May 29, 2017

Questions, relief over firing of school boss

Kevin Harris appearing before the Floyd County Board of Supervisors in July of this year.
Kevin Harris appearing before the Floyd County Board of Supervisors in July of this year.

The five-year tenure as school superintendent for Kevin Harris came to a sudden end Wednesday night at the hands in a 4-1 vote by the Floyd County School Board and appears to be welcomed by many in a community that long-ago tired of his hair-trigger temper that led to public and private outbursts with teachers, coaches and parents of students.

Some, however, are voicing support of the ousted administrator, including a school board member who, as chairman, stalled attempts to discipline him or act on complaints brought before the board by outraged parents.

Linda King, who was replaced as school board chairman by James Ingram after local elections in 2015, told WSLS Channel 10 Thursday that she was caught by surprise by the board’s vote and actions in executive session and says she plans to leave the board, perhaps even before her current term is up.

“It was a shock to me that the board had terminated his contract and asked for his resignation,” King said.  “That was a shock to me.  I had no idea this was going on.”

King, has worked in the Carroll County school system, where Harris was director of human resources when hired as Floyd’s new school administrator five years ago.

A school board source told Blue Ridge Muse Thursday said an angry King left an earlier closed door “executive session” that was called to discuss problems with his behavior.

Scott Watson, a principal at Carroll County Schools, came over to the Floyd County system during Harris’ time as superintendent and also questioned the school system’s decision in a phone interview with WSLS Thursday.

“This was a tremendous surprise to everyone, I think,” Watson told WSLS.  “His actions were in the best interests of the schools and our students.”

King  admitted Harris’ “strong personality” may have contributed to the actions.

Several faculty members and parents of studets  told Blue Ridge Muse Thursday they were relieved and happy that the board has finally taken action after a long list of complaints, including an encounter that left a popular track coach in tears and use of the Floyd County Sheriff’s Department to deliver a letter warning parent Rob Neukirch that he would be barred from the school grounds and not allowed to watch his sons play sports if he voiced any more complaints.

“Floyd learned that the biggest bully in our school system resigned his position, effective immediately,” posted Michele Morris, Neukirch’s wife.

“Best news I’ve heard all week,” said Cole Conley.

“Our Trump got vetoed,” posted Michele Stuart.

Stories that circulated throughout the county included a run in with two Virginia State Troopers when a vehicle check on U.S. 221 in 2013 found an expired inspection sticker on the school’s superintendent’s SUV.  Harris demanded special treatment,, telling the trooper he was “Doctor Kevin Harris” and was needed to be elsewhere immediately.  The troopers did not agree and ticketed him for failure to have his vehicle inspected.

Floyd County General District Court records show Kevin Wayne Harris was cited by Trooper A. J. Corvin on January 31, 2013, and disposition showed Harris “complied with law.”  Harris was cited again for the same infraction on November 2, 2013 by Trooper T. Branch and had to prove he had complied with the law a second time in a court hearing on December 5th of that year.

Harris’ temper also led to several angry confrontations with the Board of Supervisors when they questioned his actions.  The Supervisors, as the county’s lead elected officials, must approve the school system budget and have veto authority.

After one outburst, then County Administrator Dan Campbell called Harris into his office and told him that if he could not control his outbursts he should stay away from supervisor meetings.  Harris did not return until after Campbell left for another country administrator job last year and appeared only sporadically and sent subordinates to budget sessions this year.

While the school board “accepted” the resignation of Harris, the announcement statement on Wednesday noted that his employment ended in “termination” and was negotiated as “termination without cause” where the system agreed to pay Harris another year of his $120,000 plus salary plus benefits while his job was “terminated without cause” and he was gone, effective midnight on Wednesday.

Harris had two years remaining on a contract that was amended to allow him to live in Montgomery County, even though his original employment agreement required to live in Floyd County, was had two years remaining after it was extended in the middle of public complaints about his behavior.

Neukirch was just one of the parents who demanded Harris be removed as superintendent and he was blocked more than once in speaking to the board in the public comments period by King, who applied what many thought was a liberal interpretation of Virginia’s Open Meeting Act by citing the state rules that require confidentiality in personnel matters.

But the former owner of Oddfellas Cantina, a former professional actor as well as an entertainer who has appeared on stage in the area and worked on two films shot in Floyd County in recent years did not drop his demands that action be taken against Harris.

“Rob spoke up for us,” said one FCHS faculty member who asked not to be identified.

With King as the only dissenter in both the decision to terminate Harris and appointment of assistant superintendent John Wheeler as interim school boss for up to 180 days, the search to replace Harris begins.

Floyd County may also be searching for a new school member for the Courthouse District if King sticks to her threat to leave.

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