Dr. Frank Petruzielo thanked the agency for the opportunity to respond “to very serious allegations that are without merit” in his six-page letter to AdvancEd and Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
He also said he hoped SACS would decide that no further actions are needed to close the complaint and put to rest the community’s concerns regarding potential accreditation risks.
The reply from Petruzielo included responses from others named in the complaint, including school board members and staff, but Marlow said she would send her comments to SACS separately.
“In their inquiry, SACS has allowed 30 days for a response; however, the superintendent arbitrarily decided to impose a significantly shorter deadline for input. As a mother of two children who started school last week, I did not feel it would be prudent to respond without dedicating a sufficient amount of time for a thoughtful response,” Marlow said Tuesday.
SACS Vice President of Communications Jennifer Oliver confirmed Tuesday that the agency had received Petruzielo’s response.
“We have received the superintendent’s response and will be replying to the school system within 30 days,” Oliver said Tuesday.
After the response is evaluated by SACS, the agency will decide if a review of the Cherokee County School District or any further action is needed, according to the letter sent to Petruzielo on Aug. 1 from SACS President Dr. Mark Elgart.
Four of the seven board members provided statements for the superintendent’s response to SACS, including Board Chair Janet Read, Vice Chair Robert Wofford and School Board members Patsy Jordan and Rick Steiner.
Cherokee School District Director of Public Information Barbara Jacoby and Supervisor for Strategic Planning Mike McGowan also provided their statements by the deadline set by Petruzielo.
Board members Rob Usher and Michael Geist did not provide statements.
Petruzielo noted in his response, which was obtained through an open records request by the Cherokee Tribune, that the school board attorney would send a separate letter.
Marlow replied to Petruzielo’s offer on Aug. 9 in an email, and said she would submit her own response to AdvancEd, separately.
“I will be submitting my additional observations, responses and comments under separate cover directly to SACS with a copy to the Cherokee County Board of Education and the Administration,” Marlow wrote. “After all, if one of the duties of the board is to ensure that accreditation is protected, I am sure we would all agree that we would not want to jeopardize our good standing by assigning arbitrary deadlines that could be perceived as preventing due diligence.”
Jacoby said Tuesday it would be up to the school board to decide whether Marlow’s response violated the school board’s ethics code.
“The communication from AdvancEd was sent to the superintendent and the request from AdvancEd was for a response from the superintendent. The superintendent invited school board members to send responses to him to be included with his response,” Jacoby said on Tuesday. “Whether Ms. Marlow’s announcement that she would be, instead, sending her response separately and directly to AdvancEd is a violation of the school board’s code of ethics would be up for the school board to determine.”
Petruzielo said in his response that Marlow’s frustration over her lack of effectiveness led to her making the complaint.
“Over the past eight months since Ms. Marlow took her oath of office, she has had ample opportunity to engage her fellow Board members and convince them of her position, but has received little to no support,” Petruzielo wrote in his response to AdvancEd. “In my opinion that frustration from her own lack of effectiveness prompted Ms. Marlow to send her letter to SACS, rather than following the guidelines for effective School Board Member governance and leadership provided to her through training by Georgia School Boards Association, the School Board Attorney, myself and my staff.”
Petruzielo wrote to SACS that there were only two changes in regards to “governance and leadership” since a Quality Assurance Review from the agency in November 2011 gave the district the highest rating of “Highly Functional.”
He said the two things that have changed are the local legislation changing school board member elections from countywide to geographic posts, and Marlow and Jordan being elected as new school board members in their posts, as well as “longtime School Board Member” Read being elected as the countywide board chair.
Petruzielo cited the July 24 board meeting and the unanimous vote to hold an ethics violation hearing in regards to Marlow’s letter to SACS, stating that “This is strong, recent evidence of the School Board Members’ understanding of the Board’s role should be in not only governing the school system, but also in governing itself using its own board policies.”
“The only board policy violation in the past six months to my knowledge has been those made by Ms. Marlow in sending her complaint to AdvancEd,” Petruzielo wrote in the letter.
Petruzielo said in his response Marlow’s complaints about Read and Jacoby having inappropriate personal relationships were “libelous,” and that Marlow’s account of the events cited in her complaint were “inaccurate and misleading.”
Marlow pointed to a conversation between Read and Jacoby before a school board meeting about who would be a new education reporter for the Cherokee Tribune as grounds for her complaint.
Board members respond
Read provided the superintendent with her response and comments regarding Marlow’s allegations, which were included verbatim in his response to AdvancEd.
“For anyone to suggest that I have inappropriate personal relationships with staff members is totally absurd,” Read wrote in her response.
Read attached her response to each of Marlow’s concerns and exhibits in her letter to Petruzielo for SACS.
“I would hope that one board member with a personal agenda and vendetta against the superintendent would not be allowed to sabotage our efforts,” Read wrote.
Wofford also addressed Marlow’s allegations about Read in his comments to Petruzielo.
