IMPACT Pickens calls for resignations from Pickens BOE

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IMPACT Pickens

JASPER, Ga. – In a meeting all there own, IMPACT Pickens, a group of citizens who have banded together against certain members of the Pickens Board of Education, called for resignation of Board Chairman Sue Finley.

They did so with a large presentation showing text messages. The massive collection of 350 pages obtained through an Open Records Request showed the text messages and statements of Finley, Young, and references to other board members. The entire presentation is available (video to the left) and the group is more than willing to offer digital copies of the texts on thumb drives.

These texts vary from fragments to whole sections of conversations. They were presented by the Impact Pickens Organization during the town hall meeting that many, including former Superintendent Dr. Rick Townsend, attended. Though Dr. Townsend didn’t speak much, he did answer a couple of question from citizens about timelines and extra funds the school had.

IMPACT Pickens President Steve Lowe expressed his aggravation and frustration that board members would be “plotting” anything, but said these texts show the plans set into motion to oust Dr. Townsend as Superintendent and bring back former Superintendent Dr. Carlton Wilson. These texts, Lowe showed, happened during meetings as well as during executive sessions at times. With the main focus of the presentation on this plan to bring back Wilson, there were also other points when Chris Pence, Treasurer of IMPACT Pickens and main presenter at the Town Hall, pointed out plans to get Finley appointed Chairman and Steve Smith appointed as Vice Chairman.

IMPACT Pickens

Chris Pence shows a text message obtained through the IMPACT Pickens Open Records Request during a presentation on April 24, 2021.

While Finley was appointed to Chairman, Smith was not appointed Vice-Chair. In one text, Finley stated, “The Queen is not happy.”

Pence said this was appalling as the text references the vice-chairman appointment. He said these texts messages and the fact that board members and administrators are planning things and discussing votes and intentions to vote outside of open board meeting, constitutes SACS violations. SACS is the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Their better known parent company, AdvancED, operates accreditations and certifications and was among the main concerns of citizens when Townsend was in the process of being terminated.

That process was drug out as citizens’ outcry over the $500,000 payout and other implications came in to focus. That process continued as the Board of Education attempted to negotiate with Townsend to find a different position in the school system for him instead of Superintendent.

With Townsend declining the offers, the Board moved forward with the buyout.

Besides Townsend, the texts included plans for the appointment of Aaron Holland, allegations about Holland, and implications for future plans. One text from Young to Finley stated, “If those two knew Aaron it wouldn’t be 4-0. Lol”

The texts evolve between Holland and Finley discussing plans and motions, willingness to do something in his first meeting, and possibly waiting until January.

Other texts openly admit to an “underground network” with orders to praise “him” to his face to ensure good evaluations while Sue says they are working as fast as they can to “correct the situation.”

Pence also posed allegations that Board Attorney Phil Landrum allowed Finley to redact certain sections of the text messages at her choosing.

Many of the texts continue following and leading towards the removal of Townsend with Finley allegedly  steering much of the operations to her own plans and desires. IMPACT Pickens highlighted only a portion of the texts in the packet, showing what they showed as the high points of the scheming.

One of the text messages from Tony Young specifically admits a meeting with “Phil” and “Amy” discussing a buyout number ready. IMPACT Pickens said this is a major issue as the text occurred on January 11, 2021 discussing buyout information and the termination of Dr. Townsend days before the emergency called three-hour executive session meeting of the Pickens BOE on January 15, 2021, or the “Emergency Called Meeting” of the Pickens BOE on January 18, 2021, discussing the termination of Dr. Rick Townsend.

IMPACT Pickens

Meeting in the Community Room, IMPACT Pickens presented their allegations against members of the Pickens Board of Education calling for recalls on April 24, 2021.

Additionally, early text messages before these emergency called meetings asked if the board should “bring Tony in before we ask Dr T to leave the room or after?”

The Organization has already spoken with SACS accreditation, Georgia’s Attorney General, and other agencies requesting investigations into the Board and these allegations.

Additionally, they are collecting signatures and moving forward with court cases of their own. Seeking board members and the Superintendent Tony Young to step down, the organization is pursuing recalls and any options they have available. They called for school personnel as well, but were warned that many teachers and staff have to worry about retaliation to their jobs or even their children in the school system.

In a separate video, Pence spoke to citizens thanking them for support. The organization operates through donations that they said they have used to acquire information such as the 350 page open records request for texts. He said, “I really think that now we’re showing the elected officials that the citizens are tired. We are tired of them wasting our money. We are tired of them not being ethical or moral.”

Lowe also commented on the response the organization has received from citizens saying, “We are really grateful for all you have done. It’s been humbling to see people come out…”

Board of Education releases details on Townsend’s termination

Education, News, Politics, Press Release

JASPER, Ga. – It took a little more than a month for the Pickens County Board of Education to release the financial fallout regarding the termination of Dr. Rick Townsend and the future contingency plan. Consequently, it leaves many hesitant to trust the board after some members reversed course from their original expectations.

In previous statements, Chairwoman Sue Finley had hoped to retain Townsend in a different capacity while trying to find a budget-neutral solution. After weeks of back and forth between both Townsend and the school board, it was clear that both parties were not going to get what they wanted.

