One item in particular -- the Feb. 27 board budget retreat at Berry College in Floyd County -- was questioned by The Daily Tribune News and prompted a correspondence with a lawyer from the Georgia Press Association. While the meeting was advertised legally and the DTN was in attendance, questions remained over how the meeting was conducted, and contradictions exist between the statements made by Nelson and Superintendent John Harper regarding the meeting's operation.
"The five board members received correspondence from the superintendent that the meeting would last from [1 p.m. to 4 p.m.] and would cover his budget recommendations," Nelson said. "... Dr. Harper gave his report that lasted about one to one and a half hours. We then took a break and Ms. Gray got her stuff and left. Soon after she left, the newspaper staff left.
"... The group reconvened and discussed the superintendent's
recommendations until around 4 [p.m.] or 4:30 [p.m.]. The meeting was adjourned and the minutes were kept the same as they had for all previous work session retreats."
The DTN did leave the meeting at the point at which the paper believed the meeting was adjourned -- the point Nelson considered to be a break, according to his statements. This varies from Harper's response to a March 21 email in which he said the meeting was adjourned before the DTN and Gray left, saying some board members remained after the meeting was adjourned to ask questions.
In other words, Harper previously confirmed to the DTN the meeting was adjourned and had not reconvened to discuss the budget without the knowledge of the press and Gray.
"I made my presentation at Berry and the meeting was adjourned. The meeting was not reconvened," Harper said in the email that was later sent to the GPA. "[Reporter Mark Andrews] and Ms. Gray left the meeting. As I was preparing to leave, some of the board members asked me for clarity of some of the items I presented and I answered their questions.
"Some thoughts were expressed about how difficult it was to make some of the cuts necessary and how some of the members felt about some of the recommendations. No decisions were made and I could not tell you how long we were there."
The school board voted unanimously to approve a spending resolution during Monday's meeting in order to continue to receive state funds through July due to the board not having a budget at this point in the year.
Nelson addressed a meeting last month during which Kingston Elementary School supporters and faculty were present and spoke to the board regarding the transfer of Principal Stefany Howard to a teaching position. Those who spoke during that meeting's public participation said they had heard there would be retaliation toward faculty who spoke on Howard's behalf.
"An accusation was implied that school people were threatened by the central office that if they came to the board meeting they could lose their jobs," Nelson said. "An investigation has provided absolutely no evidence that substantiates that claim."
Nelson addressed other concerns presented by Gray, including the use of school facilities by the Rome Volleyball Club and Excel Christian Academy.
"The process for use of facilities is very clear, you submit a request form with the appropriate information," Nelson said. "That request is approved or not approved by the superintendent and his staff. They do not come to the board for approval."
He said Excel did not get to use the county facilities for free and the agreement for the use of facilities included work done by Excel to improve the facilities, adding Rome Volleyball Club also followed the correct process to use county facilities.
The DTN has been provided documentation regarding the use of county facilities by the previously listed entities.
Nelson also addressed new school facilities, like the upcoming Emerson Elementary School and Cloverleaf Elementary School. There have been questions about the land on which the facilities are to be built, in particular, Emerson being on previous mining property and Cloverleaf having potential water runoff issues.
"These buildings are to house children and staff. What a tragedy if the hole at Cass High School caused the building to fall in with our children there," Nelson said. "I'm sorry if it upsets some people to slow the process down and do more testing."
Nelson serves as district supervisor for Bartow County on the Coosa River Soil and Water Conservation District Erosion.
Gray responded to Nelson's statements regarding her SACS complaint, saying, "The documentation that I have and the documentation that Davis Nelson have are two different documentations, and we'll let SACS decide."
For more school board news, including updates on a potential SACS review and items approved during the business session, read The Daily Tribune News.