extension passed by a 3-1 vote with Hyatt recusing herself with only one month remaining on the Board. Gannon, Mayfield and Davenport voted in favor, and Blackburn opposed.

"I vote no but not because of (Parker's) job performance," Blackburn said. "The reason I vote no is because I think it sets a bad precedent this year. We have non-certified employees in our system that have not had a raise in several years and they have already been notified their insurance is going up and chances are very great that they will not receive a raise this year. It's nothing personal. I believe (Parker) does the best job she can for what she is supplied with."

The Board also approved Gaylon Sissom as CCHS Head Softball Coach for 2012-13. It also approved the Pre-K budget and application for the 2012-13 school year, as well as the IDEA budget and application for 2012-13.

The meeting is recessed until July 19 when the Board hopes to have an approved budget for the 2012-13 school year. It will reconvene Thursday at the Central Office at 6:30 p.m.