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Nepotism policy approved

Friday, April 20, 2012

Bedford County Board of Education passed a nepotism policy Thursday night following a debate about whether or not to grandfather in current employees.

Ultimately, the decision was made that the existing employees would not be protected beyond the end of the current school year, which will require at least one employee to transfer to another school.

Couples speak

The policy was discussed at a study session last month, including mention of two prominent married educator couples who could be affected by it. Members of both couples addressed the board at the beginning of Thursday night's meeting.

Bill Pietkiewicz was transferred to Central High School last year to be an assistant principal. His wife, Miriam, was already a teacher at the school and had been since 1986.

Pietkiewicz told the board that he discussed the move in advance with both principal Don Embry and School Superintendent Ray Butrum before accepting it. He would not be his wife's supervisor or conduct her evaluations, so it was thought there would be no problem.

Sharon Edwards became principal of Cascade High School, where her husband Ralph was already a teacher and coach, in 2007. She, too, said the situation was discussed extensively at the time.

She discussed the situations leading to Ralph Edwards' appointment as basketball and softball coach and noted that the school's softball team is tied for first in its district. Ralph Edwards, in fact, could not attend Thursday night's meeting because he was coaching the team in a game against Forrest.

Sharon Edwards said her husband had received no special treatment, teaches in a portable classroom, and works hard fund-raising for two different teams.

Surprise discovery

Both Bill Pietkiewicz and Sharon Edwards said they were surprised by the nepotism policy.

Pietkiewicz said the first either he or his wife heard about any proposed policy was when they read coverage of the study session in the Times-Gazette.

Edwards said she heard about it during a brief discussion with Butrum and Embry but did not mention it to her husband "because that was a principal-superintendent discussion, and I simply don't share those kinds of discussions with him." She said the newspaper article therefore caught Ralph Edwards off guard.

Edwards asked the board to consider the type of impact that forcing one of the couple to be reassigned would have on schools and athletic programs and asked that the board adopt a grandfather clause protecting existing employees.


It was that grandfather clause that divided the school board later in the meeting, when the nepotism policy came up for discussion.

The draft proposal being considered by the board included a clause saying that existing employees would be protected only until the end of this school year. Board member Chad Graham moved to strike that clause and permanently protect existing employees from the policy.

"Any other action would be punitive," said Graham.

Board member Ron Adcock said that Bill and Miriam Pietkiewicz would not be affected by the policy as it had been prepared, since they are not in a direct line of supervision. Miriam Pietkiewicz reports to SCHS's other assistant principal and to the principal, not to her husband.

But Ralph and Sharon Edwards would be affected. Even though Ralph Edwards reports to an assistant principal, that assistant principal reports to Sharon Edwards, putting them in the same line of supervision.

"That would be nepotism as defined by this policy," said Adcock. At one point, the draft policy prohibited relatives from being "at the same work location," which would have affected the Pietkiewicz family, but board member Amy Martin, who made the motion to put the policy up for a vote, omitted that clause when she made her motion.

Stay or go?

Several school board members reported having received numerous calls and e-mails from constituents. Nearly all praised the concept of a nepotism policy, but a sharp division was reported on whether or not existing employees should be grandfathered in.

Adcock said it's important for all employees to feel that a supervisor treats them equally and fairly. He said that when he was an educational administrator, at Tennessee Technology Center at Shelbyville, he wouldn't even go out to lunch with an individual employee lest other employees think there was a special relationship.

He said his goal was to be friends with all of his employees, but buddies with none. He also noted the increasing impact of teacher evaluation under new educational regulations.

Board member Diane Neeley said that there's no indication that anyone in either of the affected couples did anything wrong.

No wrongdoing

"I hate that people are put in a position like this," she said. She said the school board must look at the impact, not only on the couples, but on the sports teams at Cascade, noting that coaching positions have become increasingly difficult to fill.

Martin said the board needed to set a good policy rather than looking at individual names of those who would be affected.

Graham noted that it was the school system that created these situations by transferring Bill Pietkiewicz and Sharon Edwards to their respective schools.

"It's our administration that put those people in their positions," said Graham.

Adcock and board member Andrea Anderson said they did not consider the policy to be punitive, as Graham had called it. Anderson said the policy needed to be enforced.

Final decision

Graham's amendment to grandfather in current employees failed by a 2-6-1 vote. Graham and Neeley voted for it. Adcock, Martin, Anderson, Barry Cooper, Glenn Forsee and Dixie Parker were opposed. Leonard Singleton, who had missed the study session, abstained.

Following the vote on the amendment, board member Dixie Parker -- who represents the district where Cascade High School is located -- said that the majority of those who contacted her were opposed to grandfathering existing employees.

"I am elected, as I was reminded," said Parker, whose son Kenny is a coach and teacher at the school.

"I just hate that we had to do this."

The main motion, without Graham's amendment, passed 6-0-3, with Graham, Neeley and Singleton abstaining.