Chaos follows attempted removal of Rodney Jones from school board meeting
The School Board of Manatee County has voted to take control of Lincoln Memorial Academy, citing concerns with its leadership and finances, but not before hearing from dozens of people who supported the Palmetto-based charter school on Tuesday evening.
Just after 9:05 p.m., board member Scott Hopes made a six-part motion, seconded by James Golden, to:
- Terminate the charter of Lincoln Memorial Academy immediately, in accordance with Florida Statute and the charter contract.
- Take control of Lincoln and continue its operations as a charter school.
- Appoint a new person to act as principal of the charter school after asking district administration to suggest candidates.
- Direct the school district to “immediately secure all charter school property.”
- Take steps to prepare Lincoln for the 2019-20 school year.
- Authorize a forensic audit of the finances and property of the school.
The board eventually voted 4-1 to pass the motion, with Charlie Kennedy dissenting. Kennedy asked to postpone the crucial decision until Friday, and he offered a different solution for the board’s consideration.
He proposed a line of credit for Lincoln, outlined in an email to the school board on Tuesday morning, and written by James Corbett, the owner of Cornerstone Management and Development LLC. It included several conditions, such as the ability for Manatee to appoint community members to Lincoln’s governing board.
Dave Miner, the board’s chair, often denied Kennedy the chance to speak during Tuesday’s meeting, and neither of his proposals gained traction by the meeting’s end. Lincoln’s governing board will now have a chance to appeal the school board’s decision.
The school board also voted 4-1 to contact three people who may fill the role of Lincoln’s interim principal: Xavier Omar Edwards, Ronnie L. King and Darlene S. Proue.
Tuesday’s meeting was exactly one week after Richard Corcoran, the state’s education commissioner, sent pointed letters to the district and the school, calling for Hundley’s removal and a solution to Lincoln’s budget woes. Hundley resigned from his role as principal on Monday, an attempt to ease pressure on the school.
The district continually said that Hundley and his leadership team failed to maintain their financial and ethical obligations, allowing Hundley to stay on campus in spite of recent state sanctions. Lincoln’s supporters simply weren’t buying it.
Dozens of supporters, several of them students or staff members, shared their experiences at Lincoln. Some said they backed Lincoln’s recent conversion to a charter school, allowing for more autonomy and creativity in the education of area students.
Their vision — a school with both academics and life preparation — was finally coming to life, and it faced a takeover just one year after it started. Many said the debate was especially painful because it involved Lincoln, a school that survived decades of segregation and sacrifice.
Public speakers often expressed distrust for the school district, accusing Manatee of withholding support and obstructing school leaders. School board members and district officials have said the same about Lincoln’s governing board, accusing it of withholding vital financial documents and failing to plan ahead or comply with Hundley’s sanctions.
“They convicted Jesus Christ. Was he wrong?” someone shouted from the crowd.
It was a merry-go-round of accusations with no resolution in sight. Speaking at the board’s workshop, before the regular meeting, Golden said the time for discussion was over.
“I will not support any effort whatsoever, in any form whatsoever, to close this charter school,” Golden said.
“I will not go beyond the meeting tonight, keeping the school in the hands of the existing board,” he continued.
Though issues at Lincoln were originally scheduled for a discussion at the board’s workshop, Hopes later moved to take action. With a unanimous vote, the board added an item to the agenda for its regular meeting, after the workshop, opening the floor to more discussion and a final decision late Tuesday night.
Tensions arose after the Education Practices Commission completed a final order on May 13, reprimanding Hundley for giving two job recommendations to a former employee who was under criminal investigation. The EPC, an independent body within the Florida Department of Education, upheld the sanctions first recommended by a judge in the Division of Administrative Hearings.
They subjected Hundley to a five-year revocation of his license, five years of probation and a mandatory class in ethics. The state then notified Lincoln that a license revocation barred Hundley from employment “in any capacity requiring direct contact with students.”
Lincoln’s governing board continued to support Hundley, calling the criticism racist and misguided in a past statement.
Presenting at Tuesday’s workshop, district attorney Mitchell Teitelbaum pointed to a series of non-compliance notices sent to the school, regarding the need for a new principal and a finance plan. Teitelbaum also pointed to images from the school’s surveillance cameras, alleging that Hundley was on campus just days after the education commissioner called for his removal.
The commissioner also called for a corrective action plan to address Lincoln’s finances, but the district and the school had yet to reach an agreement after more than a month.
Members of Lincoln’s current governing board — Christine Dawson, Christopher Czaia and James Ward — attended Tuesday’s regular meeting, as did Cornelle Maxfield, the chief financial officer.
Fighting back tears, Dawson declined to comment until Lincoln decided whether to appeal the school board’s decision.
Hundley was also in attendance. Though he recently stepped down from his role as principal, it seems he will continue to serve as the chief executive officer and founder of Lincoln.
Speaking during public comment, Lincoln graduate Elijah Roberson said he was inspired by the school’s motto: “Do the right thing, the right way, right now.” He urged board members to do the same.
“This is the best school in Manatee County,” he said. “I don’t care who judges it or what they might say.”