BY ASHLEY AMASON
In a special meeting of the Walton County School Board (WCSB) July 14, Superintendent Carlene Anderson addressed questions brought to the board in the previous meeting regarding dress code changes at Freeport Middle School (FMS) and Freeport High School (FHS).
Anderson announced Principal Shirley Foster and Principal Beth Tucker collectively followed purchasing procedure by collecting quotes from three different companies. Coaches Corner, owned by school district employee Vanessa Bump, was the cheapest and therefore the preferred vendor. Anderson confirmed Coaches Corner is a legitimate business registered in the state of Florida.
Anderson explained purchasing shirts from Coaches Corner violated Board Policy 6.301 which states, “No employee of the District shall, on behalf of the District either directly or indirectly, purchase, rent, or lease any realty, goods, or services from any business entity of which the employee or the employee’s spouse or child has a material interest. No business in which an employee holds ownership or material interest shall provide either directly or indirectly purchase, rent, or lease any realty, goods, or services to the District, subject to Florida Statutes and provisions herein.”
However, Anderson explained the policy, which was adopted in October 2006, was “never intended to stop the school district from conducting business with a legitimate business.”
As a result of the policy, FMS and FHS will seek another company with reasonable prices and provide quotes to the parents. A general information letter will be sent home to all students regarding financial assistance for the uniform shirts. Students may still purchase shirts directly from Coaches Corner.
“I’m excited about the new school year with our campus full of school pride as students wear school spirit shirts,” said FHS Principal Foster in a statement from both principals to the Herald. “According to the staff and administration of both schools, the majority of responses from the students and parents have been positive and supportive of the change.
“I’m excited about the new school year with our campus full of school pride as students wear school spirit shirts,” said Freeport High Principal Shirley Foster. “I’m looking forward to 2009-10 being another year of academic and athletic success.”
Freeport Middle Principal Beth Tucker said, “I am so proud of the academic achievements of our students, and the fact that our school has maintained an A-rating for four consecutive years through the Department of Education’s Accountability system. I realize these accomplishments are a direct result of parent and community support for our initiatives.”
“If a parent or student needs more information, please call the school. Our doors are always open to you,” said both principals.
During the special meeting, after Anderson clarified the question of policy violation, Vanessa Bump requested permission to address the board.
On making shirts for the schools at such low prices, Bump stated, “I do this more as a hobby than as a business. My time is my gift.”
Regarding statements made by parents and board members at the July 7 meeting, Bump said, “I feel one of a teacher’s most important attributes is his or her name, and thanks to a parent, in addition to comments made by one of our board members, Ms. Roberts, and the [television] media, I have been emotionally abused, mine and my husband’s names have been slandered, and our characters have been defamed – all for me volunteering my time to this community and this school district.”
Bump said her family had been publicly humiliated by unfounded comments. “It is one thing for an individual of the community with her own personal distortion of the truth to spread inaccuracies about a person, but it is another for school board Vice-Chairperson Sharon Roberts to violate school board policy as well as Florida law regarding public meetings and defamation of character.”
Bump claimed Roberts violated board policy through statements made in the prior meeting. Regarding the purchasing process of shirts and Coaches Corner in the July 7 meeting, Roberts stated, “Here lately, it is common practice for things to be pushed through before this board is asked, then we are a hindsight…Someone was thinking forgiveness is going to be a lot easier than permission, for whatever reason. If it be someone gaining, personal gain if it’s an employee, I don’t know what the reason be, but I’m offended by that—”
Roberts also said in the July 7 meeting she found it odd that two employees (Dan and Vanessa Bump) who would benefit from the dress code changes at FHS and FMS happened to work there.
Roberts’ statement in that meeting was inaccurate. Vanessa Bump is the sole proprietor of Coaches Corner. She teaches at South Walton High School and Dan Bump teaches at Freeport Middle School. Bump told the board she nor her husband had anything to do with the decision to change the dress code.
In making these allegations, Bump claimed Roberts violated Board Policy 6.36, which states, “Any complaint alleging misconduct of a School Board employee shall initially be referred to and investigated by the employee’s immediate supervisor.
A. Any complaint alleging serious charges against a School Board employee shall be in writing and shall bear the signature of the person filing the complaint. The written complaint shall be filed with the employee’s immediate supervisor who shall investigate the matter. The employee shall be notified in writing if the initial investigation shows a cause to believe the employee may be guilty of misconduct which may result in suspension or dismissal.
B. The Superintendent shall report the results of the investigation to the School Board when disciplinary action is recommended for the School Board employee. The Superintendent’s report shall include recommendations for disciplinary action.
C. The complaint and investigative material shall be excluded from public disclosure until the investigation is complete or inactive as provided by Florida Statutes.”
Bump told the board pending a complaint against her involvement as the uniform vendor, she should’ve received a notification in writing that the matter was going to be discussed at a public meeting.
“In addition,” she said, “according to your policy, until the validity of the accusation is attained, it is closed to the public.”
Bump stated that after speaking with Principal Foster and WCSB Attorney Ben Holley on July 8, it was determined that at that time she had not violated school board policy.
However, Bump said her relief was short lived after reading a series of slanderous blogs referencing both her and her husband’s name as well as her company, stemmed from television news coverage of the July 7 meeting.
Bump said, “While the person who blogged is legally liable for these inaccurate statements, as I was slandered in electronic print format, I do not believe this would have happened if Ms. Roberts would have followed policy 6.36 involving the complaint against a school district employee.”
“It is understandable how this has blown up into a mentally-debilitating event for me and others involved since fuel was thrown on the fire by a school board member at the expense of a district employee,” she said.
Bump ended her address to the board saying, “Since the vocal opinions of a very few have slandered my family’s name, statements have been printed about us, and our character has been defamed, I wish to withdraw my bid to do the uniforms at FHS and FMS. I apologize to those parents who will no longer be able to get a very inexpensive school T-shirt or Polo. It is unfortunate that parents in Freeport will be paying more due to the actions of a vocal minority and a member of this board.”
Bump requested an apology from the board, and specifically Vice-Chairperson Roberts.
Roberts addressed Bump saying, “I stated here the other night, I wouldn’t have known y’all if y’all had come walking in the door. I told everyone here the other night, I didn’t care who we bought from.”
Dan Bump, Vanessa Bump’s husband, told Roberts, “Ma’am, you did not tell me. I was not afforded the opportunity to be here.”
Dan Bump said, based on Roberts’ comments that she was aware of complaints against Coaches Corner’s involvement prior to the July 7 meeting, that she owed it to the school district, him and his wife to notify them, as well as Ms. Anderson, before presenting the issue publicly.
Roberts responded, “No sir, I would have been out of my mind to contact you. I was under the impression the superintendent understood board policies. Nothing personal about you was mentioned. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even know what your names were until it was (told) to me by one of the administrators, and I do hate that you’ve had any problems in relation to this or that you feel like you’ve been slandered or anything bad has happened against you. I am sorry for that, but I’m not sorry for trying to see that the public was represented and that the board policy was followed.”
Chairman Bill Laird ceased the conversation, saying, “I think if this is carried on, it needs to be outside this board room.”
Following this discussion, the board unanimously approved advertisement for the 2009-10 budget, which stands at $100,484,390 and a millage rate of 4.630.
Ashley Amason may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.