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Hawkins BOE chairman says he is baffled by ethics complaint filed by vice chair

June 4th, 2014 5:02 pm by Jeff Bobo

Hawkins BOE chairman says he is baffled by ethics complaint filed by vice chair

Holly Helton

Emotions high as legality of Hawkins BOE's director appointment policy questioned

ROGERSVILLE — A letter received by Hawkins County school board chairman Randy Collier last December from educational consultant Ron Walker praises Rogersville Middle School Principal Jim Ailshie and his staff for their "aggressive and successful plan to turn around a chronically failing school."

The letter was addressed to the full BOE, and although Collier filed it in the Central Office, he admittedly failed to provide that letter to his fellow board members.

He said Wednesday it was an oversight during a very hectic time in his personal life, and there was no intent for wrongdoing.

On June 12 at 5 p.m. the BOE's Ethics Committee will meet to address a complaint filed by board vice chairperson Holly Helton against Collier, as well as board member Chris Christian, for failing to share Walker's letter with the full board.

Christian had received a copy of Walker's letter from Assistant Director of Schools Steve Starnes after Collier turned it into the Central Office.

Helton has been a staunch opponent of appointing Ailshie as director of schools since Ailshie was bumped to the top of the BOE's list of candidates after the board failure to meet the salary requirements of its previous top contender.

Helton states in her written complaint, "It is my contention the board members voted to include Mr. Ailshie's name to the list of superintendent candidates without having information contained within this before mentioned letter. Had I been privy to this information which was addressed to the Hawkins County Board of Education, my vote and the vote of others may have been impacted."

Walker's letter outlines a long list of failings at RMS which he discovered during several visits to the school beginning in the 2009-10 school year including poor facilities, unsanitary restrooms and substandard teachers.

Walker also points out that he addressed his concerns with Ailshie shortly after Ailshie was appointed RMS principal at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year.

"By the time of my visit in October of 2012 ... Mr. Ailshie and his staff had made enormous changes," Walker states. "The restrooms were newly cleaned and painted, free of vulgarity and sexual drawings, and the safety issues had been addressed."

Collier told the Times-News Wednesday that he doesn't see any ethical violation in this situation. Collier noted that if Helton believed Walker's letter shed a negative light on Ailshie, she apparently misread Walker's letter or failed to comprehend its meaning.

Helton filed the ethics complaint the day after it was revealed that BOE policy for appointing a director of schools may violate state law. During a closed meeting with the county attorney, Helton and board member Debbie Shedden walked out of that meeting in tears, upset over the prospect that Ailshie could be appointed by a 4-3 majority instead of the BOE's 5-2 super-majority policy.

"The complaint was filed the day after a very emotional meeting for Mrs. Helton," Collier said. "I contend that I may have violated a procedure and I apologize for my actions."

Collier added, "The folder containing the letter was given to me and I shall take responsibility for it not being shared with the remainder of the board. Mrs. Helton advises in the complaint 'if she was privy to this letter it would have changed her vote on Ailshie.' I am unclear of how this letter would persuade anyone to think negatively of Mr. Ailshie. The letter clearly commends Mr. Ailshie's extensive efforts in trying to advocate for essential modifications to the restrooms to help with the sanitation and morale at the school. It is not a negative letter and should have never been construed in such manner."

Helton's complaint, as well as the letter written by Walker, and Collier's written response to the complaint, can be found below.

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