The Monday, July 9 meeting of the Jefferson County School Board began with the usual invocation, pledge of allegiance, and call for public comments before the board ventured into the matters at hand.
Starting off, the board had to approve the agenda, which is where the trouble began.
Before the board could approve the agenda, Board member Shirley Washington asked when the school board would receive information from Superintendent Arbulu regarding a number of chrome books that had been in the school district's inventory.
It had been Washington's understanding that the information would be included on the agenda for that meeting.
Arbulu apologized for not having the information ready and not putting it on the agenda, stating that she did not know that the board had wanted those documents prepared for the July meeting, as it had been her understanding that they just wanted the information for a 'future' meeting.
Moreover, the subject had already been discussed at various other meetings throughout the year.
The chrome books, according to Arbulu, had been surplused and were no longer located within the district. Arbulu admitted that she had mistakenly sent them off instead of selling them (as the board desired); it was a mistake that she owned up to and said she had apologized for at the meeting which had immediately followed the mistake.
Chairperson Sandra Saunders asked if Arbulu could direct Administrative Assistant Ramona Kinsey to go ahead and pull the information about the chrome books so they could have it for their current meeting, and Arbulu informed Saunders that it was not possible: the school district office was currently experiencing internet issues and there was no way for them to access the requested files.
“We talked about it last month, and if someone came in, and if someone signed in, got all of that surplus material and chrome books from the elementary school, and the superintendent signed off on them, it should be on file somewhere, and the only thing she needs to do is present it to the board,” said Washington. “We have no proof of where that surplus material is, especially those chrome books and those laptops. We have a right to know where it is...we need to know.”
Washington went on to add that the information should not be stored online, but should be physically on-file within the district and it should only require Kinsey or Arbulu to find the paper and show proof to the board.
“Ms. Washington, you know where they (the chrome books) are, they were surplused. They were sent off for disposal. I will get you a list of all the items that were sent to the company and itemize it for you and put it together for the next meeting,” said Arbulu.
“They should not have came in and got them materials and you not signing for it. The point is, this board needs to know where it is, and who has it. That should not be a problem,” Washington insisted, also attesting that all the chrome books had been new and in boxes, even though Arbulu insisted that none of the surplused chrome books or laptops were brand new.
“Let me repeat,” said Arbulu. “The items were surplused, and we'll get you an itemized list at the next board meeting.”
“Don't make it seem like I don't know what I'm talking about,” Washington interjected as soon as Arbulu had finished speaking. “Those chrome books from the elementary school, first you said you didn't have any. Then, when we received a list from Somerset, you said you had X-Number of books, and that they were out here. Don't make it seem as though I don't know what I'm talking about, because at that last board meeting, I know what we talked about. You said you would have it at this meeting.”
“I didn't say I would have it at this meeting,” Arbulu said, in defense. “I said I would get it for you. We are in the middle of doing inventory, we will get you the surplused list. These items were surplused, among other things, and we will get that list for you.”
Washington then asked whether the superintendent had a paper that showed she had signed off on the surplused items. Arbulu stated that there was a paper that she had signed, but it did not show what had been signed off on, and there was no itemized list of surplused items on the sign-off sheet.
At this point, Washington turned to the School Board's Attorney Reeves and requested his assistance in handling Arbulu.
Reeves backed the board, saying that they, naturally, had a right to those records.
“You've asked the superintendent, and if she doesn't have them-”
Washington interrupted Attorney Reeves at this point, interjecting: “We are going to follow through with that. Those materials were purchased with federal dollars and those were new books.”
For the first time, another board member, Bill Brumfield, joined the discussion.
“You see it in the paper, everybody talks about how stupid we are and how dumb we are and how irritable we are...I think I'm a good school board member, all these people are. But you know, Ms. Arbulu, I think you are not wanting to tell us what you did, you do not want to come out and say, 'I messed up, forgive me',” said Brumfield, adding that it was a lot of money that had been simply 'given away', and that Jefferson Somerset now wanted the chrome books.
“I did that,” Arbulu ventured, saying that she had informed the board of her mistake and apologized after realizing what had happened with the chrome books.
Arbulu added that Somerset had brought the chrome books back to the district office, leading her to believe they were not wanted by the school charter. “I cannot read someone's mind and shouldn't be expected to,” she said. “They were not [new] in boxes, I don't know why you guys are thinking that.”
Washington took back the floor from where Brumfield had momentarily held it.
“What I'm saying is, you are giving the audience the impression that they always think you are always right, and you are always wrong and they don't know the story. If they follow the story right, they want to know the truth. Those chrome books were new books; this board did not authorize you to surplus those books. They were purchased with federal dollars, so we are accountable for those federal dollars.”
Arbulu continued her defense against the school board, and Board member Washington, stating, “Ms. Washington, you know, we aren't going to get in an argument tonight. I have to do things in a methodical way. I told you that those kits were surplused, I brought that to the board's attention after the fact. The board accepted that, and that's where we are. I have an itemized inventory of all the surplused items; I don't know what you are trying to do tonight.”
Brumfield interjected, saying that the board has never accepted the surplusing of the chrome books, but that they had wondered why Arbulu had moved to act without obtaining approval beforehand.
“We did voice our opinion on that; we didn't have a choice after you had already given them away,” said Brumfield.
“I understand,” said Arbulu. “I am taking the responsibility for that, Bill [Brumfield].”
At this point, Chairperson Saunders took control of the board, establishing order.
“At this time, I don't think we are going to get anywhere,” said Saunders. “We did ask the superintendent, and I will stand to correct you (Arbulu) that you were supposed to have it for the board tonight, that I know, because I specifically asked to make sure we got it at tonight's board meeting at the last board meeting, and you said you would have it for us.”
Saunders also spoke to the board itself, reminding them to be mindful of their words and actions while representing the school district.
“Just be mindful of what we are saying and what we are doing, because the negativity continues on.”
An audience member, Emerald G. Parsons, who is the editor of the Monticello News, informed the board that the newspaper has a recording of past board meetings, and should the board ever need to back up things that were said, they were welcome to those recordings.
“Ms. Saunders is not interested,” informed Chairperson Saunders before closing the matter by asking Arbulu and Kinsey to make sure they prepare and provide the surplused chrome book information in the agenda packet for their next regular meeting, which will take place on Monday, August 13.
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Also on agenda:
• Approved mowing contract with Rico Watkins (Motion: Brumfield, Second: Roann-Watson. Approved unanimously).
• Approved PAEC Virtual School Contract Agreement (Motion: Washington, Second: Roann-Watson. Approved unanimously).
• Rescinded the financial services agreement with Carol MacLeod (Motion: Brumfield, Second: Roann-Watson. Approved unanimously.)
• Approved Jefferson County School District Financial Report for May (Motion: Boland, Second: Brumfield. Approved unanimously).
• Chairman Saunders pulled the Jefferson School Board meeting calendar from the agenda due to a misprint in the calendar.
• Approved contract with Purvis, Gray & Company for financial services. Approval was grudgingly made, as the board wished to point out that the Department of Education had tied their hands and left the board with no other option but to approve the contract.
• Nominated Sandra Saunders for the Transportation Disadvantaged Coordinating Board, with Gladys Roann-Watson as second for the board.
• Approved C.P. Miller's bid packet for three storage buildings located at the old Jefferson Elementary School.