Board Chair Sue Finley

On February 26, Phil Landrum, attorney for the Pickens County School Board, issues a Press Release that quickly went viral. In the one-page letter, Landrum starts by highlighting the reorganization of the front office. The reorganization strategy was inspired by Tony Young, the school system’s acting Superintendent. Young’s plan, pitched in a previous interview, called for eliminating the Assistant Superintendent’s position and the Chief Officer. The school system hopes to save $565,604.88 over the next couple of years between those two positions.

Landrum went on to say that the citizens should ultimately see a net benefit after a heavy loss the school system is set to take from the payout of Townsend. The school system will have to pay Townsend two years of salary at $406,014.73. After FICA payments and Workers Compensation payments are made, taxpayers can expect to pay $421,699.50 in total. For many vocal citizens that opposed this decision, this was an inevitable fear come true.

In a post made through a social media group Impact Pickens, Brian Rittenberry also acts as an administrator to said group vowed that he would proceed with a petition to recall some of the Board of Education members. In a conversation with Election Supervisor Julianne Roberts, any petition would exclude Tommy Gartrell and Steve Smith because a recall cannot be made on an elected official in their first, or last, 180 days of their term in office.

Pickens County Board of Education, Superintendent

Rick Townsend, former Superintendent of Pickens County Schools

“We’ve obviously been overspending this entire time, no surprise there,” said Rittenberry. “Please y’all, discuss this with your neighbors and get folks ready! A petition is coming!”

Roberts confirms that no one has requested a petition from her office.

While opposition to the board decision made some take a proactive approach, Townsend took to his social media account to say that he’s ready to move on from the issue.

“Yes, I’m disappointed I’m not able to complete some of the goals that I had, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to lay the groundwork for future change in Pickens,” said Townsend. “There was no wrongdoing on my part and I fell victim to politics, but knew that was a possibility when I agreed to accept the position. It’s time to move on and continue to make a positive difference in the community and spend more time with my family.”

Board of Education releases details on Townsend’s termination

Education, News, Politics, Press Release

JASPER, Ga. – It took a little more than a month for the Pickens County Board of Education to release the financial fallout regarding the termination of Dr. Rick Townsend and the future contingency plan. Consequently, it leaves many hesitant to trust the board after some members reversed course from their original expectations.

In previous statements, Chairwoman Sue Finley had hoped to retain Townsend in a different capacity while trying to find a budget-neutral solution. After weeks of back and forth between both Townsend and the school board, it was clear that both parties were not going to get what they wanted.

Board Chair Sue Finley

On February 26, Phil Landrum, attorney for the Pickens County School Board, issues a Press Release that quickly went viral. In the one-page letter, Landrum starts by highlighting the reorganization of the front office. The reorganization strategy was inspired by Tony Young, the school system’s acting Superintendent. Young’s plan, pitched in a previous interview, called for eliminating the Assistant Superintendent’s position and the Chief Officer. The school system hopes to save $565,604.88 over the next couple of years between those two positions.

Landrum went on to say that the citizens should ultimately see a net benefit after a heavy loss the school system is set to take from the payout of Townsend. The school system will have to pay Townsend two years of salary at $406,014.73. After FICA payments and Workers Compensation payments are made, taxpayers can expect to pay $421,699.50 in total. For many vocal citizens that opposed this decision, this was an inevitable fear come true.

In a post made through a social media group Impact Pickens, Brian Rittenberry also acts as an administrator to said group vowed that he would proceed with a petition to recall some of the Board of Education members. In a conversation with Election Supervisor Julianne Roberts, any petition would exclude Tommy Gartrell and Steve Smith because a recall cannot be made on an elected official in their first, or last, 180 days of their term in office.

Pickens County Board of Education, Superintendent

Rick Townsend, former Superintendent of Pickens County Schools

“We’ve obviously been overspending this entire time, no surprise there,” said Rittenberry. “Please y’all, discuss this with your neighbors and get folks ready! A petition is coming!”

Roberts confirms that no one has requested a petition from her office.

While opposition to the board decision made some take a proactive approach, Townsend took to his social media account to say that he’s ready to move on from the issue.

“Yes, I’m disappointed I’m not able to complete some of the goals that I had, but I’m glad I had the opportunity to lay the groundwork for future change in Pickens,” said Townsend. “There was no wrongdoing on my part and I fell victim to politics, but knew that was a possibility when I agreed to accept the position. It’s time to move on and continue to make a positive difference in the community and spend more time with my family.”

Three hour executive session leads to doubt for Pickens Superintendent

Featured News, Featured Stories, News
Superintendent

JASPER, Ga. – Pickens County could be seeing another chapter in its ongoing Superintendent troubles over the years after a three-hour-long meeting was held almost entirely in Executive Session.

On January 16, 2021, the Pickens County Board of Education held a special called meeting posted to host both an Executive Session and General Discussion items on the Agenda.

During the meeting, it was said that the general discussion was originally put in to discuss a different topic. However, some citizens present said they were present to “show support” for Superintendent Dr. Rick Townsend.

