BY JENNIFER CABRERA
After a meeting with one agenda item that lasted almost 4 hours on June 22, the Alachua County School Board voted to approve about half of the job descriptions requested by Superintendent Carlee Simon.
The job descriptions were for administrative, professional/technical, and education support professionals. They were all approved on first reading on May 18, 2021, and last night’s meeting was for the purpose of approving them on second reading, but with a four-member board after Diyonne McGraw’s removal, it takes a 3-1 vote to pass anything. Forty new or changed job descriptions were in the backup, along with two deletions.
Chair Leanetta McNealy announced that citizen input would be heard first, followed by board discussion. Member Tina Certain moved to approve the job descriptions, and after a pause during which it became clear that the two other members were not going to second the motion, McNealy seconded it.
Citizen input was mainly in favor of the job descriptions, with McNealy frequently having to steer speakers back to the agenda item. The speakers who strayed off topic usually spoke about McGraw’s removal. 16 people spoke in favor of the job descriptions, 2 said they were not in favor of approving them, and 2 made comments that were not explicitly in favor or against. Several speakers identified themselves as members of Socialist Alternative and Alachua County Labor Coalition. Carmen Ward, president of the Alachua County Educators Association, said she was speaking on behalf of “some of my members.” She said those members were “in these job descriptions,” specifically the electronic tech positions. She asked that those positions be pulled from the list because no labor management meeting was held regarding the change, and those people would now be required to get a CDL license. She said some of those people were locksmiths, for example, and “That position has become extremely diversified… they’re all being incorporated into ‘electronic techs.’”
In response, Simon said she was unaware of a requirement for a CDL license for electronic techs. “I think that’s, perhaps, misinformation.” In reviewing the backup, it appears that CDL training is required for the “Director, Assistant – Transportation” job (not an electronics technician job) but otherwise only shows up in a deleted job description, “Technician – Electronics, Transportation,” which is shown as being merged with “Technician – Electronics, Facilities.” Simon went on to say that as the locks in their facilities are replaced with digitized locks, locksmith is becoming a “field of the past,” and locksmiths will now need to be electronics technicians.
In the first irregularity of many in the meeting, ACPS Public Information Officer Jackie Johnson approached McNealy after the third speaker, and the video and audio turned off for 4 minutes.
After the citizen input was completed, Member Rob Hyatt said he wanted to talk about the board: “I think there’s a gap in what we talk about and what we get done.” At that point, McNealy interrupted him, and Hyatt said, “Am I ok?” McNealy said, “Not really. We’re on job descriptions.” Hyatt appealed to the board attorney, saying, “Mr. Delaney, you let me know.” McNealy replied, “I just told you, as Chair. I got the movement from the attorney.”
“I’m going to ask that we press pause on the job descriptions, on everything except for Equity.” – Member Rob Hyatt
Hyatt said he would “cut right to the chase, then… I can cut further if we’re not allowed to talk.” He brought up the district’s Equity Plan, which was passed in 2018, and said he voted for it. He said that in December, the district’s Equity Director was moved to a different building and “subsequently demoted.” McNealy interrupted him again: “I’m sorry. Let’s cut to the chase a little more.” Hyatt then said that Simon has said they’re going to “press pause” on rezoning after “weeks and weeks and weeks and months of talking about it, so I’m going to ask that we press pause on the job descriptions, on everything except for Equity.” He offered a substitute motion, which they decided to call an amendment to the previous motion: “I move that the board approves the position as described in pages 73-76, Chief – Equity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement.” Member Gunnar Paulson seconded the motion.
Simon then indicated that she wanted to speak, saying that she thought it was important to engage the public before rezoning. “Now, I am the superintendent, so actually the board would determine whether you are pausing on zoning or not. That is not my decision. I handle the operations of the organization, you all handle the policy.”
Hyatt responded, “If I’m allowed… I’m quoting what was reported in the Gainesville Sun,” somebody off camera said, “Oh, no!” and the room erupted into laughter. Hyatt asked Simon if she was quoted incorrectly “by saying we’re going to press pause on rezoning.”
