C-P board sets Monday date to appoint acting supt.
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Jan. 19, 2007 - The Como-Pickton Consolidated Independent School District Board of Trustees is slated to meet at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 22, to consider appointing both an acting superintendent and an acting athletic director.

The action comes in the wake of the suspension of Superintendent Bryan Neal, who was arrested Wednesday on forgery and fraud charges following an investigation into allegations of misuse of district money and property.

"We have the best interest of the school district and Mr. Neal legally in mind," Board President Mark Humphrey said Thursday morning. "So far there have only been allegations. We'll try to take it step by step and see where it goes."

�� More than 200 people showed up for a school board meeting Wednesday night when the school trustees voted to table all items regarding the superintendent's performance evaluation and contract, and to keep him on suspension with pay and requiring him to turn over all school property.

�� Humphrey, following a meeting with school attorneys Thursday morning, said that while board members would like to be able to disclose the particulars of the ongoing investigation, school officials were admonished not to comment.

"We're just trying to follow procedures, which I don't think some of the public was aware of when they came to the [Wednesday night] meeting. When the time comes, all findings will be reported to the community," said Assistant Superintendent Sandra Billodeau, who is currently serving as the acting superintendent. "We can't discuss them now, however, because we do not want to do anything to jeopardize the investigation.”

She added the district is following Texas Education Agency guidelines in the matter, and the state agency has been contacted regarding the charges.

The board, after becoming suspicious last week of purchases made by Neal, contacted authorities to launch an investigation into misuse of funds and property. That investigation turned up evidence that Neal had used district money to purchase a tractor and an all-terrain vehicle, which he kept for personal use. He reportedly was having money deducted from his paycheck to cover the purchases.

It was also found that Neal had cashed a check written to him from a school district account. Another administrator's name was said to have been forged on the check.

Following an investigation by Hopkins County Sheriff's Office, warrants were obtained e for Neal's arrest for forgery and two fraud charges for falsely obtaining the tractor and ATV. 

Neal was arrested Wednesday afternoon. He was released on $30,00 bond Thursday morning.

Sheriff's investigators have been heading the investigation, but Texas Ranger Phillip Kemp is expected to take the lead as soon as he returns to town.

Several people at Wednesday's meeting wanted to discuss recent decisions by Neal, the board cited a rule in which school districts do not respond to questions during the public forum session of board meetings, only listen to comments.

After learning the board would not be answering or responding to their questions, several people who had signed up to speak declined "because there's no point if we're not going to get answers."

Many had questions pertaining to the investigation, and some questioned if "the board is in charge or is the board run by the superintendent?" and asked that the board be held accountable.

During the meeting, one teacher noted being reassigned to four different positions within a one-month period, including a position she was not certified to teach. She said it was indicated to her the action was because of a past grudge for reporting a coworker about information she received indicating inappropriate conduct with a student.

She said was finally offered a position as an elementary physical education aide. When the offer was extended, she alleges, Neal made a statement comparing the placement with a cheating spouse: "He asked if my husband was cheating on me, would I get back in bed with him."

She has filed a complaint with TEA.

Another school employee complained that she was accused of "abandoning" her job with the school to work at the post office. She said she worked around injuries, and even on crutches, cleaning for the school, and when retuning to school after another injury was "let go." She said the position with the post office only requires her to work on Saturdays and in no way affects her duties with the school district.

Others expressed concerns for reassignments of middle school teachers to teach subjects they are not certified for in the two weeks before the end of the fall semester, and the impact that had on students, teacher and staff morale.

One person suggested returning educators to their previous positions, especially teachers whose students received high test scores.

Billodeau said Thursday that whoever is selected to serve as acting superintendent would assume all duties of the superintendent. That will include working with the board and staff, and reviewing recent teacher and staff reassignments and placements to determine what, if any, actions need to be taken.

"The acting or interim superintendent would be the person to look at personnel and report to the board their conclusions, to make recommendations for plans of change if any are needed," Billodeau said. 

She also reminds that the superintendent is only one person among many district personnel — people who are dedicated to the children and their education. 

"Right now, everybody is in place," she said. "Students are in all classes. I think the staff at Como-Pickton give a tremendous amount of their time to students, and are deeply concerned with the welfare of the students, whether educationally or emotionally. Teachers put students concerns first.

"We want to make sure that our school continues to focus on the learning process and what's in the best interest of our students."

The special called meeting to appoint an acting superintendent begins at 7 p.m. Monday in the high school library, and includes consultation with an attorney during the executive session.

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