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Originally published: 2013-01-25 00:58:50
Last modified: 2013-01-25 12:48:12

Superintendent dispute not discussed at school board work session

Over a meal of Mellow Mushroom pizza, the Board of Education received training Thursday evening on board operations but ignored recent controversy involving Superintendent David Kafitz.

The board’s revised agenda included possible closed session discussion of attorney-client matters, personnel and student records, but the board did not vote to enter closed session.

Chairman Lee Warren said that those items were merely listed in case board members had specific questions related to the training, led by Asheville attorney Chris Campbell.

“We will not be discussing any employees tonight,” Warren said at the start of the meeting.

Kafitz, who joined the school system July 1, 2012, became the subject of a fiery letter last week from Chase Luddeke, general manager of Mellow Mushroom in Boone.

In the letter, Luddeke described a disagreement that occurred at the restaurant during the holiday break about the use of a discount card by the superintendent. He accused Kafitz of “making a scene” and threatening to exclude the restaurant from future fundraisers.

Luddeke said he sent the letter to Kafitz and about 25 to 30 others in the school system before Kafitz met with him Monday to apologize.

Both said the conversation was productive and left everyone on positive terms.

While the incident wasn’t discussed Thursday, the board did consider methods for dealing with unpleasant topics.

Campbell encouraged board members to use the time to think proactively about how they would address the “painfully normal” issues that every school board faces.

“You are going to go through things. You are going to experience problems.” Campbell said. “… And you’re going to have things that in your wildest imagination you couldn’t have thought up.”

Campbell, a partner in the Campbell Shatley law firm, said he works primarily with school boards across the state. His lecture touched on several general issues such as personnel, investigations and confidentiality.

Above all, board members must work together to discuss issues and make decisions, he said. Giving fellow board members a “heads-up” helps create better discussions and feelings of cohesion.

“When a board member surprises the rest of the board with an issue at a school board meeting, it makes the rest of the school board look bad,” he said.

Campbell also talked about what to do if an individual brings serious accusations upon a school system employee, including notifying and deferring to police in many occasions. He urged them not to promise anonymity to anyone who brings forward such accusations.

He also talked about the important relationship between a board and superintendent, reminding board members that the annual evaluation doesn’t have to be the only time they initiate conversations about performance.

“It’s a two-way conversation,” he said.

Campbell also shared insights about “life in the fish bowl” and what matters boards may or may not discuss in closed session. He also touched on email and public records, personnel documents and conflicts of interest in the training, which lasted almost two hours.

The board did not receive training on the “eBOARDsolutions” document management program, which was originally on the agenda for the work session.

“I have a lot to think about, that’s for sure,” Warren said at the conclusion. “It’s been very informative for me.”