“I handle operations, and these job descriptions are part of operations, and it does feel very much so as though impeding my operations is what is occurring by not allowing me to have job descriptions.” – Superintendent Carlee Simon
Simon said, “If the question is if I have been misquoted before by the Gainesville Sun, I would have to answer yes, I’ve been misquoted before. The presentation–I proposed a suggestion from my observations, and all it is, is a proposal… I am giving a recommendation, and it is up to the board…” She said the rezoning itself was never formally voted on by the board. “And again, I handle operations, and these job descriptions are part of operations, and it does feel very much so as though impeding my operations is what is occurring by not allowing me to have job descriptions… I have not heard a complaint about the job descriptions.”
“Officer! Officer, I need help! I need help.” – Chair Leanetta McNealy
Hyatt asked if he could respond, and McNealy said, “I’m gonna let you respond, but it’s certainly showing that we, as a board, must have a retreat next week.” Paulson, whose wife is very ill, said, “No.” McNealy said, “Yes, we are going to have a retreat, whether you come or not, because this has got to stop. This bickering has got to stop.” Paulson continued to argue with her, and she said, “Excuse me.” Paulson said, “Excuse me, ma’am.” McNealy started waving toward the back of the room, saying, “Officer! Officer, I need help! I need help. We are not going to do this tonight. We’ve had enough of it! Period. And I think we do need to grow up and have a retreat, all of us. Period. Say what you need to say, Mr. Hyatt, if anything, but we are not going to go after our Superintendent… The conversation is, she told you we had these workshops. And we have all been misquoted in the Sun sometimes. I see the Sun reporter here tonight, and I want them to get it straight, but I don’t need all this back and forth tonight in the paper. We are not being representative of who elected all of us and how we are acting with each other. Come on!… If you have something you need to say to the Superintendent, say it privately. Not out here. Please.”
Hyatt said “I’d just like equal—I wasn’t allowed to say what I thought up, so go ahead, Madam Chair.”
McNealy said, “I want a recess. I’m sorry. Recess!” Then she pointed at the board attorney and said she wanted to talk to him. The meeting recessed for 10 minutes.
When they returned, Hyatt requested a vote on his amendment. The vote was 2-2, with Hyatt and Paulson in favor and Member Tina Certain and McNealy against. The vote failed.
“I am unable to see how a total reorganization is implemented without first knowing the goals, objectives, and priorities of the strategic plan.” – Member Gunnar Paulson
Paulson spoke next and was difficult to hear, but it sounded like he favored some of the job descriptions. He said the district’s strategic plan hadn’t been updated since 2018. He said he felt “very strongly” that any reorganization must be aligned with the district’s strategic plan. He said the strategic plan must come first. “I am unable to see how a total reorganization is implemented without first knowing the goals, objectives, and priorities of the strategic plan.” He said the board should be “laser-targeted” on the opening of schools in about 6 weeks “to re-energize our teaching and learning initiatives.” He said there hadn’t been community engagement on the strategic plan. “I do care about children, I do care about our community.” People in the audience then began asking him to use his microphone because they couldn’t hear him. Somebody suggested that he start over, and Certain said, “Please don’t repeat it.” Paulson offered a written copy of his statement to anyone who wanted one.
Simon said the vote wasn’t to approve the organizational chart; the vote was on the job descriptions that help align to the organizational chart. Paulson said he would be happy to look at the job descriptions once the strategic plan was complete. Simon said she was proposing the job descriptions “in order for the superintendent to be able to manage the organization in the way that I do believe is most effective to address the needs that I see as well as address the needs for ushering in the ESSER money in a responsible way.” She said people are “spread very thin, and this proposal is to allow people to focus on a specific area and to do it really well… I believe that allowing me to move forward with this would allow us to do the best work for our students and for our employees.” She said many people have job titles “that do not align with the job they do… There’s a method here, and I understand that right now you are skeptical, but I don’t think it’s founded.”
