Bertie Interim Superintendent departs amid controversy

Published 11:29 am Wednesday, April 20, 2011

WINDSOR – Confusion abounded Monday surrounding the departure of Bertie County Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Will Crawford.

The interim superintendent left Bertie County Schools on Monday, three days before Superintendent-elect Dr. Debbie Harris-Rollins takes office. Dr. Harris-Rollins was originally expected to be able to assume the duties of superintendent on Monday and the board voted to end Dr. Crawford’s contract the day before.

When the arrival date of Dr. Harris-Rollins changed, board members discussed the possibility of extending Dr. Crawford’s stay, according to Board Chairwoman Gloria Lee, but opted to take no action on the issue.

Dr. Crawford, however, said he was asked by School Board Vice Chair Pamela Chamblee to stay until Friday. He said that after his presentation to the Bertie County Commissioners Monday, he was told that he would be staying until Wednesday.

“I said if they wanted me to stay until Wednesday, I was happy to do that,” he said.

Dr. Crawford alleged, however, that a disagreement with Chamblee was what led to his early departure.

“We were discussing a line item on the budget where the board said they would like to be able to change their compensation,” Dr. Crawford said. “We talked about the fact that the appropriate time to do that was at budget time.”

He said he neglected to adjust the line item to allow the board the room financially to request a change in their compensation before he presented it to the school board. He changed the item between presenting it to the school board and commissioners.

“Whether they did it or not was not the purpose, but it gave them the option to look at it,” he said. “We did not increase the budget.”

He said he wasn’t concerned about the change because the budget was presented as the Superintendent’s budget and not that of the school board.

“My understanding was the board approved it as my presentation, but reserved the right to make their own,” he said. “She (Chamblee) said I shouldn’t have changed one thing. I said she was right, but she should remember I told the commissioners it was the superintendent’s budget and it wasn’t like anything was locked in stone.”

Dr. Crawford alleged Chamblee then said his services may no longer be required.

He said he left Chamblee, Lee and board member Emma Johnson outside the commissioners’ meeting and received a call 20 minutes later saying his services were no longer needed after Monday.

“Those board members convened to talk about board issues – primarily me – and issued that edict,” he claimed.

Lee said that wasn’t the case, however. She said she discussed with Chamblee the possibility of extending Dr. Crawford’s stay, but it never happened.

“I never got everybody’s answer,” she said. “We had not voted to do it.

“There was a lot of confusion and we decided to leave it like we originally planned it,” Lee said. “Hopefully, everything could have ended on a good note.”

Lee confirmed that Chamblee had a discussion with Dr. Crawford asking him to stay, but said it “never got off the ground.”

Lee said the three board members did not discuss Dr. Crawford’s status after the commissioners’ meeting. She said one board member did say she was no longer interested in extending Dr. Crawford’s stay, but would not identify whether it was Chamblee or Johnson.

Lee said it was more pressing to work towards returning the community to normalcy after the tornadoes and that board members were concerned about those who had lost family members and those who had lost their homes.

“I’m sorry if there was a misunderstanding,” Lee said. “I hope he won’t leave thinking badly of us.”

As for Dr. Crawford, he said the situation concerned him.

“I think the thing that bothers me – and I’m okay with going home – is that Mrs. Chamblee does whatever she wants,” he said. “Just because she is angry and says we don’t need your services, she talks to the other two women and they basically vote 3-0 without consulting the two men on the board.

“It really doesn’t bother me,” he added. “I’m fine. It’s just another example of this lady (Chamblee) being able to do whatever she wants to do.”

Board member Rickey Freeman said that he did discuss the situation with Lee on Monday, but was unaware that a decision was to be made at that time.

He said the board did not act in open session to extend Dr. Crawford’s time, but he had given his preliminary approval for the interim superintendent to remain if the majority of the board agreed. He said he was not sure whether or not the board agreed to ask Dr. Crawford to stay or if Dr. Crawford agreed to stay.

Freeman said he was not aware that Lee had asked Dr. Crawford to end his employment Monday.

Board member Alton Parker said he did not receive a call from Lee and was never informed Dr. Crawford was leaving.