Pickens County Board of Education, Superintendent

Rick Townsend, Superintendent of Pickens County Schools

While the Board of Education spent almost all of the three hours in Executive Session, Dr. Townsend was not present for a large part of the meeting as he was seen exiting the room where the executive session was being held.

The only results of the meeting that were publicly stated as the Board returned from their executive session was the calling of yet another Special Called Meeting for this Monday, January 18, 2021.

However, sources have messaged FYN saying they are expecting the School Board to be dismissing or firing Dr. Townsend on Monday.

The board said in their Friday meeting, “We will have a Called Meeting on Monday at 3 p.m. It will be published over the weekend.” This means they will be meeting on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, although there is yet to be an agenda or meeting placed on the Pickens Calendar on their website as of the writing of this article.

Pickens plans back to school with a focus on flexibility and safety

Board of Education, Featured, Featured Stories, News
Pickens plans back to school

Superrintendent Rick Townsend discusses the system’s return plans and what could possibly change between now and the Aug. 3 start date.

Despite ever-changing information, Rick Townsend, Superintendent of Pickens County Schools, is confident they have a good plan to resume school on August 3. Townsend said as a system, they had to consider what the ideal would be as well as what was practical and by putting teams in place to analyze both aspects, combined with the unique needs of the individual schools and come up with a plan.

Based on the guidelines from the Georgia Department of Public Health, Pickens County is considered a “minimal or moderate spread” location or yellow. Townsend said up until last week, the Georgia DPH, was considered green, meaning there was very little to no spread, but the department redesigned the criteria.

“I don’t know of any counties who are green right now,” Townsend said, adding that next week might paint a different picture because the information and recommendations have been very fluid. “They are now looking at how different spreads would impact the community.” He used the example of if there was an outbreak at a nursing home, how would it affect the schools.

Masks or No Masks

Masks will be expected when students and staff cannot social distance, such as on the bus and transitioning between classes.

However, Townsend said, there are times it won’t be practical.

“It’s important that students see the teacher’s mouth when teaching phonics or in guided reading,” he said.

“We know the younger children are going to struggle with the masks,” he said.

He also said that when students are working on group projects and are very close, they are expected to wear masks, but if they are sitting in their desks, and the teacher is at the front of the class, teaching, then going without masks is acceptable.

The system will provide one masks, but parents are welcome to provide masks for their children.

There will be wellness stations at each school for students and staff that do not feel well, but they will not require COVID-19 testing.

Camp and recess will continue in the elementary schools, but may look differently than previous years.

“Our principals will be making those decisions for their schools,” he said.

With transportation, students are expected to wear masks. Loading will assigned seats from rear to front when loading. Students will exit front to back and busses will be disinfected between routes.

Visitors and Volunteers

Visitors will wear masks while in the building, said Townsend. Volunteers will still be needed, but the number will be reduced.

“Unfortunately, we have to limit volunteer opportunities,” he said.

SEE THE RETURN TO SCHOOL PLAN HERE.
pickens plans back to school

Teachers, principals and parents attended Thursdays BOE meeting to hear how the county plans to return to school.

First day of school for Pre-K and Kindergarten

Townsend said he knows it’s important to parents to be able to walk their new students to pre-k or kindergarten classes and it will be allowed on the first day, if parents are masked. After that, it will be normal drop off.

Other Aspects of Traditional School

Townsend said before and after care programs will remain and didn’t anticipate a change in cost to those programs.

Cafeteria workers are working on a plan to provide meals to students while maintaining safety standards. Workers would be masked when students enter the cafeteria.

Pickens Virtual Academy

Parents wanted options

“We had many parents ask for a virtual option,” said Townsend. “So, we gave them one. They deserve it.”

That option is the Pickens Virtual Academy, using Pearson Connexus as the platform. Students sign up by every semester.

It costs Pickens County Schools about $220 per student for the virtual academy. Students enroll each semester, allowing them to change their school type at the end of the semester from traditional to virtual or vice versa.

Townsend said that so far they’ve had about 300 students enroll in the virtual academy and he expects that number to grow by the time registration ends on July 13.

The school system hosted a virtual webinar about the virtual academy which had more than 200 parents tuning in to learn about the school. The recorded webinar has had 30,000 views since Monday.

READ ABOUT THE WEBINAR HERE.

Distance Learning

Should COVID-19 cases surge, students in traditional school will switch to distance learning, said Townsend. Teachers will provide work, which will be graded and count toward the final day. While he hopes it doesn’t happen, nothing is certain at this point.

“It’s almost like waiting for a snow day,” he said. “We may get a call at 10 p.m. saying there is no school.”

Supplies

All students, traditional and virtual, will be issued a Chromebook. Pearson representatives said in Monday’s webinar that additional school supplies would be furnished by their company, but most curriculum called for standard household items. Any art supplies would be furnished by the schools.

Sports

As of July 8, 2020 the Georgia Highschool Sports Association had football schedules posted with games starting August 21, but Townsend said anything could change and encouraged parents and students to stay in touch with coaches or staff.

Students attending the Pickens Virtual Academy will be eligible to play and participate in any extracurricular activities.

SEE THE GHSA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE HERE.

 

 

 

 

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