Archived Story

Board to inform Belle she will not be rehired

Published 10:13pm Thursday, January 30, 2014

FRANKLIN—In a 3-2 vote, the Franklin City Public School Board voted Thursday night at a called meeting to inform Superintendent Dr. Michelle Belle that her contract would not be renewed after June 30, 2014.

There is a stipulation in her contract that she be informed 6-months before June 30, 2014, what the intent of the board was. In December, the board voted to inform Belle that her contract would be renewed provided she meet three stipulations, and one of those was a satisfactory division level review.

After going into closed session to discuss the performance of a specific individual, Ward 1 board member Will Councill offered this motion:

“I make a motion that the school board authorize Mrs. King to send a letter to Dr. Belle informing her that because the division level review was not satisfactory, the school board does not intent to renew Dr. Belle’s contract as the school superintendent after June 30, 2014.”

The motion was seconded by Nancy Godwin, ward 2, and Councill, Godwin and Dawna Walton, ward 6, voted in favor of it, while Edna King, chairwoman, and Sherita Ricks-Parker, ward 4, voted no. Jeanette Austin, ward 5, abstained from voting, and Johnetta Nichols, ward 3, was absent.

King declined to comment. Councill had one thing to say following the meeting.

“It was just time for a change,” he said.

For more information, see the Sunday print edition of The Tidewater News.

  • cheechee

    It just seems to me that people are quick to put the blame on school administration and teachers for unsatisfactory performance of students. Yes, they may be to blame to a point, but where is the accountability of parents and students? I’ve felt for a long time that our children are not receiving a quality education–not because of administration or teachers–because it seems they are only taught what is on the SOL tests. So, then whose fault is that? That blame should rest on the shoulders of the state. There is so much pressure to pass these tests that this is all they know. No wonder why are children are not free thinkers and critical thinkers! How is this preparing them for life beyond high school? Maybe a change will come in the form of educators who challenge our children to think beyond a state test. Maybe a change will come with parents taking responsibility in ensuring their children are learning outside the classroom. Maybe a change will come with children being responsible for their own work. I just don’t foresee that a change will happen by getting a new superintendent unless there are changes in other areas.

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  • whatzup

    Councill—spare us please, of using the shoulders of David Benton, a man who does not have a racial bone in his body, to elevate your racial rants against Raystine Johnson-Ashburn and Mary Hilliard, both of whom have moved on in working for the betterment of Franklin, while you and your cohorts languish in the past.

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    • Councill

      whatzup please do some research on the councilwomen and their political cadre. What they do today is what they did in the past. They have not moved on. I believed they unfairly attacked Mr. Benton when they called him a racist. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now. I think we need candidates that can replace these council members, if we are to prosper as a unified community.

      Read this article: Council reappoints Benton

      By Kathi Pines | Tidewater News, Published Wednesday, February 11, 2009

      FRANKLIN—The City Council reappointed David Benton to the school board in a 4-3 vote Monday night.

      Mayor Jim Councill and Councilmen Barry Cheatham, Mark Fetherolf and Benny Burgess, who made the motion, voted in favor of Benton, a nine-year veteran on the school board.

      Vice Mayor Raystine Johnson and Councilwomen Rosa Lawrence and Mary Hilliard voted no.

      Ellis Crum had also been nominated for the seat, as well as his wife, Phyllis. Mrs. Crum later withdrew from consideration and endorsed her husband.

      Crum said he was disappointed at the outcome but wished Benton well.

      “I hope David does a great job because the future of education for children in Franklin depends on it,” he said.

      The vote came after a closed-door meeting that Councilwoman Mary Hilliard declined to participate in after making a motion to discuss the appointment in open session. That motion was killed in a 4-3 vote identical to the later vote on Benton’s appointment.

      “I will be present, but I will not participate in this discussion,” Hilliard said.

      On Tuesday, Cheatham explained his decision to deliberate in closed session.

      “I thought it was best as there were some very specific things about the candidates that needed to be said that were best not discussed in open session,” he said.

      Councill said that it has been the city council’s practice not to discuss such matters in public.
      “It is our policy to discuss all personnel matters and board appointments in closed session as allowed by FOIA (the Virginia Freedom of Information Act). All motions and votes are acted upon in open session,” said Councill.
      Before the reappointment was made, seven citizens addressed the council. Five asked that Benton not be reappointed.

