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Bertie School Board terminates Superintendent#8217;s contract

WINDSOR – In an emotionally-charged meeting here Tuesday night, one that took an ugly twist at the end, the Bertie County Board of Education voted to terminate the contract of Superintendent Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart.

The majority decision, which came at the end of a 66 minute closed session to discuss personnel, was a slim one as board chairman Ricky Freeman joined colleagues Melinda Eure and Alton Parker in terminating Dr. Collins-Hart.

Board members Gloria Lee and Michael Bracy voted in favor of retaining the superintendent.

Parker made the motion to terminate the remaining 29 months on Dr. Collins-Hart’s contract (set to expire on June 30, 2009). The motion also allowed for negotiations to begin with the now fired superintendent in regards to her contract, one that calls for Bertie County Public Schools (BCPS) to pay her for 12 months if the contract was voided prior to its expiration.

That contract, agreed upon on June 22, 2005 when Dr. Collins-Hart became the school system’s first-ever female superintendent, calls for an annual salary of $122,500.

Tuesday’s final vote did not meet the majority approval of a huge crowd gathered at the BCPS Central Office. There was standing room only inside the board room. Others stood shoulder-to-shoulder inside a kitchen area at the rear of the room. The crowd spilled out of the room and lined both walls of an adjoining hallway.

Signs in support of Dr. Collins-Hart were numerous, but their various messages apparently failed to sway the board’s final decision.

When the vote was cast, the chant of “we want Dr. Hart” filled the room. Those voices soon changed their tune to “we want a new board” followed by the inquiry of “why, why, why.”

Suddenly, former BCPS Superintendent John F. Smith Sr. appeared near the front of the room.

“The same thing that happened to John F. Smith Sr. is happening to Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart,” Smith said.

Then, pointing an angry finger at Freeman, Smith shouted, “You are not man enough to be a man.”

On three occasions, Freeman attempted to gain control of the meeting by pounding his gavel from the chairman’s seat. Each time he was greeted by a barrage of questions from the audience, most asking for the reasoning behind the majority decision.

In response to the inquiries, Freeman began reading from a statement prepared by the board. By the time he began the second sentence, the crowd began to chant “you must go.” With that, Freeman called for a motion to adjourn, which was approved by a 3-2 vote (following the same lines as the termination decision). As Freeman was attempting to exit through a side door, a man approached and began to verbally accost the board chairman. That prompted Freeman to call for a Bertie County deputy to escort him from the building.

A short time later, Bracy, who still appeared emotionally shaken by the ordeal, approached reporters.

“As a professional educator, I am disappointed and embarrassed by this decision,” Bracy said. “This is all a matter of poor timing and poor planning. You can’t throw the engineer off the train while it’s still moving.”

Bracy, who was sworn-in Dec. 4 to his first term on the school board, referred to the vote as, “a rash decision made without reasoning.”

“Prior to tonight, I have been a part of two regularly scheduled meetings and a two-day retreat,” he said. “I’m new to this process, but the way I saw it I thought we were here to move the district forward, share expectations and goals and to be objective in our decisions. What I have really learned is that until we get rid of political agendas this school system will not move forward.”

When asked what those agendas were and to whom are they attributed, Bracy made no comment.

The News-Herald was able to obtain a copy of the statement Freeman was reading prior to abruptly ending the meeting. It reads as follows:

“Tonight in special session, the Bertie County Board of Education met and has decided to end its relationship with the current Superintendent, Dr. Nettie Collins-Hart. This was a difficult decision for the board and one that was made in an effort to move the district in another direction and help our children succeed. The board will act expeditiously to appoint an interim superintendent and to begin the process for selecting a permanent replacement.”

BCPS spokesperson Brent Todd said that the board has scheduled a special called meeting for Monday (Jan. 29) in order to launch discussions concerning the interim superintendent.

The issue of Dr. Collins-Hart’s possible termination became apparent earlier this month where the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald learned through several sources that the Bertie School Board had discussed the issue.

The board originally scheduled a special meeting for Jan. 11, but canceled that planned event in favor of a Jan. 16 meeting at the office of the board attorneys (Tharrington Smith, LLP) in Raleigh to discuss personnel issues. No action was taken at that meeting.

Dr. Collins-Hart, a native of Charlotte, was hired as Superintendent of Bertie County Public Schools on June 22, 2005. She came in during a turbulent period within Bertie Schools where student achievement was low, there was an ongoing desegregation lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice and the system’s educational administrators were under fire for questionable financial practices.

At the end of the 2005-06 school year, the Bertie Board of Education awarded Dr. Collins-Hart a $6,000 performance bonus. That bonus, based on reaching certain goals and objectives mutually established by the board and the superintendent, was outlined in the original contract.