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Field may lose another superintendent

Board president: Superintendent's lawyer said she won't seek renewal, will resign

By Diane Smith and Kyle McDonald Staff Writers Published: February 9, 2013 4:00 AM
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The Field Board of Education president said Superintendent Beth Coleman will resign from her job when her contract ends in July.

Board president Terry Kettering released a brief statement Friday indicating Coleman's intent to step down. Rumors that Kettering and Board of Education members Allyson Westover and Donna Karg planned to vote not to renew her contract have been swirling in the community for months.

"Attorney Sue Gragel is Mrs. Coleman's personal attorney," the statement reads. "On January 24, 2013, Attorney Gragel notified counsel for the Board of Education that Mrs. Coleman would not seek renewal of her Superintendent's contract and that she would submit her resignation as Superintendent, effective at the end of the current contract. Her current contract expires on July 31, 2013. Mrs. Coleman holds continuing contract status as a teacher in the District and retains this status."

It's unclear when the resignation will be tendered, but Kettering said it could come as soon as the board's regularly scheduled meeting on Monday. As of Friday, the issue did not appear on the board's agenda. However, the board is required by law to make a decision on Coleman's contract by March 1.

If her resignation is indeed tendered, she would be the fourth superintendent since 2001 to leave the district.

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When asked if it means that Coleman, who was a middle school principal and assistant superintendent before she became superintendent in 2010, would go back to teaching, Kettering said, "That's her decision."

Coleman previously declined comment for this story but when contacted for follow up questions regarding her future plans, a message stated that her mailbox was full and could not accept new messages.

Kettering said he was unable to say anything beyond the statement, citing a gag order in Coleman's resignation.

Board members Laura May and Larry Stewart, who have publicly supported Coleman, say they have been left in the dark about Coleman's employment status and other school board business.

The blind side

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May said that "one person cannot run the board, that's a violation of sunshine law" and said she often does not find out about decisions until after the fact.

"I'm just tired of not knowing what's going on when I'm a board member," she said. "It's very, very frustrating to sit here and know this is happening after the fact and I know nothing of what went on. I have no voice in it. I had no voice in any of this ... It's just beyond frustrating that my voice as a publicly elected official has been taken away."

Stewart also said the board often makes decisions without involving himself and May.

"It's like they already have the decision made and then we go into executive session and there's really no discussion," he said. "We discuss it, but it's like they already have their mind made up, and what we say doesn't really matter."

Acknowledging that he cannot reveal discussions held in executive session, Stewart said when he is asked by the public what Coleman's fate is, "I just say it doesn't look good."

"If she really did something wrong or was doing a bad job, I'd say OK let's talk about it, but they never come up with anything like that, even when Laura and I ask them," he said.

Levy and open enrollment

The change in leadership comes at a time when the district is trying to pass an operating levy, which has been defeated three times in recent history. The 5-mill issue will be on the May ballot.

At a recent meeting of the district's levy committee, parent Debbie Yeich said she is concerned about how Coleman's departure would affect the levy campaign.

Coleman is a graduate of Field and has children and other family members who live in the district. Her husband has been a baseball coach for Field.

"You want to know the truth?" levy chairwoman Erin Roberts said. "I think it's going to hurt us."

Several people at the meeting also expressed concern about parents using open enrollment to transfer their children to surrounding districts, giving them no stake in the levy's passage.

May said her phone rang "off the hook" after news of Coleman's potential resignation surfaced on Facebook.

"I have had more people tell me that they are taking their kids from the school if Mrs. Coleman is not superintendent, and they are absolutely voting no for the levy," she said. "These are supporters who have always supported the school, but they no longer support they school and they are looking to move their kids elsewhere."

Stewart expressed similar concerns.

"I'm just really frustrated that all this stuff kind of happens and then they're getting rid of the superintendent, who I thought did a good job, and we're trying to get this levy passed," he said. "I don't know why they're doing it."

Westover said she is concerned about the levy, but hopes voters don't focus on Coleman's fate.

"Yes I am always concerned about the passage of our levy," she said. "It is my hope that the community votes their conscience when it comes to the future of our children, and not use personal grievances when voting for the future of Field schools. The levy should not be about the personnel of our school, it is about our students."

Stewart, however, said people need to know the details.

"We're talking about the school district and the kids and the community, and there's got to be a point where people have to know what's going on for their own sake," he said. "I just wish people knew that and would just stand up and say, 'enough is enough. We've got to take care of this.'"

Sunshine Law

May said she has been complaining about alleged violations of Ohio's open meetings law for months, but "nobody will believe me."

In June, she said, the board added items to the agenda of a special meeting, which she said is a violation because the law states that the reasons for a meeting must be posted. The previous July, she said, the board received a letter from a Portage County assistant prosecutor to "stop violating the sunshine law" for not being specific enough about the reasons for an executive session.

"I just want to stop breaking the law, do what a board member is supposed to do and do what we're supposed to do for these kids, and we have missed that," she said.

