Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Board criticized for barring superintendent from office

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ST. BERNARD — School board members for St. Bernard-Elmwood Place City Schools got a verbal lashing from the public Monday night for placing Superintendent James Thomas on paid administrative leave.

        Mr. Thomas resigned last Tuesday for another job, effective July 31. The board held an emergency meeting Saturday and placed him on leave on the advice of its legal team, board President Linda Radtke said at Mon day's board meeting. She declined to provide details, saying it's a personnel issue.

        “I want to know why you felt such an emergency need to have an emergency meeting Saturday and run him out on a rail. ... I think it's despicable,” said Barb Blair, who works in the school district office.

        Ms. Blair and others also wanted to know why Mr. Thomas isn't permitted on school grounds. “You're treating him like a common criminal or an axe murderer,” she said.

        Mrs. Radtke responded that he is not banned from school functions, but arrangements have been made for him to be escorted to clean out his desk. “It's only for his protection from false accusations, and it's standard procedure,” she said.

        Carroll Roberts, the district's coordinator of communications and program assessment, was named interim superintendent at Monday's meeting.

        More than 40 people attended the heated session. Not all criticized the board.

        Some citizens commended the board for acting with courage.

        Mr. Thomas' resignation came two months after the school board unanimously rejected his recommendation not to renew the contract of John Estep, principal of the Educational Advancement Center, the district's alternative school.

        He announced to teachers and staff last week that he was resigning to take an assistant superintendent's job with Three Rivers Local School District.

        Mr. Thomas, who said he was asked not to attend Saturday's meeting, was surprised by the board's decision. He said he won't be allowed back in the school buildings during office hours and had to make an appointment to clean out his desk.

        “It's not a good feeling,” he said. “I was in the school district a long time (24 years). It was not the way I envisioned ending my career there in the district. I was looking forward to being able to say my goodbyes and thank all the people who worked so hard over the years. I'll just do that by letter or phone now.”


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