      Franklin resident Edna King said “enough is enough” in reference to Benton’s nine years on the school board, which she described as an era of “wild spending” by the city schools, largely under Benton’s leadership.
      Prior to the vote, Hilliard told the audience she would not vote for Benton’s reappointment because she didn’t believe the schools had progressed during his tenure.

      “When you do the same old things, you get the same results,” Hilliard said. “By doing the same thing over and over again we are killing the city of Franklin and its children.”

      Johnson also said she would not vote for Benton. Referencing comments made by Benton last week during public interviews that some in the community said they considered culturally insensitive, Johnson said, “While I think that Mr. Benton’s remarks were inappropriate and insensitive, we still need to look past that.”
      Johnson said that when she did that, she still didn’t think Benton was the right one for the job because of his past actions as a school board member.

      Lawrence said she was still concerned about Benton’s remarks during last week’s interview with council members in which he referenced “ghetto-style” clothing worn by youngsters.

      “I think we need someone to deal with the city as a whole and the children and someone to be able to deal with diversity,” said Lawrence. “My vote will not be for David Benton.”

      None of the council members who voted in favor of Benton commented before the vote.

      On Tuesday, Councill explained his reasons for choosing Benton.

      “David Benton has served the school board well over the years of his appointments and is dedicated to providing the best education for our children,” Councill said. “He is actively involved in various aspects of the schools, he is well informed on critical issues and has the best interest of the children as his focus. He attends and supports numerous functions of the schools. He has demonstrated his commitment to the school system with his personal and family support for years. He has proven himself,” he said.

      Cheatham said he voted for Benton “because I believe that with the things the school board is currently doing, coupled with the discussions council had in closed session, that he was the right one for the job at this time.”

      After the meeting, Benton said he was eager to get back to school board business.

      “I’m just ready to get back to work. There is a lot that needs to be done,” he said.

      Several attempts to contact Fetherolf and Burgess for comment were unsuccessful.

      Benton’s term will expire June 30.

      He was removed from the school board’s at-large seat last month as the result of a state attorney general’s opinion that Benton’s appointment last spring was invalid due to a violation of the Freedom of Information Act.

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      • whatzup

        I am familiar with the history. I also know those about whom we comment. I feel very comfortable with my statement that these ladies have moved on and are working with others to bring Franklin together. Your stripes, however, have not changed. Actions, as opposed to commentary, portray an individual. My final comments on the subject except to say I agree wholeheartly with David Benton’s comments on King and Ricks-Parker.

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      • Councill

        whatzup you say you know their history. Do you admit that they have a racist past, and they have done this community harm through their attacks on their political opponents?

        Do you remember that in 2009, Mr. David Benton an honorable and immensely qualified man, who was committed to all of the city’s children, was up for reappointment to the City of Franklin School Board. During his public interview he said that in order to get parents to attend after school programs, school principals sometimes served food such as doughnuts, pizza, and chicken dinners.

        Do you know that our current Mayor and former Vice-Mayor Johnson-Ashburn and Councilwoman Hilliard attacked Benton, conjuring up racial slander on eating chicken dinners with all of the venom they could muster. They twisted his words, and slandered his name.

        You say they have moved on to unify this community. How? Did they publicly apologize to Mr. Benton and his family. Did they repent for the wrongs they did him and the community? No, they did not, and their actions with Belle show that they are still racists.

        Will they now apologize to the Franklin City Schools and former Superintendent Arlene Farmer for all of their racial attacks made while she was Superintendent?

        Do you remember Mayor Councill and our flood? Are you saying that their statements were racial attacks on Mayor Councill. When our city was down and hurting from a major flood, they attack Mayor Councill. Are you admitting that they were racist then? You say they have changed. You say actions speak louder than words. I ask you again, Whatzup, what are they doing differently to show this city that they have changed?

        I believe that the councilwomen voting record and history show that they are racist hypocrites, playing the ends against the middle in order to push their own personal agendas. Anyone who takes the time to research they past will certainly see that they use their power to get jobs for their families and friends, and they don’t care if our tax dollars go to friends and family members who are lazy, or just plain incompetent.

