Superintendent Dr. Frank Petruzielo, several members of the Cherokee County Board of Education and two staff members have penned the required responses to SACS/AdvancED regarding Post 1 School Board Member Kelly Marlow’s letter to the accrediting agency sent in June, and citizens have organized a recall committee and registered with the state ethics commission.
Through an Open Records Request, the Ledger-News obtained Petruzielo’s response, along with responses from school board members and those identified in the complaint. Those responses were included verbatim with Petruzielo’s answer and sent to AdvancED on Monday.
In his response, Petruzielo said only two things have changed since SACS rated the school district as “highly functional” at the end of 2011 — the Cherokee County Legislative Delegation, against the school board’s advice, changed the method by which school board members were elected, and the make-up of the board changed, with longtime school board member Janet Read being elected chair and Marlow and board member Patsy Jordan being elected to the board.
“The only board policy violations in the past six months to my knowledge has been those made by Ms. Marlow in sending her complaint to AdvancED,” Petruzielo said, in a letter which point-by-point refuted Marlow’s claims to SACS.
Read, Vice Chair Robert Wofford, and members Jordan and Rick Steiner responded to Petruzielo’s request for comments. Board members Rob Usher and Michael Geist did not provide responses by Friday’s deadline. Director of Communications Barbara Jacoby and School District Supervisor of Strategic Planning Mike McGowan also provided responses. A letter from School Board Attorney Tom Roach was to be sent separately.
In her response, Jacoby noted that during a luncheon on Feb. 22 with Petruzielo and herself, she felt Marlow threatened Petruzielo: “Only one threat was made during the Feb. 22 meeting and that was the threat made by Ms. Marlow to you that, as I recall: ‘if you wanted a fight (she) would fight,’ as she ‘knew the law and knew about SACS and would do what (she) had to do,’” Jacoby wrote. “She made this threat after stating her belief that you and your staff, including me, report directly to her; you responded that was inaccurate, as you report to the school board as a whole and your staff reports to you. I interpreted this threat to mean that if you did not change the governance model to one where you and your staff reported directly to her, she would take actions that would lead to SACS-CASI accreditation probation and the governor’s use of Senate Bill 84 to remove school board members.”
In her response, Read said she hoped “one board member with a personal agenda and a vendetta against the Superintendent would not be allowed to sabotage our efforts (to be part of a great school system and to try to make it even better).”
Wofford told SACS, “I must respectfully disagree with (Marlow’s) observations. (Read) is a true example of commitment to public service,” he said. “I believe the board as a whole is dedicated to serving our students, parents, employees and community. I do not believe the board has done anything inappropriately in their performance of duty.”
“I have not observed any problems in governance and leadership, nor have I seen or heard of any inappropriate personal relationships between school system professional staff members or any member of the board.”
Steiner said for Marlow to accuse Read of having inappropriate personal relationships with the professional staff is “comical and ludicrous.”
In her complaint, Marlow said a public conversation between Read and Jacoby on the county’s legal organ’s plans to hire an education reporter was inappropriate.
Both Jacoby and Read agreed they joked that if the reporter search took longer, the (then-current) reporter would stay. Jacoby is the former editor of the newspaper. Petruzielo, in his response, told SACS, “Ms. Marlow’s complaint in this regard is not only without merit; it is libelous.”
In McGowan’s response, he claimed ownership of the quote, “You don’t want to be a school district that is under SACS investigation,” said during a school board training session. Marlow, in her complaint, claimed a school district employee voiced the quote. McGowan said he was attempting to share the school district’s experience in 1999, when SACS put the county on accreditation probation. As former communications director, McGowan said, “It was a daily struggle to explain to constituents/taxpayers that the school district was placed on probation, not because of anything to do with the educational program, but because of a school board member’s actions.”
Responding to Petruzielo’s request for comments, Marlow wrote that she would submit her “observations, responses and comments under separate cover directly to SACS.”
SCRAM! (Smart Citizens Rally Against Marlow) has taken steps to become an official recall committee with the state, registering in June as SCRAM! Special Committee to Recall Marlow. The chairperson is listed as Michelle Albers; the treasurer is listed as Christine Rea. The group has a website, www.kellymarlow.org and a newsletter.
However, the group has not initiated any formal recall effort.
Marlow faces an upcoming school board ethics hearing, and, in a separate case, she faces a felony charge for giving false statements to police. She allegedly lied to Canton police about an incident she and two others said happened after the June 13 BOE meeting when they claimed Petruzielo tried to strike them with his car as they were crossing the street.
When contacted, Rea told the Ledger-News the group was preparing for a recall effort against Marlow when the news came out about Marlow’s arrest on July 5.
“Our objective is to have Ms. Marlow removed from our school board as soon as possible, before her actions result in CCSD being placed on probation from AdvancEd/SACS,” Rea said. “If Ms. Marlow is indicted on her felony charge, the governor could suspend her until the outcome of her trial. A suspension would have her removed far sooner than a recall election, which is about a four-month process.”