Kettering would not respond to the allegations "except to say we didn't do it" and questioned why a formal complaint wasn't filed.

"There were things said out of executive session that shouldn't have been said," he said, declining specifics. "I don't want to lower myself to that level."

When the board hired attorney John Britton to consult, Britton allegedly met with Coleman and advised her to take another job, citing the board's intention not to renew her contract.

May said she only found out later that the board paid Britton for his services. Previously, she thought his services were covered under the district's legal consortium with the Portage County Educational Service Center. And the full board never authorized him to meet with Coleman.

"I didn't know about that John Britton crap until it hit me in the face," she said.

Kettering, meanwhile, alluded that there is more to the story, but would not be specific about his personal opinion.

"There's things the public don't know on both sides, and that's part of the problem," he said.

Revolving door

Coleman stands to be the fourth superintendent since 2001 to leave the district.

Timm Mackley, who succeeded long-time Superintendent Patricia Bateman, left in 2001 after about two years. He was succeeded by David Redd, who left in 2008 to take another job. David Brobeck succeeded him, and Coleman, who was principal of the district's middle school, was named assistant superintendent.

In 2010, Brobeck, who had clashed with the board over the creation of the Falcon Academy, resigned, and Coleman was named superintendent.

Long-time treasurer Catherine Rouse also resigned in 2010 to become treasurer of Streetsboro City Schools.

There was a large turnout for the levy committee meeting this week, with many residents stating that they'd heard of the meeting, and Coleman's fate, on social media.

"It's a personal vendetta and they finally succeeded," Yeich said after the levy committee meeting.

Contact these reporters at dsmith@recordpub.com or kmcdonald@recordpub.com

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anonymous Feb 11, 2013 9:25 AM

Well put JimmyJelly! If any parent/resident would vote down the levy just because Mrs. Coleman will no longer be the superintendent, it seems like your best interest is not with the students of the district. Personally, I feel that the board needs certain members to "resign" as well. I will vote YES on the levy because the district so desperately NEEDS it.

anonymous Feb 10, 2013 10:37 PM

Here's my take: The district is in financial trouble primarily because of state cuts and lack of local funding. A majority of the school board is displeased with the superintendent, intend to non-renew her contract, and have let her know of their intentions in advance. The two members of the school board who disagree would like to see the majority of the school board replaced with new members who are politically aligned with them and are using rumor and innuendo to make their opponents look bad.

Not coincidentally, the Portage County Tea Party set this debacle in motion by sending out a robo call to people in the district in an effort to make the majority of the school board look bad. By the way, I suspect this robo call utilized Tom Z's resources, a vendor the board decided to drop last year in favor of a California-based communications service. Im surprised that the Record Courier has failed to connect the dots and at least investigate the connection between the robo call (which gave life to this story) and the boards decision to drop Tom Zs company. For Petes sake, do your job. How can you call yourselves reporters and give this a free pass?

Does Beth Coleman deserve to be forced into resignation? I cant say. But it seems as if no one in charge of this decision (including May and Stewart) is at liberty to discuss details of the situation publically. Until Coleman actually resigns, how can we consider this a news story? Its more along the lines of gossip and bickering I expect from 14 year-old girls.

This is a small, rural school district. Leadership positions at Field should be practical in nature and focused on the mundane task of organizing and running a district. Why all the drama? The districts every move over the last few years has been analyzed under a microscope from an unrelenting political opposition. This group is obviously using these events to get more of its members on the school board.

The district needs money. The teachers have sacrificed. The students deserve way more than this. Let's quit clowning around and help the district pass a levy.

anonymous Feb 10, 2013 8:56 PM

redleg - you're welcome. Once more people, from more school districts start talking, we can fix anything. The eleven school districts in Portage County would be a good start for us. Time to talk to people rather than about people and it's time to drop the adversarial positioning that keeps people from talking . . . IMHO

anonymous Feb 10, 2013 1:12 PM

With New leadership I am sure a Levy will pass.

There are three board members that are thinking of the kids. You have my vote!

anonymous Feb 10, 2013 11:42 AM

d_p... Thanks for info. Grandkids are Red Devils. Grandpa is an Alum.... I just thought it odd having a person that is/was/has to be ?? a union member, representing the People in business/financial decisions. As a former union steward (70-80's) Local 41 (MESA) Mechanics Educational Society of America AFL/CIO, SK Wellman Corp. Bedford OH. SK Wellman would never let a union member represent the company in business or any other matters. It was an adverserial relationship, "management vs union" "white collar vs blue collar" "The People (BOE) vs Teachers Union"... Management wants to give as little as possible/union wants as much as possible. The educational system needs fixed period. More money is not the answer. Lets pressure the folks in Columbus to fix the problem. They are outstanding examples of what this educational system produces. The cream of the crop, the best and the brightest. I'll bet both sides would be happy to work together, set aside their political agenda's, and fix the system!! It's For the Children!!! Right?