Paulson said, “Then we have to disagree.” He said they needed to “settle down” and come back next month “and see what we can come up with.” Someone in the audience started yelling that he should let Simon do her job.
Certain said she “stands in full support” of the job descriptions. She said Simon has been doing interviews for the positions and that she wanted to respect Simon’s time and the time of her team by supporting the initiative.
“Are you going to vote with us tonight?” – Chair Leanetta McNealy
Paulson wanted to respond, but McNealy said she wanted to say something, and then they would need to vote, although no motion was on the table. Paulson said he wanted to offer an amendment, but McNealy asked if the amendment “has to do with pushing this vote for tonight. Are you going to vote with us tonight?… If the amendment is going against the plan, I would prefer…” Paulson said it was just a clarification, but McNealy said he should speak “privately with the Superintendent… because if I allow you to say something, then Mrs. Certain is going to have to, and that’s not what we want to do tonight.” Paulson backed off.
McNealy sat in silence for a moment, removing her mask. She said Simon has an open door policy for board members, and that takes a lot of time, plus Simon’s team had spent a lot of time on the organization chart and job descriptions. “The point of the matter is… you handle operations, and we handle policy… To get the amount of money that we’re getting… $90 million dollars, and we don’t even know how to act with that kind of money coming into our funding. We have so many things that need to be done… five weeks. Five–before school reopens. There is no way, if this does not pass this evening, just think about the hole that we will be in.” She mentioned upcoming vacations for school board members and the Superintendent and other staff members. “If we’re going to pause this tonight… none of our employees, come July 1, will be on board. We cannot do that to them and their families… There is no power play in this because when I get finished and close the discussion, I’m going to call one by one for the job descriptions for a vote… so we’ll probably be here a couple of hours… I totally support the plan… It would be wonderful if [the press in the room] could hear us say unanimously that we support efforts. I’m calling for the vote.”
“Then we could see if we could come together, instead of telling people what they have to do.” – Member Gunnar Paulson
Paulson said they had extended contracts for employees in the past, and they could do it again. McNealy said, “No.” Paulson continued, “Then we could see if we could come together, instead of telling people what they have to do.” He said McNealy was accusing him of not thinking about the employees, “just like you thought about the employees when they got letters in the mail.” Paulson asked the attorney to read the motion, which the attorney said was to approve the job descriptions.
McNealy said, “I’m going through one by one, because I’m sitting here in this seat… We’re going to vote on every single position.” Certain raised her eyebrows but said, “Okay.” The attorney said they needed to address the main motion, and then any board member could amend it. McNealy said she wanted to make a motion, so she would pass the gavel to Certain. The attorney said, “It’s not time for that” because they needed to vote on the main motion, but McNealy passed it, anyway, saying she wouldn’t need it.
McNealy then called for a vote on the main motion, and the vote was 2-2, with Certain and McNealy in favor and Paulson and Hyatt opposed. McNealy then moved to hear “each and every single title and job description for a vote.” Certain seconded the motion. Certain voted yes, and Paulson and Hyatt voted no, then there were some voices off-microphone. Certain said they should have asked for public discussion, and the attorney said it was at their discretion because they had already taken a lot of public input on the issue. Hyatt said, “Are we allowing these comments from the audience?” and McNealy said, “Yes, we are for right now, because I’m trying to get clarification from the attorney.”
Certain then asked if there was anyone wanting to make public comment, and someone in the audience said, “Absolutely!” After the first speaker, Hyatt asked the attorney why they were taking public comment when they had already voted, and Delaney said it was his understanding that they had not voted. Certain said she had not called for a vote. But as described above, McNealy called for a vote, and 3 of the board members voted, including Certain, before they paused to ask the attorney’s advice.
