IOW board scolds member

Published 11:29 am Saturday, May 16, 2009

Four school board members signed a resolution Thursday admonishing outspoken colleague Herb DeGroft.

DeGroft, who represents the Hardy District, has been a vocal critic of the school board at Board of Supervisors meetings and in letters to newspapers.

Fellow board members said he has gone too far.

“They don’t like that I’m a burr under their saddle, especially the superintendent,” DeGroft said Friday in response to the resolution, which stated that the board did not “authorize, approve or condone” of and are absolving themselves of responsibility or liability for the actions of DeGroft. Those actions included DeGroft’s visits to several schools without signing in at the offices and his distribution of printed materials, according to School Superintendent Michael McPherson.

School board Chairman David Goodrich and members Kenneth Bunch, T. Hayes Griffin and George Bradby voted in favor of the resolution, which cites various sections of the Virginia Code, including Section 22.1-71, which provides that members of the school board can “act only as a whole unless a duty or responsibility has been delegated or assigned to an individual board member or a committee of the Board.”

McPherson cited several examples of DeGroft’s alleged misconduct.

“He elects to take cartoons in depicting the superintendent in various scenes,” the superintendent said. “(DeGroft) certainly does not follow policies and procedures … (and is) trying to take his agenda in getting employee support.”

McPherson said that a school employee had been approached by DeGroft in order to persuade the employee to change comments given to a newspaper.

“It’s getting to the point that employees can’t even focus on their jobs without being threatened” by DeGroft, said McPherson.

Goodrich said he knew of a person to whom DeGroft made comments that could be construed as sexual harassment.

“If this board does not dissociate itself from these types of activities, we could be held liable as well,” said Goodrich.

DeGroft defended and explained his actions. “I did go to eight or nine schools to deliver letters to members of the teachers’ council…(and) I did not sign in because I went to the office.” DeGroft said he later tracked down a school official to make sure he signed in appropriately.

“If I’ve said something lewd to anyone, I certainly wasn’t aware of it, and I apologize,” he said of the alleged sexual harassment, adding that he may have complimented someone on her jewelry and nothing more.

“I think I execute my school board duties to the fullest extent as set forth in the Virginia School Board Association manual,” DeGroft said. “I try not to neglect or mitigate any of them. I don’t kowtow to anybody, and I’m not in the superintendent’s pocket.”

DeGroft said he has known for several months that his fellow board members were working on the language of the resolution, which he believes is the result of his constant criticisms of McPherson and fellow board members.

“I think it’s the mark of small board members and a superintendent who can’t take constructive criticism,” he said. “Ninety-nine percent of the people who talk to me say: ‘You keep giving it to them. They need it.’

“I got elected to speak to the issues, and that’s what I do. If the superintendent doesn’t like it or anybody doesn’t like it, devil take the hindmost.”

School board members also brought up DeGroft’s visits to Board of Supervisors meetings, where he has discussed consolidating services with the county and recommending budget approval methods.

The school board also expressed dissatisfaction with the county’s Board of Supervisors.

“There was a board (of supervisors) member who chastised this board …, and I took offense to it,” said Griffin, referring to comments made by Carrsville District Supervisor Phillip Bradshaw at a May 7 meeting.

Bradshaw declared erroneous and criticized press information that was disseminated alleging mismanagement of federal stimulus monies, intended for schools, by local governing bodies. The information had been distributed by the Virginia Education Association but was attributed to the Virginia School Boards Association, of which IWCS is a member, at the meeting.

Bradshaw could not be reached for comment Friday.

“It disturbs me the kind of criticisms that we received. We’re an equal board. We just have different responsibilities,” said Goodrich. “I requested a meeting with the Board of Supervisors, and they refused to meet with us. I take offense that they would not meet with us.”

Goodrich said he wanted to make clear to the public his dissatisfaction with the Board of Supervisors. “The public does not know that a meeting with us was refused,” Goodrich added.

James Brown, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, said he was unaware of any request for communication and that Goodrich had not contacted him.