Embattled Superintendent Goes Off The Deep End

Since everyone is asking for it, here’s a transcript of outgoing Montgomery County Schools superintendent’s letter to Terry Holliday (he wrote it on district letterhead).

Consider this your warning to put down all beverages.

The letter:


The text:

January 7, 2015

Dr. Terry Holliday, Commissioner
Kentucky Department of Education
Capital Plaza Tower
500 Mero St.
Frankfort, KY 40601

Dr. Holliday,

I am in need of immediate intervention and assistance, and I humbly request that you review the following and advise me accordingly. Specifically, I am requesting that you investigate the mentioned board members, the conduct that has occurred in Montgomery County, and, also, advise me whether or not to forward this complaint to the Office of the Attorney General and/or the Governor’s Office.

As you know, I was hired in July 2011 for the specific purpose of turning around the low-performing Montgomery County School District, which ranked in the bottom 24th percentile in student achievement and, as well as graduation rate. When I arrived, I was dumbfounded when I noticed the various issues related to leadership, management, and personnel. In addition to that, I was equally surprised by the lack of checks and balances in financial affairs and quickly realized why the district was low performing in virtually every area. For me, the nature of the infractions, both organizationally and instructionally, were in dire need of immediate action. Otherwise, it would remain a continued disservice to all stakeholders.

Recognizing that I needed Board support, I made several presentations to the Board. The presentations involved goals and objectives (e.g. top ten in student achievement, improve specific schools, etc.). In addition to this, I presented obstacles that are associated with the stated goals of the Board. Examples included personnel change, leadership change, controversy, possibility of litigation, etc. The Board unanimously approved the goals, objectives, and associated barriers. Furthermore, I was very clear and specific with regard to personnel, especially in the administrative personnel realm.

Another area that caused tremendous concern was school finance. This component made me extremely nervous due to the fact that a plethora of “red flags” were noticed. General mathematical theories failed to produce logical conclusions. As a result, I began investigating several disparities. First, I found it peculiar that only one individual in the finance department was allowed unrestricted access to MUNIS. This was highly unusual and the fact that others had to be trained—basically from scratch—frightened me.

Board member Steven Osborne contacted me about employee salaries. He claimed to have very detailed and accurate information regarding all employees’ salaries. Out of curiosity, I “ran” salaries for every employee in order to compare with Mr. Osborne’s document. Surprisingly, there were several salaries that were not comparable. Nearly forty employees, for no apparent reason, were paid substantially more than what both Mr. Osborne’s document contained and, also, what the contract for that employee suggested.

Next, I ran a vendor list for the previous year. This was the most surprising yet. The district paid ridiculous amounts to maintenance type services, including a local painter and Faulker Mechanical (HVAC). The average bill for Faulkner was approximately $330,000, which was highly unusual due to the fact that it covered general maintenance and did not include filter replacement equipment. Additionally, the district had a full-time HVAC maintenance technician employed.
Multiple Board members reported that bidding, under Dr. Freeman’s leadership, was strange and unusual, as well. It appeared that large amounts of purchases were split and presented separately at Board meetings so as to not exceed the bidding requirement. Board members reported the fact that the former superintendent’s son also worked as an administrator for the local construction company and viewed the situation to be a conflict.

There was a strange situation involving mowing the District’s various lawns. The District contracted with two mowing companies. One company, operated by Bruce Walters, mowed general lawns. The other company was in charge of mowing athletic fields. The base contracts were $55,000 and $45,000, respectively. To my surprise, the later mowing company did not actually mow the athletic fields due to the fact that district employees/coaches did. This meant that the district paid for the services but did not receive them from the mowing company.

Another disturbing fact came to my attention via several principals. The principals reported that the District did not have any student suspensions according to reports, which was quite peculiar considering the size of the district. The principals elaborated that the former Superintendent, Daniel Freeman, had instructed all building principals not to code suspensions. Students were sent home and suspended, but it was not recorded.

I learned from the local auditor, Artie White, that the District had improperly used the Federal Stimulus money to pay for existing personnel and, also, to provide one-time bonuses for employees. This was particularly disturbing because I approximated the budget that I had inherited to be four million less, per year, than what was expected to begin on my first year. It was no surprise as to the reason that special education (IDEA-B) students and poor students (Title I) performed poorly. Again, this was due to the fact that the money was supplanted and the practice was not corrected when the extra money depleted.

Large amounts of money were spent on consultants and programs. When I questioned multiple administrators, most had not experienced or heard of the consultants. A very expensive program was purchased by the former Superintendent, despite lack of approval from the Board and SBDM Councils. Costing approximately $200,000, the program was implemented at the elementary schools.

It appeared that the same vendors were used without competition. For example, when the local painter provided an estimate for a job, he quoted $80,000 to me. When I questioned the price, he quickly reduced it to $40,000. The practice of purchasing equipment and furniture shared the came commonalities.

