“I just felt like there were some things that were maybe not clear about all this, and it's important as a board we revisit that in a public meeting for anybody who wants to hear because this is a board that is full of integrity and this is a board that anyone can trust," he said.
In an article in Tuesday’s edition of the Eagle, local Uniserv Director for the Alabama Education Association Butch Sargent said he believes the board appointed a committee to help hire the principal in July.
He also said the group was appointed during a meeting in Cullman County to discourage residents from attending.
During Tuesday’s meeting in Jasper, Sparkman said school district officials gave ample notice about the meeting in Cullman County, and he spoke directly with Daily Mountain Eagle staff to notify them of the retreat.
Sparkman said the board did not appoint any committee during the meeting, and in fact, he gave specific instructions not to discuss the Walker High principal’s position.
The only matters discussed, he said, were architectural plans for one of the district’s facilities and a book entitled, “What Works in Schools.”
Sparkman said he had narrowed the list of candidates to five people before he allowed a few community members to attend some of the interviews. However, he said the community members only provided their input and did not decide which candidates to interview.
“There was no delegated authority or power from this board given to anybody except for me,” he said.
Sparkman added that he and the board members offered to have Sargent ride with them to the meeting in Cullman County.
Board member Pat Nelson said during Tuesday’s meeting that he corroborates everything mentioned by Sparkman.
“I am offended for someone to accuse the board and you (Sparkman) of having a secret meeting when we invited that very person to attend the meeting and waited on them,” Nelson said.
In a phone interview after the meeting, Sargent said he did not attend the Cullman County meeting because he only received 24 hours’ notice.
Sargent said he does not dispute Sparkman’s comments that the board only discussed the architectural plans and the book at the Cullman County meeting. However, he said that would be an easier pill to swallow if they had met in Jasper.
“The taxpayers are in Jasper; they’re not in Cullman on the lake,” he said.
Sargent said the community members who offered input in the hiring included two board members. Even though they did not establish a quorum, he believes the process was still a violation of Alabama’s open meetings law. He also said he believes the hiring procedure was a violation of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools standards regarding leadership and governance.
“And I’m happy to refer any and all matters to the legal department (of the AEA),” Sargent said.
The following is the written response Sparkman provided to the Eagle on Monday:
“As superintendent, I have the responsibility to make that decision. No one else can do so. I have at all times explained to people that the position of Walker High School Principal is so important that I would make the decision based on my professional judgment.
I am prepared to do so and will do just that at our Board meeting scheduled for August 14th.
While it is my responsibility to make that recommendation to the Board, I have consulted teachers, administrators, board members and references of the candidates who were considered.
As I discussed the applicants with these various people, I always made it clear that I welcomed their input, but I was going to make the decision as the Superintendent of the Jasper School System.
That is my statutory responsibility.
Board members have been consulted and I certainly value their thoughts, just as I value the thoughts and impressions of the faculty members and administrators I talk with about this important decision.
But with regard to the Board members and their input, at no time did a quorum of the board gather to deliberate whom to select as principal for Walker High School.
As we proceed in this task I have followed the advice of our attorney to make sure we have not violated the Alabama Open Meetings Act. We are mindful of the Alabama Supreme Court opinion in Slagle v. Ross, where the court reviewed the process followed by the Montgomery Board of Education.
Tomorrow I will make a recommendation to the Board to fill the vacant position of principal of Walker High School. The person I will recommend has exemplary qualifications, experience, and references.”