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Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Valentine draws fire for comments

St. Marys board, union upset over posts

By Amy Kronenberger
ST. MARYS - School officials on Wednesday continued to speak out against perceived racist comments posted by a board member on a local social media site.
A St. Marys teacher's union leader vowed to file grievances against board member Bob Valentine and threatened to take further action following the special meeting scheduled to discuss the 2014-2015 school calendar.
Board president Brian Little on Wednesday read a public statement that condemned the comments made by Valentine on Grand Lake Chat, a local online forum. Little said the comments were insensitive and inconsistent with the district's philosophy.
Valentine on Feb. 13 wrote on the site that inner-city school teachers might make more money "but take a look at the cost of living there, to say nothing of getting mugged, raped, and your throat slit all for giving Brother Deonta a bad grade."
When several other contributors to the site wrote they were offended by the comment, Valentine on Feb. 15 responded saying he chose the name "Brother Deonta" because he has been "introduced to both a Caucasian as well as a Negro with that name in the past."
Superintendent Shawn Brown on Monday issued a public statement distancing the board and the district from Valentine's comments.
Valentine has claimed he is not a racist and does not believe his comments were racist in nature.
St. Marys Education Association Co-President April Braun issued a public statement after Wednesday's meeting saying Valentine's remarks were not only racist but violated the negotiated collective bargaining agreement with the teachers' union.
The statement released by Braun reflected the union's disappointment with Valentine's comments.
"The SMEA is deeply disturbed with Robert Valentine's recent statements and behavior toward the employees of St. Marys City Schools," Braun wrote. "The SMEA will file multiple grievances as a result of the contract violations and is also considering potential remedies with other state and federal agencies that enforce anti-discrimination and collective bargaining laws."
During Wednesday's meeting Little reminded fellow board members that "their actions, their written word and their verbal interactions are in no way private as an elected official."
"The incident has been unfortunate, but this board intends on moving forward with more pressing concerns that we need to focus our time and efforts on," he said.
Following the statement, Valentine pointed out that Little should not have read it because it was related to an issue not approved as part of the meeting's agenda.
Valentine included in his online comments and during the Feb. 10 board meeting that a 10-year study by the Ohio School Board Leadership Council found St. Marys teacher salaries and rate of pay raises are much higher than district residents. He suggested teacher salaries should better reflect the salaries of the taxpayers, which would save the district more than $300,000, Valentine noted.
Little at the Feb. 10 meeting asked Valentine if he felt teachers with bachelor's and master's degrees should take a pay cut or lose their raises to fall in line with salaries in a district consisting mostly of farmers and laborers without any higher education.
Valentine replied "no" but maintained the teachers' salaries should reflect the income of the taxpayers.
In other business Wednesday, board members approved the calendar for the 2014-2015 school year. The first day of school is Aug. 20 and the last day is May 22, 2015.
Administrators are finalizing plans to possibly return the high school schedule to semesters to align with new state standardized tests.
Following the special meeting, the board policy, planning and programs committee met at the request of Valentine to discuss certain policies. Valentine said he would like to alter the public participation policy during school board meetings.
The policy states that residents with issues or concerns with a specific person should notify the teacher, principal, superintendent or board president separately.
Valentine said the policy limits residents' freedom of speech in a public meeting, leading to possible litigation.
Former board member Ralph Wiley attended the meeting and said Valentine, who is not a lawyer, made his judgment on one court case.
District attorneys and NEOLA, a policy consultant used by many area districts, have reviewed and approved St. Marys existing policy, Wiley said, adding he wrote the policy using the correct legal counsel.
Wiley said allowing the public to make direct complaints about a specific person during a board meeting opens the board up to charges of slander.
The committee agreed some regulations need to be applied; director of instruction Cary Roehm said she does not believe the policy should be changed.
Valentine said he wanted to discuss several other possible policy changes but Brown asked him to write them down with explanations and send the information to fellow committee members so they can review it before scheduling another meeting.
Brown said he would have the district's attorneys review the existing policy to see if they have any recommendations.
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