        All fair minded voters should demand that they apologize for their past racial acts. Vote to reprimand current school board Chairwoman Edna King for her failure to properly manage the school division; otherwise, we should run candidates against them, and vote them out of office. Not to do so will doom us to repeat the past, and to continue our downward spiral.

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  • Councill

    David Benton said,

    “…a vote by any one of the School Board members against replacing Belle is blatant racism, pure and simple. There can be no other explanation.”

    I say, Mayor Ashburn, Councilwoman Hilliard and their cadre of women have a long history of demonizing their political opponents, and attacking them citing racism.

    These women are hungry for power, and they build their political power base by putting their friends in government positions.

    Do some research on them, and you will see why Benton is talking the way he is.

    See November 14, 1995, Press Dailey Press Article, By JUDI TULL

    http://articles.dailypress.com/1995-11-14/news/9511140076_1_city-manager-new-city-council-meeting

    FRANKLIN — About 150 angry citizens jammed Franklin City Council chambers Monday night to show support for ousted acting city manager Dale Cooke and to protest the hiring of Southampton County Administrator Rowland L. “Bucky” Taylor as the new city manager.

    Council members voted 5 to 2 to hire Taylor for the $70,000 position.
    William Blue, past president of the Virginia NAACP, told the council that there was a wall of racism in Franklin.

    “Racism is like salt in the ground,” Blue said in an interview Monday afternoon. “It’s everywhere. Everywhere.”


    Cooke, 45, was hired in April 1994 by the city of Franklin as assistant to the city manager after 10 years as the supervisor of the James City County Office of Performance and Service Improvement. She was named acting city manager when John J. Jackson resigned for health reasons last summer. Cooke was promoted to assistant city manager on Oct. 1. Two weeks after she suspended David Howe, director of Franklin’s electricity department, council voted to fire her. She was fired on Oct. 23.

    Cooke, who is black, says she was never notified that her job performance was inadequate in any way. She believes that her firing was racially motivated and has filed a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

    “I had disciplined a white male department head, he complained to council, and without even getting back to discuss the issue with me, they immediately talked about firing me,” Cooke said.

    At the council meeting, councilwoman Mary Hilliard said she had grave concerns about Cooke’s termination. “The firing of Ms. Cooke was an injustice. We had no warning. There was no word of it before the executive session. I will forever say it was an injustice.”

    Hilliard’s comments, like those of the other speakers, were met with applause from the assembled citizens, almost all of whom were black.

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  • Councill

    Are administrators also up for non-renewal of contracts? What about any of the teachers?

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    • JustWondering

      Who do you think needs to be up for no renewal?

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  • employee2

    We will never move forward if some think that Belle was let go because of her race. They (school Board) laid out her goals to achieve. She did not make them. It is called accountability, what more do the supporters want?

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  • skooch

    They could put the best educator in the Country and nothing would change. These kids are taught from birth that education is not important. They are taught that the Govt. will take care of them so what is the big deal about getting an education. They see their parents collecting Govt. checks for everything from housing to the food on their tables. They are driving new cars, buying the best clothes, and living in new houses. So why on earth should they care about education?

    If you look around you see people without jobs or education doing better than those who do have and all because of the Govt. handouts. We are becoming a socialist country slowly but surely!

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    • justbecause

      “These children”…… Just who are you talking about?

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      • simplifyingit

        his/her statement is “these kids” not “these children” and one is left to assume the writer meant the majority of students in FCPS.

        I know the reply you are hoping to get, but that has nothing to do with the statement made.

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  • workingtodamill

    I agree with all the comments about the split vote on the board. If the board voted to have the stipulations and they weren’t met, then the vote should have been unanimous to let her go. I can’t believe I am going to say this but in the other article on how city council responded to the report, McLmore was right. This has turned into a black/white thing instead of someone not doing their job thing. Look at who voted how.

