The Pine Bluff School District Board of Directors voted unanimously Tuesday night to terminate district superintendent Jerry O. Payne's contract effective immediately in a marathon open hearing that went on for just under six hours.
The Pine Bluff School District Board of Directors voted unanimously Tuesday night to terminate district superintendent Jerry O. Payne’s contract effective immediately in a marathon open hearing that went on for just under six hours.
The board voted to appoint district director of special services Suzette Anderson as interim superintendent, also effective immediately.
The mandatory hearing gave the superintendent the opportunity to publicly respond to each of the 26 allegations made against him by the board in a letter dated May 18 and prepared by district attorney Luther Sutter outlining the factual basis for the board’s May 15 decision to immediately terminate Payne’s contract for cause.
The hearing was conducted with Payne and his attorney Keith Billingsley seated at one of two long tables set up in front of the school board and a court reporter seated at the other table along with Sutter.
Payne was asked if he preferred an open or closed hearing and Billingsley indicated that it would be open.
The hearing began with Payne moving to a podium facing the board where he was asked to respond to a series of questions from both attorneys as well as any board members who wanted to speak in reference to each of the 26 allegations.
As the evening wore on the exchanges between board members and the superintendent became progressively more animated with details of executive sessions brought into the public arena.
Allegation No. 10 pertained to a board performance review of the superintendent that gave him uniformly poor grades and his alleged refusal to sign the documents for board president Herman Horace.
Sutter asked Payne if he refused to sign the documents in question and Payne answered in the affirmative.
“Yes, I needed to have the opportunity for rebuttal,” Payne said.
Payne said that a board member became abusive toward him during the executive session of the December board meeting when the board presented the results of its review to the board.
Sutter asked Payne whom he was referring to and he indicated board vice president Donna Barnes.
“Ms. Barnes shouted and shook her finger at me and said she was sick of me,” Payne said as Barnes shook her head and repeatedly whispered “not true,” earning a soft rebuke from Sutter who advised her to stop.
Board secretary Freddie M. Johnson responded to Payne, saying that the superintendent should not be talking about the behavior of others when he had his own outbursts to answer for.
“You threw a book on a table and almost hurt the arm of a board member who had two major surgeries on it,” Johnson said to Payne. “You stomped out of the executives session and almost overturned a chair.”
Barnes defended her actions.
“Since you called me out, Mr. Payne, what happened at that meeting is that you were talking over board members and I said to you we will leave executive session and go into open session and ask for your suspension,” Barnes said. “Back there we have endured a lot of abuse. We have tried to preserve your integrity. You acted up and you calmed down when you came out here.”
The board also alleged that Payne hired a consultant to work on the district information technology system when the board had voted down the recommendation.
Payne argued that the consultant had been hired to address critical problems with the district IT system and contended that district information technology director Rodney Riles had not been timely in informing him of a major problem the weekend before the beginning of the 2011-2012 academic year.
Sutter intensely questioned Payne on whether Riles had actually been at fault or whether Payne should have been more aware of what was happening in the district.
Click here to view a PDF of the letter sent to Payne by the school board outlining their reasons for firing him. If you do not have the capability to view PDFs directly on your browser, right click the link and click "Save Link As" to save a copy of the letter on your computer and view it from there.