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April 19, 2013

Out in the open

Vaughn complaint discussed publicly before AISD board

Athens — The Athens School Board listened to a level three grievance from a longtime employee on Thursday, then took no action on the complaint.

AISD Federal Programs Director Dr. Diana Vaughn filed the grievance in protest to being passed over for the job of Assistant Superintendent, a post now held by Dr. Janie Sims. Although the grievance was listed as an executive session discussion on the agenda, Vaughn invoked her right to have a public hearing on the dispute.

Level one on the grievance scale involves an informal complaint, while level two takes it to the superintendent, and level three brings the matter to the school board.

Vaughn was accompanied by her attorney, Veretta Frazier of West and Associates. In her opening statement, Frazier said that the selection of the committee used in the assistant superintendent interview process was flawed.

“We want to take note of what we’re presenting to you, and what the arguments are, because at the end of the day, we want you to look at your practices,” Frazier said. “They are not fair. Many people say they know exactly who is going to be hired, just based upon who’s selected to be on the committee. That’s not fair.”

Stiles countered with a brief opening statement.

“It saddens me to think that anyone would consider our hiring process was unfair,” Stiles said. “The intent was to have a committee to give feedback and input to me in choosing an assistant for the district. I think that they did that, and I disagree that it was unfair.”

During the 15 minutes allotted to the grievant to present her case, Frazier reminded the board of Vaughn’s career with the AISD. Frazier said Vaughn hired Sims when she entered the district, and received her PhD before Sims. Vaughn, Frazier said, has received excellent evaluations from her supervisors each year, until last year when the evaluation graded her “very good.”

Vaughn is working hard to return her evaluation mark to excellent, Frazier said.

Frazier then returned to her objections to the selection committee.

“There’s no objective standard there,” Frazier said. “The selection committee consists of seven people. Two of the people there have a family relationship. That itself prevents having seven independent votes.”

Frazier said the committee was also tainted by another incident that involved a person who brought a grievance against a superior. Vaughn was the hearing officer for the grievance.

“During the hearing of the grievance, Dr. Vaughn found that the employee had a legitimate complaint, and went to the principal, and said ‘You need to fix this,’” Frazier said.

The principal refused, and told Vaughn, “If you don’t support principals, we don’t support you,” Frazier said.

Vaughn reported the conversation to Superintendent Stiles, telling him that she had felt threatened by the principal’s comment.

“She told him who that principal was, yet that person was one of the committee members,” Frazier said.

Vaughn told the board that the case made her feel like Daniel when he was placed in the den of lions. The following day, the king went to the den to check on Daniel, and heard his voice.

“Do you remember why he was put in there in the first place?” Vaughn asked. “Because he had to take a stand. Taking a stand means you’re singled out as different. You’ll be in the minority, possibly facing danger. Who wants that?”

Vaughn said she is taking a stand because some things are true, and some are false.

 “If the board cannot at least consider others’ views, ask questions to seek the truth, then where do we go from here?” Vaughn asked.

When given the opportunity to present his side of the case, Stiles said he had nothing to add to his opening statement. When Board President Rob Risko asked for a motion concerning the hearing, the trustees sat in silence.  The issue died with no action taken.

Frazier asked if her client could resubmit her grievance.

“You’ll have to have that conversation with school counsel in order to resubmit the complaint,” Risko said.

The school counsel is Attorney Blake Armstrong.

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