“It’s a shame that our Superintendent has to be bullied by some old folks that want to be mean and nasty.” – Armando Grundy-Gomes
Armando Grundy-Gomes spoke next, accusing board members of not being polite. “We’re supposed to be civil back here, but Dr. McNealy was being treated rude by some of your colleagues, the Superintendent was being waved off by one of your colleagues, ‘cause they’re quite angry. It’s interesting when somebody doesn’t have their way, they become petulant… It’s a shame that our Superintendent has to be bullied by some old folks that want to be mean and nasty.” Hyatt then commented that Grundy-Gomes was being rude, and Grundy-Gomes said, “Mr. Hyatt is correct, I was being rude to him. I’m sorry.” Hyatt said Grundy-Gomes should be removed, and Grundy-Gomes said Hyatt “should be in a time-out.” Certain asked that “citizens keep the discussion civil,” and Grundy-Gomes said to her, “I wish that they would practice that with y’all, too. It’s interesting when someone else does it, they’re triggered. They’re quite triggered. But I have energy for that all day, and I’m gonna match their energy; every time they bully you, or bully Dr. McNealy, or bully Dr. Simon, I’m gonna give them that energy… We’re coming for you. We’re coming for you.”
Hyatt gestured to the sheriff’s deputies in the room: “Sir? Are we going to allow that?… ‘We’re coming for you.’ That’s not a threat?” Grundy-Gomes responded, “Are you being a Karen? Are you being a Karen? Are you threatening me? Rob, really?” Hyatt asked that Grundy-Gomes be removed, and Certain reluctantly asked him to “exit the building, please.” Grundy-Gomes left.
Hyatt then complained that Chanae Jackson was being disruptive while live-streaming the meeting. Delaney said filming of public meetings is constitutionally allowed, as long as it’s done in a non-distracting way.
After two more citizens spoke, Paulson said he wasn’t prepared to stay and vote one-by-one. He said they should schedule a new meeting for that and notify the public. The attorney told him that they didn’t need to notice it as a new meeting, and that they were taking citizen comment. Paulson said the citizens could talk all they want, but he wouldn’t vote to go one-by-one.
After another citizen spoke, Paulson asked to make a motion, and Certain said, “You can make a motion, I guess.” He moved to extend the contracts of the employees by a month “and still give them their benefits.” Certain said that item was not on the agenda, and Delaney said that was on the agenda for Monday’s meeting “and that would be the proper time to take up that issue.”
Paulson repeated that he wasn’t prepared to vote for every job description. At that point, McNealy leaned over to Paulson and started whispering to him. She hid her face behind her mask, and Paulson covered his microphone. They spoke for about a minute before returning to citizen comment on the motion to vote one-by-one for the job descriptions.
Certain asked whether there were any callers waiting to make comments, and the staff member said there were 12. Certain seemed dismayed but then laughed and said, “Let’s start.” Hyatt asked for a 5-minute recess. Certain decided to take the first caller before taking the recess, but the caller was garbled, so they asked her to call back and took the recess.
“I know we want public engagement; I also know we have some pressing matters that—I don’t want this meeting to kind of dissolve.” – Superintendent Carlee Simon
When they came back, Certain repeated the motion and went back to public comment. Callers on both sides complained about the behavior of board members. After a few callers and with more waiting to speak, Simon said, “I know we want public engagement; I also know we have some pressing matters that—I don’t want this meeting to kind of dissolve. Would the board be open to me discussing some job descriptions that I think would be very important to get us over this hump, and then we can come back and revisit some of the other job descriptions?”
Hyatt said he would like “at some point very soon” to make a motion to approve six of the job descriptions.
Simon went through her list of high-priority job descriptions with her microphone off, then had to repeat the whole thing when someone said she couldn’t be heard. Her list included the Manager of Special Projects, which she said was necessary to track ESSER funds; the Coordinator for Records Management–“a required position, and we don’t currently have that one”; the Director of Evaluation, Accountability, and Data Analytics–“this position technically exists, it’s a minor title change”; the Chief of Teaching and Learning; the Executive Directors of Elementary and Secondary Curriculum; the Director of Curriculum— “I think that should be a separate component because we currently have an Executive Director of Curriculum, it actually would just be a shift down”; the Principal of eSchool–“right now that individual is also in charge of our homeschool students, and our homeschool students went from 200 to 1200, and if the goal is to get those students back in, that is a huge shift. I think we need to have a Director of School Choice because that is what that person can focus on, as well as separating grants and charter schools”; the Director of College and Career Pathways, which would separate the Director of CTE and the Principal of Loften; the Coordinator of Supplemental Education Interventions; the Chief of Equity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement; a position Hyatt had listed, the Supervisor I of School Volunteers and Partnerships—“this position does technically exist, but this is a coordinator… I would suggest the Coordinator of Community Engagement and the Coordinator of Online Presence, because those are two positions I do not have”; the Chief of Finance—“it’s a title change so he matches with the other ones”; and the Executive Director of Human Resources—“that is to increase the experience of the individuals that we believe we need in order to run a strong HR department.”
