Demands escalate to fire School Superintendent

The growing controversy over charges of bullying, intimidation and morale-destroying antics of Floyd County School Superintendent Kevin Harris’ spilled over to the Board of Trustees this week when more calls for his dismissal and questions about his actions came from parents and others who cite a “lack of leadership” from the administrator who they say has humiliated system personnel and created a critical, chaotic atmosphere in the school system.

Statements from Rob Neukirch, whose questions about Harris’ treatment of coaches and teachers brought a formal threat of banishment from school property and events delivered by county sheriff’s deputies, along with details of specific actions by the school superintendent from Carol Moates, brought applause from a group of 14 county residents who attended the board of supervisors meeting Tuesday night.

My story in Thursday’s Floyd Press covers the issue at the supervisor’s meeting and the video above presents the full statements of both Neukirch and Moates.  A third statement, presented in writing from Katherine Michele Stuart of Floyd, asked: “is it professional for Harris to threaten employees’ jobs with demotion if they do not do as he pleases?  Regarding the previous cross country coach, was it professional for Harris to yell at her twice, resulting in tears, because he was unhappy as a parent?”

Harris is hired and can only be fired by the school board.  The board of supervisors has control over certain budget matters but has no say on employment or dismissal of personnel within the school system.  That power lies with school board members who, like supervisors, are elected by district in the county.

Neukirch and Moates say they have heard from teachers, parents and coaches from Carroll and Montgomery counties, along with Fort Chiswell, with similar stories about the behavior of the school superintendent.

Some of the same folks have contacted Blue Ridge Muse and provided details of specific incidents.  Neukirch says he tried to contact Harris three times to obtain information on issues that concern him.  I requested time to sit down and discuss the matter with Harris but a request for a specific date and time was not answered.  It was the first time he has not responded to us since becoming superintendent of the county schools.

The issues raised by parents, teachers, coaches and others raise questions that should, we feel, be addressed about the administration of Floyd County’s school system.  Some praise Harris and say he works hard for the schools, its employees and students.  Others question his methods, his attitude and his ego and point out his temper.  He is a man who stirs passion and comments pro and con about his actions.

Using the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department to deliver a formal threat to a parent who raised questions raised eyebrows in the county and brought more complaints yet few will comment publicly on the matter.

Critics also question the school board’s decision to allow the superintendent to live near Riner in Montgomery County after his initial contract with the county required him to live in Floyd County.

Floyd County’s school board chairman Linda King gaveled down Neukirch and others when they tried to use Harris’ name in comments to that board earlier this month.  The appearances before the Board of Supervisors were not interrupted nor were any limitations placed on criticism of use of the school superintendent’s name.  The school board limits free expression in public comments.  Some school boards place such limits on comments about students by name but Floyd’s board goes further.  The county board of supervisors does not limit such comments.

As with most public officials who are in the spotlight, the school superintendent is both criticized and praised by employees, parents and others.  Harris came into the job after controversies surrounding former superintendent Terry Arbogast, who retired early amid questions about his pay from various accounts, budget decisions and other actions.

Departures by teachers and other staff are increasing.  Harris cites the county’s low pay scales but former teachers who have left recently say working conditions are creating low morale in the system and cite specific problems with the school superintendent.

Questions that deserve answers are being asked by concerned residents of Floyd County, who pay for the system through taxes, but the one person who can and should answer them — School Superintendent Kevin Harris — is not talking or answering.

(Edited to add additional information)

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