BAKER — In the aftermath of the arrest of its former maintenance supervisor in the theft and unauthorized purchases amounting to $130,000 from the school district, the Baker School Board on Tuesday voted to eliminate its maintenance department while retaining the department’s four remaining employees.
The original item on the agenda called for laying off the workers, two of whom appeared at the meeting and pleaded for their jobs.
One of the workers, Leroy Gibson, asked the board why the decision was made to eliminate the department.
“The purpose of this is not for you to ask the board questions,” board President Elaine Davis said.
“I didn’t make this decision,” outgoing Superintendent Ulysses Joseph said. “It came to me yesterday afternoon.”
“The superintendent is the only one who can hire or fire. Who made this decision?” board member Doris Alexander asked.
“Noncertified personnel positions can be approved by the board,” Davis insisted. “We have a maintenance department that had a supervisor who is no longer with them and that is in disarray. They don’t have the materials they need. There have been complaints from the schools.”
Interviewed after the meeting, Davis acknowledged she put the item on the agenda and said she discussed it with Joseph.
The district’s former maintenance supervisor, Emmitt Whitfield, resigned in December after being arrested in the theft of a $450 tree trimmer from the school district. He was later arrested again, accused of making unauthorized purchases for personal use amounting to $128,000 with the district’s credit card.
Joseph, who was Whitfield’s direct supervisor, submitted his resignation the same day as Whitfield’s third arrest, for allegedly stealing $2,100 worth of fuel from the district. Joseph, who has said his decision to retire early is not related to the maintenance supervisor’s arrests, will leave his position May 28.
“This looks like we are trying to do a cover-up,” Alexander said.
“We are not trying to cover up anything,” Davis said. “We are trying to improve maintenance and get the schools looking nice when people drive down Groom Road.”
The board appointed engineering firm Volkert Inc. to oversee maintenance for the district until June 30. A new superintendent is expected to be in place by that time and will make a decision about how to proceed, Davis said.
In March, the board approved a contract with Volkert to handle facilities management for the school district on an as-needed basis. The contract was capped at $100,000 and did not include grass cutting. After Tuesday’s meeting, Volkert representative Clay Slagle said that overseeing the maintenance will be included under that contract.
“It just means I’ll be doing more work for a while,” he said.
Each job Volkert does will be billed to the district individually, as stated in the contract.
During the meeting, Slagle gave the board two options for how he could oversee maintenance at the school: either by supervising district employees or hiring an outside firm to handle grass cutting and other operations.
Board member Dana Carpenter made a motion to approve eliminating the maintenance department provided that Volkert keeps the four employees on staff until June 30.
Davis, Carpenter, Shona Boxie and Rosatina Johnson voted in favor. Alexander cast the dissenting vote.