“When I said ‘press pause,’… that doesn’t mean there is a list of these jobs that would never come to fruition.” – Member Rob Hyatt
Hyatt said, “When I said ‘press pause,’… that doesn’t mean there is a list of these jobs that would never come to fruition. It means that with 144 pages… maybe [current employees] should be the highest priority… I wanted to make sure that equity was right in the center… I wanted that position, and it was voted down.”
Certain, saying she didn’t want to cut him off, cut him off, asking him not to go back through the past. McNealy said she liked Hyatt’s compromise, but that there are other positions tied to the six Hyatt had listed “in order for it to work. You can’t just pick… these that you really feel strongly about… you don’t have the workings with them. And we don’t have the time to come back.”
Hyatt said he’d been hearing from district employees, more than he’d ever heard from, “and the perception that this is something that is universally supported by employees is just not accurate.”
Simon said nobody should be concerned about people losing their jobs on July 1. Paulson said, “You guarantee nobody will lose their jobs?” Simon replied, “I believe I shared this the last meeting, and I stand by it again. When I say it on the dais, I mean it.”
“The administrative decisions that were previously made, that was the end of it, and I shared that.” – Superintendent Carlee Simon
Certain asked McNealy which positions she would like on the list, but McNealy said she wanted to hear from “the gentlemen on the dais” when they think they’ll be ready to come back and go through all the positions. She suggested a special meeting next week. Paulson said he favored guaranteeing all the employees would have a job after July 1. Simon said, “Well, of course, but if I guarantee all the employees have a job, will you just do all the job descriptions?” She said she didn’t realize that was a concern because “the administrative decisions that were previously made, that was the end of it, and I shared that. These job descriptions are moving forward.” She said the short list could “get us started.”
McNealy again pushed for a time frame. “You cannot afford to wait two weeks. How are you all thinking?… All of these positions… have to work and be in place.” Simon added, “Honestly, I think a week or two is incredibly problematic… we have six weeks until the fall semester starts. I have interviewed 20 people in the last three days… this could get us over the hump.”
Hyatt added these positions to Simon’s list above: Manager of Student Assessment, Manager of Data Analytics, and Manager of Student Achievement.
McNealy added Director of Professional Development and Supervisor II of Budget.
Hyatt said they were “adding and adding,” so he suggested adjourning the meeting and continuing it in a week to give each member a chance to talk to Simon. McNealy said, “Let’s stay.” Simon asked the board to let her operate the district and start with the positions she needs. She listed them again, but it wasn’t clear whether it was the same list because she was working from a chart and said things like, “I want that whole column.” She added Director of Professional Development and the name change for Chief of Operations to her previous list.
Hyatt asked Simon to go through the list again, and this time she said the “entire column” consisted of the positions Hyatt had added above. There was still some confusion about which positions were on the list, but Simon said they would “make sure it all aligns” when they do the minutes for the meeting.
McNealy moved to approve the listed positions, and Paulson seconded the motion. The motion passed, 3-1, with Hyatt in dissent. Members of the audience called out, “Thank you, Dr. Paulson!”
The board realized that they still had callers waiting to comment, but the attorney said they had provided a “reasonable opportunity” for public comment, so he thought they were in compliance with the law.
They also realized they had an outstanding motion that had not been voted on; McNealy withdrew the motion.
The board’s next meeting is a Special Meeting on Monday, June 28, at 11 a.m.