anonymous Feb 10, 2013 11:34 AM

Can't believe that the people of Suffield and Brimfield have not figured out that the Field Schools have been hitting rock bottom for the last 4 years. The High school has lost many needed instructional classes, the rooms are over crowded, and the administration has just la la la'd around not helping get a levy passed. Sure Coleman had Coffees 4 years ago . BUt what about the past three? I am sure if her attorney recommended to her to resign that there was a great reason her attorney did.Could it have been that all documented records of her performance indicate that she was given chance after chance to succeed but failed each attempt?? I think that is the reason why.

anonymous Feb 10, 2013 12:19 AM

Not A Fan - please reconsider as you "applaud...BOE members...who chose to act professionally...rather than....WHINE ABOUT THE SUNSHINE LAWS...". Ohio's Public Records and Open Meeting Acts (aka Ohio Sunshine Laws) can be found on either the State Auditor's or Attorney General's web sites. Pages 1-26 (records) and 88-99 (meetings) are the pages those who conduct public meetings and maintain public records, as well as those who attend public meetings and request public records, should know well......... Elected officials cannot follow the rules if they do not know them, and the public does not know which rules are being broken if they do not know the Ohio Sunshine Laws....(pages 1-26 and 88-99)

anonymous Feb 9, 2013 11:49 PM

Redleg - you're not quite right, but headed down a path that needs further exploration in all school districts contracts, IMHO. Haven't read Coleman's superintendent contract, and based upon the language cited in the letter from her attorney, her contract probably says she can return to a teaching position if she chooses and/or her superintendent contract ends........Are you still in the Crestwood District or from the Crestwood District? Crestwood eliminated some admin positions last spring and those people chose to take teaching positions.

anonymous Feb 9, 2013 7:55 PM

@Not A Fan; you said "Just like any other business, it is the people actually doing the work that gets the results, not the management".... RC article above..Attorney Sue Gragel is Mrs. Coleman's personal attorney, the statement reads,......"Her current contract expires on July 31, 2013. Mrs. Coleman holds continuing contract status as a TEACHER in the District and retains this status". A Teacher in management? Would that make her a union member? If so, couldn't that be consider a conflict of interest or self interest...That would explain the "cut books/supplies for children vs cut wages/benes controversey". Or I could be wrong. Someone please explain. Thanks!

anonymous Feb 9, 2013 7:19 PM

I, for one, cannot wait for the next elections to the Field school board, to vote the three stooges out!

anonymous Feb 9, 2013 5:32 PM

I am thrilled that she resigned. She made a smart move to do that. The district needs a complete overall with a new adminstration. The faculty gave Field "Excellent with Distinction" not the superintendent and the adminstration. I am sick of going to a board meeting and seeing the other 2 members doing their own agendas. The conclusion is that she wasn't doing her job and apparently she performed deficiently. She needs to start a new chapter in her life and find peace in her decision. Bring in the county superintendent right away to take over..

anonymous Feb 9, 2013 3:34 PM

The Superintendent is not responsible for the daily classroom activities that result in the "Excellent with Distinction" rating. That would be the faculty. Just like any other business, it is the people actually doing the work that gets the results, not the management. Field HS has been rated "Excellent" for quite some time, and she was not the Superintendent then.

Now to the article... I applaud the BOE for doing the right thing. Beth Coleman may be a nice person, but it is clear she had performance deficiencies that while not apparent to the general public, were most certainly apparent to her bosses, they being the BOE. Additionally, I applaud the majority of the BOE choosing not to whine and moan and complain to the RC, but chose to act professionally rather than using the RC to promote their own agenda and special interest group (ie., whine about sunshine laws or find fault with the process used to discipline a high-ranking employee).

Were executive sessions held without Larry and Laura present? Doubtful. Maybe they were so wrapped up in their own agenda and how to cause more dissension that the information escaped them. Personally, I am sick and tired of hearing the threat of students leaving the district because L&L are not getting their own way. Field has had good and bad superintendents and parents have not flocked to Field, nor have they left the district because of the superintendents. Laura May suggesting this is simply ludicrous.

In my opinion, this is not personal at all. One either does the job hired to do, or risks losing that job.

anonymous Feb 9, 2013 12:27 PM

@kskeets..."Until one or more of these "key" members who are highly motivated toward their own agenda "... In your opinion, what is the agenda of the three members you mentioned in prev. post? Just curious. The whole situation would make a good soap opera on TV "Flight of the Falcon Chronicles" rated R.

anonymous Feb 9, 2013 9:32 AM

One only needs to look at the history portion of this article. The pattern is consistent. When these 3 members of the board don't see things going their way, a resignation or resignationS occur. Until one or more of these "key" members who are highly motivated toward their own agenda are removed, replaced, or voted out, the citizens of Field can continue to watch our schools go down hill. Ultimately, the legacy of what is left behind is what matters. Beth Coleman leaves the legacy of turning the school system into "Excellent with Distinction". These school board members get credited for running the school system into state control due to financial stress.

With great sadness and concern

Paul Kessler