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Posted: February 5, 2013 10:32 p.m.

Carpenters claim continued harassment

Carpenters, BOE settle contract buyout

Local school administrators Dennis and LaQuanda Carpenter will be paid nearly $70,000 following the Newton County Board of Education’s unanimous decision to release the couple from their contracts early.

There was no official comment as to why what is essentially a contract buyout was required, but a position statement claiming continued harassment of the Carpenters was given to the board prior to a final agreement being reached.

Dennis Carpenter is the deputy superintendent of operations for the school system and recently accepted the job of superintendent for the Hickman Mills C-1 School District in Kansas City, Mo., while LaQuanda Carpenter is the principal of Alcovy High School. The couple is expected to move to Missouri soon.

In the settlement, the Board of Education agreed that the Carpenters would each receive a lump sum payment of their regular salaries through May 31, including benefits, such as health insurance, through June 30.

The total payout amounts to $68,508.98. According to school spokeswoman Sherri Davis-Viniard, the following is the break down of the payments: Dennis Carpenter’s salary from February through May is $36,760.18; LaQuanda Carpenter’s salary for the same time frame is $28,099.44; and the family plan insurance through June 30 amounts to $3,649.36.

“The majority of the Board continues to believe it is in the best interest of the school system and the Carpenters to sever the current employment relationship. This way, the school system can get on with the process of finding their respective successors as well as focusing on the education and safety of our students. And the Carpenters can focus on their move to Missouri,” Board of Education Chair Abigail Coggin said in the school system’s official press release.

Harassment claims and counterclaims
Many citizens have questioned why the couple was paid, as opposed to simply being released from their contracts, if the decision to end the contracts was mutual.

According to Coggin and the Carpenters’ attorney Stephanie Lindsey, the Carpenters never threatened the school system or board with litigation.

“Even though there was a clear hostile work environment, there were never any threats to sue,” Lindsey said Tuesday.

However, before any agreement was reached between the parties, Lindsey presented a “position statement” to the board that detailed what the Carpenters felt was constant harassment by Conyers resident Shannon Black, and, to a lesser degree, Board of Education member Jeff Meadors.

In the final agreement, reference is made to this position statement, a copy of which was given to The News by Lindsey. The statement was read aloud to the school board, but the school system does not have a physical copy.
According to the statement, Jeff Meadors was “asked to recuse himself from this portion of the session. His presence and input on the pending matter is a clear conflict;” however, according to Lindsey, Meadors refused to recuse himself from the reading of the position statement.

The statement goes on to list and attach copies of several emails sent from Shannon Black, who became a prominent player in the defamation lawsuit LaQuanda Carpenter filed against anonymous commenters on the website of the Newton Citizen newspaper. Black publicly identified herself as a commenter.

The statement lists several emails Black sent to school system officials, including:
• two emails to the staff at Alcovy High School in December 2012
• one to Superintendent Gary Mathews, also in December 2012
• two emails on Jan. 1, to the entire staff at all three high schools
• one to the education reporter for the Kansas City Star newspaper in Missouri, where the Carpenters will be relocating
• one to LaQuanda Carpenter
• and one to Dennis Carpenter’s personal email “inquiring about his house-hunting trip to Kansas City.” The statements lists the following note attached to this entry: “Only two — three central office employees were aware of this house-hunting trip.”

The statement also says Meadors sent an email to Mathews at the end of December 2012 “admonishing LaQuanda Carpenter for forwarding the emails to him,” and gave an interview to the reporter from Kansas City. The reporter allegedly said Black and another person had called him and insisted he contact Meadors regarding the Carpenters. Meadors also commented under the article on the Kansas City Star website.

“It is my understanding that NCSS has initiated a block that prohibits the delivery of outside emails to employee groups,” reads the statement, prepared by Lindsey. “This measure has been taken to curtail Shannon Black’s continuing harassment of NCSS and its employees. Unfortunately, this measure is not enough… It is obvious that Mr. Meadors and others will not cease the continued harassment and intimidation of the Carpenters in their official capacity. Their actions are becoming increasingly bolder and more venomous. The actions of the harassing parties involved will remain a significant distraction to the staff at Alcovy High School, our school system and the Carpenters.”

The News sent excerpts from the statement to Meadors to allow him to respond.

Regarding the specific claim of admonishing LaQuanda Carpenter, Meadors said in an email, “How is this harassment? She emailed me multiple times late on a Friday night. I never replied to her.”

Regarding the Kansas City Star article, he said, “The Kansas City Star contacted me since Carpenter named me originally. I offered the truth to them. I never contacted them originally. They are obsessed with me.”

As far as the other points made in the statement, Meadors said “I have no idea why she pretends to be victimized. I have done nothing to this woman.

“She filed a frivolous suit aimed at smoking out her husband’s critics, and when skeletons marched out of litigation discovery she refused deposition and dismissed her suit in the afternoon of the morning, Oct. 8, 2012, my attorney advised me that he would sign a notice forcing her to deposition.”

Meadors said he filed a complaint Jan. 23, of this year with the Professional Standards Commission against LaQuanda Carpenter and said he will provide the commission with documents to support his claims.

“There is information in discovery documents that will show exactly why she both dropped the lawsuit and is heading out of town. These acts have nothing to do with me but I learned of them through discovery,” Meadors said. “I never bother the Carpenters; I guess they cannot shake their anger at me for supporting Gary Mathews in the fall of 2011 for admonishing Dennis for his bad acts in closed session and against a central office employee. That’s all.”

Moving forward
The full Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the contract buyout agreement with the Carpenters at the Jan. 15 board meeting. While it was discussed as a superintendent recommendation in executive session — like all personnel matters are — the board members all voted in open session to approve the recommendation to pay the Carpenters and release them from their contracts.

Both Carpenters were under contract through June 30 — the end of the school’s fiscal year — but LaQuanda Carpenter, who was on maternity leave, was officially released from her contract Jan. 31, while Dennis Carpenter was released from his contract Feb. 1. Therefore, the school system will not pay quite as much as it would have had the Carpenters finished out the entirety of their contracts.

“This agreement and the payment(s) of the lump sum salaries by the NCSS as indicated herein resolves any and all claims, disputes and/or causes of actions that may have arisen from their respective employment with the NCBOE,” according to the agreement.

“I implore the people of Newton County to put the past behind us and move forward with the focus on the education of our students,” said Coggin in a Tuesday follow-up email.

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