There are several major issues that concern us regarding the intentions of the current school board. Among them: vouchers and charter schools (privatization), the politicization of curriculum and textbook issues, and board intentions regarding the director of schools.
In light of recent events, we thought it would be wise to lay out the reasons for our concerns. Below are some facts that have led us to be concerned specifically about one of those issues—the Board’s intentions regarding Superintendent Mike Looney.
Our view is that Dr. Looney is a capable superintendent, and we do not wish to see him removed from his position.
We know the Williamson Strong community has grown since the August election and that many more parents and community members are engaged and paying attention. Our aim is to be a watchdog so we want to lay out what we have seen—facts only—so you can draw your own conclusions.
Contributor outlines a plan
Campaign contributor and activist Kent Davis sent an email (leaked to and covered in the Tennessean on 7/20) to 24 recipients (including all six new board members-to-be) suggesting the timing and strategy for an ouster of Superintendent Mike Looney. Davis said that the new board—after elected—should “make the case he (Looney) is a top-down micromanager who does not trust his principals, managers and others.” Davis wrote that he would “send materials that outline the case.” He also wrote, “The time for any ugly stuff should be done privately and kept out of the press and much as we would be tempted ‘revenge’ is not a strategy. A win for WCS and us will be for him to move on.” We urge you to read the email for yourself; it appears to be referencing an earlier conversation about replacing Looney.
One constituent reports that Dr. Beth Burgos agrees
The newly elected school board members did not overtly run on wanting new executive leadership for the county. However, on July 21, one Burgos supporter reported on Facebook that Dr. Burgos made it clear that she wanted to replace Dr. Looney.
Candidates vehemently deny plan to oust Looney
On July 24, nine days after the leaked Kent Davis email, the four board challengers (now board members Curlee, Burgos, Emerson, and Cash) organized a “press statement.” Beth Burgos spoke for all of them saying, “Not one of us has remotely entertained or expressed the desire to replace our superintendent Dr. Looney. Each of us looks forward to working with him and supporting him in his job as our superintendent and the quest to offer the best education possible in Williamson County.”
Board member Susan Curlee requests Dr. Looney and WCS parent emails
Monday, September 15: The new school board members were officially sworn in at the board meeting.
Monday, September 29: Susan Curlee sent a records request asking for all of Mike Looney’s emails to current and former board members as well as all emails to/from six Williamson County parents and citizens as well as Williamson Strong. See our post “Guilty!”
Request to attend staff meetings
Friday, October 10: Susan Curlee sent Dr. Looney a note stating that some board members wished to attend his meetings with teachers. Dr. Looney responded that he was happy to share his schedule with the board and that board members were welcome to attend public events, but that he had “significant concerns” about board members participating in faculty meetings.
Saturday, October 11: Ms. Curlee responded that she had “received calls” from educators concerned about the tone at faculty meetings and that there were rumors about privatization coming from “a politically motivated parent group.” She wrote to Looney, “your response led teachers to believe there may be some truth to these malicious lies.” Later in the same email, she referred to privatization concerns again as “false allegations.” (See our “Vouchers are Privatization” post for additional information on this.)
Sunday, October 12: Ms. Curlee sent an email to Dr. Looney regarding the parent meeting scheduled for 10/14 stating “here is yet another example of how to are contributing to the current tenuous situation.” She expressed her concern that the event was coordinated by a “politically motivated group responsible for targeting new board members and perpetuating divisive lies in the community.” She also implied that she had previously instructed Superintendent Looney to distance himself the parent group and asked for a full disclosure of all emails within the last 30 days between himself and the parent group.
Ms. Curlee also raised the issue of Dr. Looney’s loyalty to the board.
Meeting cancellation request
October 13, 11:31 PM: Ms. Curlee sent Dr. Looney an email asking to cancel the meeting scheduled for the following evening. She stated that the parents are a group from “outside” the schools so should have specific requirements for using the building.
October 16: Ms. Curlee inquired about hiring PR and legal staff to work exclusively for the board. Jason Golden explained that in the event of a dispute with Dr. Looney, county attorneys would not be able to advise board members because they report to the superintendent. See the 10/20 Williamson Herald article here.
Board member Rick Wimberly alluded to a request for all of Dr. Looney’s emails with board members:
“In the last couple of weeks, there has been an extraordinary request by a board member to view the Superintendent’s correspondence with other board members.
“There’s been a request for the Superintendent to cancel a parent meeting. There has been a refusal by a board member to have one on one discussion with the Superintendent. To me these things are extraordinary.
“If there is a problem that one of us has with the superintendent that would warrant this type extraordinary action, we need to discuss it as a board. What is the problem that would cause this to occur? And, if there’s not a problem, then don’t do it anymore.”
Mr. Wimberly’s question is an excellent one. What’s really going on here?
Note: All emails were obtained via BoardView, available at Central Office, except for Susan Curlee’s 9/29 FOIA request which was obtained by a FOIA request. BoardView lets the public view board emails which are public record.