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School Board Resignation Explained

CUMBERLAND -Dr. Christine Ross, former chair of Cumberland's School Board, offered an explanation to The Herald on Wednesday as to why she decided to unexpectedly resign from the Board during the August 8 meeting.

“My husband has done computer work for the last 15 or 17 years in Richmond and DC and has always had to travel far away,” explained Dr. Ross about the recent opening that was advertised for a Network Administrator at Cumberland County Public Schools. “He's a network engineer-a network administrator-and never been able to work fairly close to home…We called around to the VSBA (Virginia School Board Association) attorneys and to the School Board attorney and initially we thought yes, he could apply, he could be considered and he could be interviewed and if he ended up being selected, I would have to resign. The day of the last School Board meeting, August 8, Amy (Dr. Griffin, the school's Superintendent) received a phone call from our attorney saying 'no.'”

According to Dr. Ross, at one point throughout the process, she had even made an appointment with Cumberland's Commonwealth's Attorney, Patricia Scales, because there is an anti-nepotism law within the state of Virginia as it relates to conflict of interest.

“By the eighth, I had to resign anyways so I cancelled the appointment,” she added. “There really isn't any point in going forward anymore since I have to resign.”

“We were trying to figure out how this could be a win-win for everybody,” she noted about her decision. “My husband felt horrible because he knew I didn't want to leave (the) School Board and I felt horrible…because here's an opportunity. It would be very selfish for me, personally, for me to stay on (the) School Board just because I like it when here is an opportunity where he could actually come to stuff for the kids instead of never being at home.”

Cumberland County Public School's handbook includes a policy related to employment of family members and the School Board, noted Dr. Ross, which is also a Virginia School Board Association Policy and correlates to the Code of Virginia.

It's Policy GCCB and it states, “The School Board may not employ or pay, and the superintendent may not recommend the employment, any family member of the superintendent or of a School Board member except as authorized below. This prohibition does not apply to the employment, promotion, or transfer within the school division of any family member who has been employed pursuant to a written contract with the School Board or employed as a substitute teacher or teacher's aide by the School Board prior to the taking of office of the superintendent of any School Board member or has been employed pursuant to a written contract with the School Board or employed as a family relationship, or was employed by the School Board at any time prior to June 10, 1994, and had been employed at any time as a teacher or other employee of any Virginia School Board prior to the taking of office of any member of the School Board of division superintendent of schools.”

According to the policy, family members are defined as father, mother, brother, sister, spouse, son, daughter, son-in-law, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law, or brother-in-law.

“It basically says in a nutshell that had I been on the School Board and he turned in his information it would have had to been thrown out,” she explained to The Herald. “He could not have even been considered for the position if I were on the Board. So, I resigned so that he would have an opportunity to apply for the position here in the county that wasn't far away. They have since interviewed and selected someone else. I know there will be people out there that will think it was something that it wasn't but I was trying to do a win-win for everyone and I'm really hoping everyone will see it for what it was and I'll get voted back on (the) School Board.”

Concerning the upcoming election in November, Dr. Ross said that all of her signatures needed to run for re-election in the fall had been turned in to Cumberland's Registrar, Marlene Watson, in the middle of July and at that time there was no reason for her to resign.

“Anybody that I got signatures from I called them and explained that this is what was happening,” she explained about her resignation. “I still want to run…”

Dr. Ross later noted that the way she explained it to her seven-year-old son was probably the clearest.

“The way I explained it to him is probably the clearest,” she said. “It would have been very selfish for me…to not resign. That would mean that daddy would not even be considered for a job that would let him work closer to home,” she said as how she explained it to him. “It would let him come to stuff at school and it would help me out because I wouldn't be the one to drive you everywhere. Most people don't even see my husband because he is gone all the time.

“The other thing, is part of being on the School Board, is not doing what is right for yourself but doing what is right for the school system and for the kids,” she continued. “It would be really wrong for somebody who has all the qualifications and all the stuff your dad has not to be able to apply when it would be a benefit for the school system for him to be considered and he can't even be considered because mom's on the School Board so that's why I resigned. I still feel very comfortable with it I just hope people will see it for what it is.”

When asked if advice was given related to how she should resign and if a motion had to be made asking for her resignation during the August 8 meeting, Dr. Ross explained, “It was our understanding that it had to be made as a motion from someone.”

“I think we (as a School Board) were trying to make it as un-theatrical as possible. It was what it was,” she said. “As a Board, we've always been very strict about trying to follow policy and I think that is what we did.”

Cumberland's School Board held a special meeting for the purpose of going into closed session and making a personnel decision on Monday, August 22.

Superintendent Dr. Amy Griffin announced in an email that was provided to The Herald shortly after the meeting that Chris Hartley was appointed as the division's new Network Administrator.