The above represent a fraction of the practices and issues in the Montgomery County School District. There was an overall lack of transparency, gross inefficiency and mismanagement in the low performing school district, that was, to put it mildly, disheartening. In order to address the financial “situations” and practice, I scheduled training for the Board, which occurred for approximately eight hours. I presented each member with copies of all vendors, salaries for all employees, and several other materials. I carefully reviewed each document with them. Together, the Board directed me to correct the issues and begin a path of great financial stewardship.

The Board members that attended the meeting were Kenney Gulley, Fern Reed, Steve Osborne, Donna Wilson, and Kelly Murphy.

Academically, the school district was in a state of peril, especially at the High School and Middle School, ranking in the bottom 20th percentile and 21st percentile, respectively. It was easy to notice why the school system was performing poorly. The District had ineffective leadership, resources were not properly aligned, and the focus of the school system was on adults, not kids. As a result, I made the necessary changes.

After the first year, the district climbed from the bottom 24th percentile to the 73rd percentile and made increases in graduation rate, as well. The district created several additional jobs and, despite reductions in funding, the district provided every employee with a 2.5% pay increase. Even more surprising, despite offsetting the supplanted stimulus money and hiring additional employees, the district actually made money, meaning that the reserve balance increased. The local auditor was amazed and publicly said so.

However, the individuals that were held to a higher standard were not happy. They began to ferociously attack me, both personally and professionally.

During my first year, the Camargo Elementary school ranked in the bottom 26th percentile. The principal at the time was Sharon Smith. Despite receiving a principal award for her leadership, the Camargo Elementary School had performed no higher than the bottom 35th percentile and even dipped to the bottom 7th percentile under her tenure. It was evident that Mrs. Smith lacked the instructional leadership ability to lead the impoverished school to excellence. As a result, I discussed a transfer with Mrs. Smith and she agreed. I replaced her with seasoned veteran, Larry Dixon. He quickly provided much needed leadership and led the school to the 83rd percentile even though he was there for less than six months. The school continues to achieve excellence and has performed in the 93rd and 86th percentiles since, meaning that an entirely new mindset was established for the kids and community. Mrs. Smith retired at the end of the year and was disgruntled. She ran for school board and was elected in 2012 and it was apparent that her intent was to get rid of me.

During my first year I had several encounters with the District Custodial Supervisor, Alice Anderson. On one occasion, I discovered that Mrs. Anderson had planned to order hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of furniture for the new school. In fact, she had already planned and ordered the furniture, despite having absolutely no input from stakeholders. So, I directed Assistant Superintendent Phil Rison to design a “showcase” where the teachers that were to be employed at the new school would select the furniture. Additionally, I instructed Mr. Rison to invite multiple vendors (approximately five were invited) so as to optimize competition.

To my surprise, Mrs. Anderson was angry that her order had not been accepted. In fact, she informed Mr. Rison that a conspiracy was occurring and that she was going to contact OEA. Mrs. Anderson was so adamant that several vendors refused to participate, leaving the one that she had always done business with and one other. Mrs. Anderson stated that she was going to resign and, also, that Mr. Rison had threatened her. So, I decided to schedule a meeting with the parties.

During the meeting, Mrs. Anderson claimed conspiracy and also that the “three legged desks” were not safe for kids. I had a very tough time grasping the comments from Mrs. Anderson and could only conclude that she was adamant about using the company that she had always used, which was suspicious. Mrs. Anderson and her husband Lonnie Anderson (an employee of the district) resigned. Mrs. Anderson ran for the school board and was elected. It was clear that she became a member of the board to retaliate against Mr. Rison and myself.

When Mrs. Anderson and Sharon Smith, now Sharon Smith-Breiner, were elected, they quickly began on a path of retaliation. Board meetings quickly shifted from student-centered to adult-centered Unprofessional comments were made publicly and privately. Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Anderson met with me and brought several documents to review. Both accused me of financial improprieties that were, quite frankly, comical. One such accusation involved the lack of on-behalf monies Both insinuated that I had taken the money.

In April, I was contacted by the State Auditor’s Office and notified that the District would participate in a comprehensive audit. Not surprisingly, the audit entailed the exact issues that both Anderson and Smith-Breiner had accused me of. The audit lasted five months and the District was exonerated and received a “clean bill of health.” I was absolutely amazed and found great irony in the event, especially since I had cleaned up so much corruption.

Disgruntled former employees and contractors terrorized my family. The election of Anderson and Smith-Breiner to the Board made it worse, as both seemed to represent the disgruntled. My wife and I had four children and were pregnant with our fifth child. My wife was quite fatigued and stressed by the constant barrage of attacks that we received and suffered several complications during her pregnancy. To make matters worse, she was unable to take prescribed medications due to her pregnancy. As a result, she had a major episode.