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    • DBenton

      workingtodamill – I agree with you wholeheartedly. The Board had laid out the criteria that needed to be met in order for Belle to remain in charge. Once the Division level review came back with the lowest possible scores the reviewers could give for all areas analyzed, a vote by any one of the School Board members against replacing Belle is blatant racism, pure and simple. There can be no other explanation. To the detriment of the children they took an oath to serve, these crazies would vote in favor of keeping a leader who has proven herself inept at every turn, and apparently only because of shared race.
      Parents (at least those of us who care) are outraged! I think City Council should ask both Ms. Ricks-Parker and Ms. King for their immediate resignations from the Board. We simply cannot allow this exhibition of poor judgement to continue Our children deserve better from the adults who took an oath to provide them with a quality education and hence, a fighting chance in life.

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  • momx2

    Meant school board members

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  • momx2

    With Belle gone, all we have to do now is find new school board that are willing to work hard to improve our schools, not just sit back and pass the blame around

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  • Liberty With Responsibility

    i.e., Army General Sheila Baxter.

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    • jigganva

      She is my HERO!!! I’m proud of all her accomplishments both academically and athletically. We need someone to come in who has had success turning around failed schools. We should search high and low to find such person and compensate them for the relocation.

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  • Liberty With Responsibility

    1. I vote they hire the retired Army Brigadier General lady who is a Franklin native mentioned in the story about being stuck in Atlanta on the highway for 24 hours to come back to Franklin and run the schools. She may not be an educator, but in the Army, you know training, and she could not do worse! And, what a local role model!
    2. When people are fired these days, they escort them out of the building, with their desk contents in a paper box! Why is she allowed months to remain, and sabotage the system even worse than it is today?!

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  • 2fishy

    this will not change anything as long as the parents do not care, to many of them just send there kids to school to have a free babysitter, so they can do whatever they want to do. they dont even care if they learn anything or not, they dont show up for pta meetings, they dont show up for school board meetings etc.

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  • rock

    It is now time to also clean house with the HR lady, Ms. King, and some new school board members who helped get us in this mess. Yes, giving the Superintendent criteria to meet or she was gone and she missing one of the criteria but still got 2 votes to keep her job-even Ms. King voted for her- is a PROBLEM which these members still do not understand. We the people need to be on the committee with some teachers to help pick the new Superintendent!City council beware!You have some dirt on your hands! You were a part of this problem also. We want qualified candidates which might take some time to find but they can be found!

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  • FromHere

    My question is . . . if it’s “breaking news” that the board WILL inform her she will not be rehired, why bother when she can read it in the newspaper? I hope, at least, it was done more professionally. This should not have been released to the paper until she was notified and that should have been done in person. Nice to read you’re fired in the newspaper.

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    • workingtodamill

      By now she should have known her time here was done. The board should have done this at the December meeting.

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  • simplifyingit

    I agree with seymorebutts……what clown added that to her contract?
    Imagine a company that had that stipulation for employees….a failing CFO could actually bankrupt the company before they could fire him/her. How much MORE damage could be done by Belle if she were that type person?
    Our govts—-from small towns all the way to the Feds have lost their collective minds about reallity. political correctness and managing money. It sounds silly and immature but what we need to do is elect/hire the owner of Chik Fil A or Hobby Lobby to run this country for about ten years, with his own selected supporting cast.

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  • John VanChocStraw

    OK, so if she did not meet one of the three stipulations, and the board had told her if she did not meet any of the three stipulations, she would be let go, then why did any school board members vote against letting her go? Shouldn’t they have all voted “yes”?

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  • seymorebutts

    “There is a stipulation in her contract that she be informed 6-months before June 30, 2014″ Whoever thought up that stipulation should serve time away from society.

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    • broman

      Agreed. It’s called the ‘I’ll need time to find another su.. um, school system to rescue’ clause. She’ll land another 6 figures somewhere.

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      • justbecause

        Not that I’m for or against, but one peron can’t turn it around or maje a difference all by themselves. If half the people talking would step up and support for the good of our children, the school system would be better. Why don’t we stop all the talking and o some walking into the schools, volunteer to help out. Try it you might like it, it takes a village with positive attitudes.

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      • justbecause

        Tht should be …..”make a difference”

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  • wahoohick

    My comment is not meaning the School Board.

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  • wahoohick

    Dr. Belle’s failure is having the wrong supporting cast.

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  • bluewaters

    Good now that is one down and many more to go, we need this for our children!

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