Board members deny interfering with school recovery
by Cris Ritchie
HAZARD – Three members of the Perry County Board of Education are vehemently denying allegations of interference with the academic recovery of Perry Central High School.
Perry Central was listed as a persistently low-achieving school in 2011, resulting in the implementation of an educational recovery plan and the presence of a support team to aid local educators in the school’s academic turn around. According to a letter from Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday dated April 4, the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has received “reliable information” in support of allegations the three board members – John C. Combs, Charlene Miller, and James Ritchie — had applied “significant pressure” on both the principal and education recovery support team at Perry Central to reinstate a break during the school day.
Additionally, Combs, the board chairman, is accused of routinely contacting staff at central office to direct their day-to-day activities, while also directing staff to “not send e-mails to school listserv members even regarding school business.”
Combs said this week he was blind-sided by the claims against him, which he claims are simply untrue. He said he does not direct central office staff and hasn’t pressured anyone to reinstate a break at Perry Central.
“Except for school board meetings, very seldom am I at central office,” Combs said. “I don’t know where all of this is coming from. I don’t know who they’re believing.”
Ritchie was also alleged to have threatened Perry Central Principal Neal Feltner and demand that he reinstate the break for students at the school. He is also accused of demanding a district employee deliver a copy of the employees’ pay stub to the business where he works.
A conversation with Feltner about breaks during the school day never took place, Ritchie said, and he never demanded any employee provide him with a pay stub.
“I don’t understand how anyone can make up such lies,” he said. “The allegations are most definitely not true. As long as I’ve been a board member, my every decision has been to better our district, and my only intentions are to help the children of Perry County.”
As for claims against Miller, Holliday wrote that she was alleged to have demanded the recovery staff reinstate the break, and also that they purchase textbooks for the students.
Miller also denied the allegations, noting that she has been more focused on technology for students than textbooks. She also noted that other than congratulating Mr. Feltner when he was hired as the principal at Perry Central, she has never spoken to him outside of the board’s regular meetings. School breaks, she added, are up for the school personnel to decide, while the purchase of textbooks is a matter for site-based councils.
Miller said she is composing a letter to Holliday and hopes to set up a meeting with the head of the recovery team to clear up any questions that have arisen from these letters.
“They’re false allegations, and I’m in the process of having it cleared up,” she said.
The allegations contained in the letters have also been forwarded to the Office of Education Accountability in Frankfort for investigation, though an official there noted at present they are not aware of any information other than what is contained in Commissioner Holliday’s letters.
“We’ve seen copies of the letters,” said Karen Timmel with the OEA. “That is not a complaint that came to us. That is a complaint that went directly to KDE. We don’t know anything other than what is in the letters from KDE.”
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