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Wednesday, 31 May 2006 00:00

Macon superintendent departs amid harassment suit

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By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Macon County schools personnel director Tamra Tisdale has filed a sexual harassment suit against outgoing Macon County School Superintendent Rodney Shotwell.

The filing brings to light the probable content of recent closed-door Macon County Board of Education meetings. Earlier this month the board hired the law firm of Helms, Mullis and Wicker to investigate two formal complaints from school employees. The law firm will report back to the school board at the conclusion of the investigation.

School board members have chosen not to comment on the investigation, citing personnel laws, which prevent the names or details of such matters from being made public. News of Tisdale’s complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission gives the first indication of what the investigation entails.

“As you know, our Board was presented with two letters of complaint from employees that required that we conduct a fair and impartial investigation into the matters brought forth,” wrote school board chairman Kevin Corbin in an email to school system personnel. “What has been so difficult for me personally was that all this is and continues to be confidential under state statutes. This is not my ruling, the ruling of the Board, or our attorney — but is state law. We cannot change that even if we wished. The only way any of us can answer that is to recognize that if any of us were the subject of an investigation, that we would be treated with the same confidentiality. That is the purpose of the state law and it is not for us to alter.”

Those involved in the case still are not going into specifics. Tisdale’s Asheville-based attorney, Robert Dungan, said that EEOC investigations usually return a finding within 90 days. Tisdale’s complaint was lodged April 20; hence a finding should be in by mid-July.

Shotwell, who resigned from his job as superintendent effective May 31 to take another position as superintendent for the Rockingham County school system, has made a cross-complaint against Tisdale to the board of education. However, in a statement released to the press he says he sees no merit to media reports about the issue.

“I fail to understand what you think is newsworthy about these accusations, and it is unfortunate to see you used by an attorney and his client in an effort to affect the confidential investigation being conducted by a federal agency,” Shotwell’s statement reads. “I am precluded from making any comment, and would ask you not to use that silence against me by publishing a self-serving and one-sided account. If there were any merit to the accusations, there would be no effort to obtain publicity at this point. You might want to wait until there are objective conclusions before you run with an article. I am comfortable with the legal system and not going to dignify any accusations by responding to them at this time.”

Shotwell’s resignation from the school system went into effect May 16. He is taking two week’s earned leave time. Meanwhile Tisdale is on a leave of absence due to health issues she says are unrelated to the lawsuit.

Shotwell’s three-year Rockingham Contract begins June 1. According to a release from the Macon County School Board, Shotwell anticipates the challenge of a larger school system. Rockingham County has approximately 14,000 students to Macon’s 4,300.

Regardless of how the lawsuit is resolved, Macon County is without a permanent superintendent. School board members elected to hire Frank Yeager, a Buncombe County resident, as interim superintendent to run the system during the search for Shotwell’s replacement.

“I’ve told them I would stay as long as they didn’t have a superintendent, up to six months,” Yeager said.

Yeager received his doctorate in Education, Administration and Supervision from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He served as superintendent of Durham County schools for 11 years, superintendent of Buncombe County schools for six years, and as an interim superintendent at Henderson County Schools.

Yeager does not plan on assisting school board members with the new superintendent search, as trying to perform both roles as interim superintendent and search committee member is too much, he said. His job now is to work on closing out the school year.

“I need to give the staff a little more sense of stability, particularly in the central office,” Yeager said.

Also, Yeager will be charged with helping develop the school system’s budget for next year as the fiscal year ends in July. However, with school funds coming from three different sources — local, state and federal governments — the process can be somewhat unpredictable, Yeager said. The state provides the system’s largest portion of funds and will not be allocated until the state finishes its own budgeting process.

“There’s no way to know exactly how long that process is going to last,” Yeager said.

And the search is on for four new principals — at Highlands School, Macon Middle and Cartoogechaye and Cullasaja elementary schools.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do during the summer,” Yeager said.

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