Group hopes to oust Rock Hill board members

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 3, 2004

A group of Rock Hill School District residents hopes to take their frustration with three school board members to court.

Citizens Against Poor Spending is circulating petitions seeking the removal of board members Lavetta Sites, Paul Johnson and Wanda Jenkins. Earlier this year, the trio voted to oust Rock Hill Superintendent Lloyd Evans, sparking a lawsuit over the validity of Evans' contract. Evans won the court battle earlier this month.

Rich Donohue, former Rock Hill School Board member, is president of the citizens group that he estimates has at least 20 members.

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Donohue said he decided something needed to be done in August when the board ceded its day-to-day authority to the county school board after voting to remove superintendent Evans from office.

"My reason? Turning the school district over to the county and the board members giving up their position and control of the Rock Hill School Board," Donohue said. "Then it became an issue with the amount of money being spent on the legal expenses out there."

The "legal expense," to which Donohue referred, began when the school board hired an attorney to advise them on how to non-renew Evans' contract. The expenses quickly compounded after Evans filed his lawsuit.

Through September the total legal bills for the school board approached $100,000, Donohue said.

"I believe that in the group there are numerous people who have different reasons that they got involved," he said. "Other individuals may have other reasons, but the money being spent, I think everybody is upset with that."

State law allows elected officials to be removed by petition to a court of law. The law mandates that such petitions be signed by 15 percent of total number of school district voters who cast a ballot in the last governor's election.

Donohue said the group expected to gain the approximately 316 signatures it needs to take the matter to court.

The group has hired Canton attorney Ronald G. Macala to help with their effort to remove the board members.

"From what I understand, he's removed more school board members than any other attorney in the state of Ohio," Donohue said, adding that Macala was involved in the September removal of three board members in Madison County.

The petition alleges that Sites, Jenkins and Johnson are guilty of malfeasance of office for three reasons:

4Transferring daily authority of the district over to the county board after voting in August to remove Evans from office.

4Violating open meetings laws by entering into executive sessions without stating proper cause and allegedly meeting privately at Sites' house.

4Refusing to sign minutes of some board meetings.

Board president Lavetta Sites said news that more turmoil was happened in the district was disappointing.

"What Mr. Donohue is trying to do Š If his main concern is why we spent the money Š He is the one who cast the deciding vote which literally caused this lawsuit to take place," she said. "He was part of a lame-duck board that (voted to extend Evans' contract in November 2003)."

Sites said the allegations are not valid.

"I don't think I've done anything wrong," she said, adding that despite allegations to the contrary the board only spent $16,000 on removing Evans. "I didn't want to have to spend money to do this. "From March, when he filed suit, Š the rest of the money we've spent is to defend ourselves."

Board member Wanda Jenkins said the attempts to remove her and the other two board members only muddies the real purpose of the school board.

"I don't know what the motive is. All I've heard is through the grapevine," Jenkins said. "I've got 2,000 kids out here that's my main concern.

"I think what I've performed out here speaks for itself. Our No. 1 priority is academics," she said.

Evans has alleged the board's decision to remove him stemmed from a personal vendetta against him, chiefly by Sites.

"Hogwash," Sites said of the allegation. "I had no personal vendetta against Mr. Evans. I do now. Š Mr. Evans has cheated education efforts in the district. It took the county to bring that out."

Sites referred to the recent decision by the county board to purchase new reading books for the district to replace much-outdated ones.

"Our reading books were 15 years old," she said. "When I found that out, my mouth just dropped.

"Rock Hill has the best facilities, the best buses, free lunches, but we're in academic watch," she said. "I feel like we've got lots of smart students here, given that they've been on the border line even with the old books. That tells me that if they have the right materials, they're going to excel."

Sites said Donohue was in a unique position to know about the aging state of the district's textbooks.

"His wife is a teacher at the elementary school, shouldn't he know that they didn't have the proper books?" she said, adding that in addition to purchasing new books, the county board has also helped align the curriculum correctly.

"The county came in and did a horizontal and vertical alignment of the curriculum. In other words, K prepares for 1 and 1 and prepares for 2," Sites said. "It's the same thing they've done for other districts in the county, but they were never allowed to do that in our district."

Sites said the board's decision to relinquish authority to the county board wasn't as unusual as critics argue.

"It's a common practice, I've been told, for a county board to step in and help when you don't have a superintendent," she said. "And, it's been a blessing in disguise Š since the county has taken over."

The county's work on changing the Rock Hill curriculum is impressive, Sites said.

"It's more than I could have ever accomplished as a board member," she said.

Jenkins said she hopes the turmoil in the district subsides soon.

"I don't like a lot of this carrying on in this district. We have a lot of good students and a lot of good teachers in this district," she said. "I have nothing to hide. The years on the board speak for themselves."

For her part, Sites said the board has two legal options of its own to consider.

First, the board may opt to appeal a county court's decision on Evans' lawsuit over the validity of his contract.

If they choose not to appeal, Sites said the board could still remove Evans from his office through a termination with cause.

"We can do either," she said, adding that the board should be able to make a decision prior to Dec. 6, the deadline given for the board to answer the final judgment provided by Evans' attorney.

Attempts to reach board member Paul Johnson were unsuccessful.

The Citizens Against Poor Spending will meet at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Canon's Creek Grange Hall off State Route 93, Donohue said.