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Board member challenges flier distribution

Washington County Board of Education member Mary Beth Dellinger discusses fliers at the Sept. 7 school board meeting.


Staff Writer

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A motion regarding fliers that were distributed to teachers in the school system was tabled at the Washington County Board of Education meeting on Thursday night, but discussion of the matter took over the meeting on Sept. 7 at the central office.

Board member Mary Beth Dellinger made the motion to send a memorandum to all Washington County teachers stating the board and the director do not endorse or encourage educators’ decision to join or not join a teacher’s association. This came after Director of Schools Kimber Halliburton okayed Professional Educators of Tennessee fliers to be distributed throughout the school system.

Board members David Hammond, Dellinger, Annette Buchanan, Phillip McLain and Keith Ervin voted to table the memorandum in order to send it to the policy committee. Board members Clarence Mabe, Mike Masters, Todd Ganger and Jack Leonard were opposed.

“Teachers were confused about this and felt like it showed favoritism and made them feel uncomfortable. There were ones that confronted me that didn’t even want to join a union,” Dellinger said. “It felt like Mrs. Halliburton was pushing a union on them. I’d like to make it clear we’re not going to encourage or not encourage it.”

During the meeting, Washington County Attorney Tom Seeley referred to Tennessee Code Annotated 49-5-606 (4), which requires the director of schools to allow distribution of such fliers.

“The code section that Mrs. Dellinger is referring to says if a professional association requests that fliers be distributed to the teachers, (Halliburton) must distribute those fliers,” Seeley said. “Mrs. Halliburton was following the law when she distributed those fliers as she was requested by that organization.”

Seeley also said that both the Chattanooga attorney, Scott Bennett, and the Tennessee School Board Association deputy executive director, Randall Bennett — who Dellinger contacted in regards to the distribution of the fliers — were in agreement that the director was required to follow the code.

Seeley also gave his recommendation in regards to the memorandum.

“If we send out a memorandum, we have to be very careful to say exactly what’s in the statute about not inhibiting their ability,” Seeley said. “I’m afraid it does not follow the statute. It is problematic. I would advise the board that we need to follow the law. If we need to discuss again the best and most effective way to distribute fliers so we’re fair to everyone, then that’s something that can be discussed in a committee.

“But again, what Mrs. Halliburton did — and Randal Bennett confirmed this — was exactly what the law required.”

Hammond later  proposed entering a discussion with Scott Bennett about the services he could offer the school board.

Scott Bennett is the school board attorney for Bradley County, White County, DeKalb County, Hamilton County, Jefferson County, Polk County, Unicoi County and Fayetteville City. Hammond said the attorney’s role would be in addition to the role of Seeley’s and that it would remove Seeley from a “conflict of interest accusation.”

“I’m talking about having (an attorney) we can call on certain issues right away,” Hammond said, “and just enter that conversation and relationship.”

Hammond, Dellinger, Buchanan, McLain and Ervin voted in favor of the motion. Mabe, Masters, Ganger and Leonard were opposed.

The next school board meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 5 at the Washington County Department of Education Central Office at 405 W College St., Jonesborough.