“In regard to the concerns addressed to you by Ms. Marlow, I must respectfully disagree with her observations,” Wofford wrote. “First, I would like to personally commend our board chair, Janet Read, for the job she is doing. I can see nothing but professionalism and dedication on her part in helping the Cherokee County School District better serve our students.”
Wofford said in his letter that he does not believe the district or BoE “has done anything wrong or has anything to hide.”
“My personal opinion is that Ms. Marlow’s expressed concerns to AdvancEd do not in any way warrant an investigation,” Wofford wrote.
Steiner commented on Marlow’s accusation against Read in his response to Petruzielo, as well.
“For her to accuse Ms. Read of having inappropriate personal relationships with the professional staff is comical and ludicrous,” Steiner wrote. “The only thing that has changed relative to the School District since the SACS CASI review team’s most recent visit is the composition of the school board.”
Jordan said in her comments to Petruzielo that she has “not observed any problems in governance and leadership, nor have I seen or heard of any inappropriate personal relationships between school system professional staff members or any member of the board.”
“I have experienced a professional working relationship with fellow board members, the superintendent of schools, and central office staff,” Jordan wrote.
In her response to Petruzielo for his SACS reply, Jacoby addressed “false allegations” that Marlow made about her and explained “two inaccurate accounts by Ms. Marlow of actual events.”
Jacoby cites two of Marlow’s “reasons” and “corresponding exhibits.”
Marlow accused Jacoby of refusing to provide materials requested by board members, and Jacoby wrote in her comments to Petruzielo that “this allegation is false.”
“I have never violated the Open Records Act, which I am very familiar with given my long tenure as a journalist and as the recipient of multiple Freedom of Information Awards from the Associated Press and Georgia Press Association,” Jacoby wrote. “I provide responses to all requests for information, including those that do not cite the Act and/or are not covered by the Act, promptly and thoroughly.”
Jacoby also responded to Marlow’s accusations that Jacoby maintains a close personal relationship with Read.
“This allegation is false; I do not maintain a close or personal relationship with Board Chair Janet Read,” Jacoby wrote in her comments for the reply to SACS. “I do maintain a positive professional relationship with Ms. Read, which began many years ago when I was editor of the Cherokee Tribune and she began her tenure as a School Board member.”
Jacoby also gave her accounts of the “two inaccurate accounts” by Marlow, one alleging that Jacoby had manipulated the media to remove a letter to the editor, and the other claiming that Jacoby had a role in hiring a reporter at the Tribune.
Jacoby said that the letter to the editor that was removed from the Tribune website was not removed upon her request, and said she “specifically requested that no action be taken” although the letter contained “misinformation about me.”
“I relayed all of this to Ms. Marlow during the Feb. 22, 2013, meeting and stated that I did not know why the Tribune later removed the letter from its website,” Jacoby wrote. “I theorized that it may have been because newspapers are responsible for libelous content in letters to the editor just as they are for content in news articles.”
Jacoby also wrote in her letter that Marlow made a threat at that meeting to Petruzielo, and recalled the threat in her response for AdvancEd.
“‘If you wanted a fight, (she) would fight,’ as she ‘knew the law and knew about SACS and would do what (she) had to do,’” Jacoby wrote. “She made this threat after stating her belief that you and your staff, including me, report directly to her; you responded that was inaccurate, as you report to the School Board as a whole, and your staff reports to you. I interpreted this threat to mean that if you did not change the governance model to one where you and your staff reported directly to her, she would take actions that would lead to SACS-CASI accreditation probation and the Governor’s use of Senate Bill 84 to remove School Board members,”
Jacoby also explained that she had no part in the hiring of reporters at the Tribune, and wrote that “comments attributed to me by Ms. Marlow are inaccurate.”
“It’s preposterous to allege that I would have any interest in reducing media coverage of the School Board and School District; increasing media coverage is, in fact, a longstanding job target for my new position and one at which I have been quite successful through new initiatives,” Jacoby wrote. “This letter from Ms. Marlow to AdvancEd is just one example of her targeting me personally.”
One final comment for Petruzielo’s response to SACS was from McGowan, who said that a quotation that Marlow attributed to a school district employee, “should be attributed to me.”
The quotation Marlow cited was, “You don’t want to be a school district that is under a SACS investigation.”
“To provide some context, Ms. Bowie (the Georgia School Boards Association leader of Whole Board Governance Team Training that was conducted for the school board) was discussing inappropriate conduct by members of a school board in another Metro Atlanta county which led to SACS accreditation probation,” McGowan wrote.
McGowan was the staff liaison to the SACS Special Accreditation Review Team in 1999, when the school district was on accreditation probation.
“During that probation period, it was a daily struggle to explain to constituents/taxpayers that the School District was placed on probation, not because of anything to do with the educational program, but because of a School Board Member’s action,” McGowan wrote. “I stand by my statement that you do not want to be a School District that is under investigation by SACS.”