Monday, July 15, 2024

Mediation Under Consideration as Conflict Divides York County School Board, Leadership

Screenshot from the York County School Division YouTube page.

YORK COUNTY — York County School Board may be headed to mediation to clear the air between several board members, as well as Superintendent Dr. Victor Shandor, over concerns raised by citizens and school division employees over recent actions.

That is the latest to come out of a contentious work session on Feb. 12 between new Board Chair Lynda Fairman, recently elected board members Kimberly Goodwin (vice chair) and Zoran Pajevic, and board members James Richardson and Mark Shafer.

Specifically, Richardson referenced a video that surfaced on YouTube from an alleged militia group that videotaped a family life sex education program at Dare Elementary. According to people who attended the program, the group told attendees that they were sent by Fairman to video the program.

Fairman denied knowingly sending a “militia” group, as well as membership in such an organization.

Goodwin noted no laws were broken. When asked how she would have felt as an employee, she admitted, “It would be a little upsetting, but let me tell you something. If you have nothing to hide, there shouldn’t be something to worry about.”

Pajevic apologized, saying it was a bad judgment call, and complimented the program, which he viewed as a parent. He added he could see the point of view of the staff and that he would have found the situation intimidating.

“I can 100% understand and see our staff and how they felt. I think I’d have been very intimidated as well. I understand what Mrs. Goodwin was saying about not having anything to hide but it can still be very intimidating having a camera in your face. I would personally like to apologize to our counselors as a school board member for what they went through. I hope it won’t happen again, ” Pajevic said.

It was the latest in a series of incidents that Richardson fears could see the school division losing its status as one of the top-ranked districts in the state, along with potentially losing teachers and upper management employees.

Richardson and Shafer both cited a lack of conversation between board members and staff as a major concern. Shafer went so far as to say he did not feel part of the board.

“I don’t feel like I am part of the board, simply because we are not included in any of the discussions. I have not heard anything come out of the meetings as far as what’s good for the children, what’s good for the parents, what’s good for the staff of York County School District. I can tell you this. I love this school district, I love York County, and I don’t want to see it run into the ground,” Shafer said.

Fairman, Goodwin, and Pajevic were newly elected to the board in November with what they view as a clear mandate for change. At the first meeting of the year, Fairman and the board discussed no longer allowing Shandor to sit on the dais with the board during meetings.

Additionally, it was noted the three new members had spoken on the campaign trail about their desire to remove the superintendent. The board has since been advised Shandor has begun considering taking legal action.

“What really concerns me, majorly, is that board members have been notified by our attorney that the board may be liable because of retaliation claims made by the superintendent. This could open the board and division up to possible litigation,” Richardson said.

Fairman apologized for her “stern” words, and denied any attempts at “retaliation” against Shandor, but defended her actions as a response to the support she received in the election, despite public concerns, most recently voiced at the Jan. 29 board meeting.

“We will have differences of opinion out there, but 29 or 35 people saying things like that don’t counteract the thousands who voted for us, the thousands who voted for me. You have to look at that and remember that I will have differing opinions from people I work with. Just because a certain number of people have come to speak doesn’t necessarily mean they are speaking for the entire division or the entire county,” Fairman said.

Fairman denied she intends to “fire” Shandor. At Richardson’s suggestion, she said she would be open to a formal mediation session with the superintendent to avoid litigation.

A mediation session would take place behind closed doors and could not be used in litigation. Shandor, for his part, said it was a board decision and he would not comment. However, when pressed, he acknowledged being “inundated” by staff concerns and questioned who the mediation would most benefit, the board or the “2,000 employees that are concerned and watching?”

“It would help us mediate with you, so the board can work better with you. If we (the board and the superintendent) can’t work together, you can’t work and you can’t get the employees to work. The first step is to get the board unified so we can work with you and smooth things out and then get the employees back on board, because this place is becoming a train wreck,” Richardson said.

Fairman advised having a proposal for mediation put together for consideration.

Later in the meeting, Shafer made a motion to remove Fairman and Goodwin as chair and vice chair and name Richardson chair for the remainder of the year. Shafer further discussed having Fairman serve as vice chair to learn from Richardson.

“I think Jimmy could take us into his leadership. I have no problem with you (Fairman) being board chair next year. I think, learn from Jimmy as vice chair and then come on after that. I just don’t see, unless we can get mediation very quickly, this board being cohesive,” Shafer said.

That motion failed 3-2.

The next planned York County School Board meeting is on Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. The meeting will stream on YouTube and YCSD-TV.

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