I informed the Board that my wife, Anna, had suffered a mental breakdown. In fact, she attended a closed session with me. The Board attorney specifically stated that the Board had no role or right to intervene or investigate in my private affairs. I was temporarily relieved. However, approximately one day after, both Alice Anderson and Sharon Smith-Breiner reportedly participated in private meetings with community members in order to inform them of our personal situation. In addition, the Board called another meeting at which my wife, not an employee, had to publicly address the Board and the angry mob. My wife had to publicly disclose her disability and both of us were humiliated, not to mention the impact on our three school-aged children. The local newspaper had previously selected not to do a story on our personal lives. However, after we were forced to be publicly displayed at the Board meeting, they provided a front-page account of the meeting.

At the end of the year, the District continued to make improvements. The District climbed to the 83rd percentile, making major gains in graduation as well. Despite not increasing taxes, the district continued to maintain a substantial balance even though we were paying approximately four million dollars more per year in salaries and had, again, created several additional jobs.

Even though the District continued to excel, both Anderson and Smith-Breiner continued to retaliate and sabotage me. In addition to this, both overstepped their boundaries as board members repeatedly, without care of concern for proper conduct. The behavior has been most upsetting to me and several others in the district, including Board members Kelly Murphy and Kenney Gulley.

On one occasion, Mrs. Anderson performed a hostile takeover of a school. Mrs. Anderson took over an administrative meeting, accompanied by Smith-Breiner, and called in several people to work including Anderson’s husband. Several individuals were hurt, emotionally and physically, equipment was destroyed, items lost, and rooms moved—all at the direction of Alice Anderson (she was on site and aggressively directed personnel).

The behavior of the two Board members was reported to OEA by multiple individuals. one employee, Kristi Carter, produced an audiotape of the entire fiasco. Unfortunately, OEA claimed that no wrongdoing had occurred despite having clear evidence to support otherwise. I anticipated this occurrence due to my strained relationship with OEA and Mr. Rison and I reported such to KDE representative Kevin Brown and Tommy Floyd.

The lack of condemnation from OEA spread fear throughout the district concerning Alice Anderson, especially combined with her history (Mrs. Anderson was a custodian in 2002 and found guilty of making fake I.D.s for minors, using school equipment. Rather than be fired, Mrs. Anderson was promoted by Daniel Freeman to Director of Custodial Services. OEA provided a report to confirm the event.). When I confronted Mrs. Anderson in a closed session, she said the following, “You and Terry Holliday bring it on!” I had not mentioned Dr. Holliday’s name and was curious as to the reason she did.

Board Chair Kenney Gulley and Vice Chair Kelly Murphy provided several training sessions for both Alice Anderson and Sharon Smith-Breiner due to their continued violation of law, ethics, and Oath of Office. Additionally, I contacted KSBA President David Baird and notified him. He personally came to train the Board. Both Board members were accumulated an unusually large number of training hours due to their behavior. They didn’t seem to associate the training and their own behaviors.

A situation that has produced significant damaged involved the public comments section during regular Board meetings. Although we have a very clear and detailed policy and procedure regarding public comments, the Board has allowed disgruntled individuals to speak well beyond the time allotted and report various defamatory remarks and falsehoods, including personal attacks against my children. There has been almost no intervention and my reputation has paid a huge price. I have cautioned the Board several times and explained that, as the procedure says, the acts have been a violation of my due process rights. Board members Alice Anderson and Sharon Smith-Breiner have also made derogatory public comments against me.

Both Murphy and Gulley were disenfranchised by the OEA report and, also, the continued lack of adherence to law by both Anderson and Sharon Smith-Breiner. Both decided not to run for the Board for a third term.

As I approach my fourth year, the District ranks in the top 91st percentile, has received several accolades, and has a graduation rate in the top 95th percentile. Our district has a tax rate of approximately 10 cents less than the state average, we have added more than 61 jobs, have experienced extraordinarily high gains on the TELL survey, and have a 9.2 million reserve. We are implementing a 1:1 Chromebook initiative this month. We have six Chinese teachers employed in our district, regularly assess culture and morale at each school, and have been named as the only public school district in Kentucky’s 2014 Best Places to Work.

Two new Board members have been elected and, disturbingly, the plan for the Board at a meeting tonight is to terminate my contract or suspend me with pay pending the results of the EPSB hearing. Even though there is no charge against me and the EPSB claims are absolutely ludicrous, the Montgomery County Board of Education continues to violate a variety of ethical and legal obligations. My actions and conduct has been ethical and the decisions I have made have been for the benefit of improving this school district. I have also been told that the Board plans to re-employ former Superintendent, Daniel Freeman, despite all of his inadequacies and past transgressions.

The Board, influenced by Anderson and Smith-Breiner, has continuously attempted to prevent me from having appropriate resources. Examples are as follows:

-My evaluations during Smith-Breiner’s and Anderson’s two years have been poor. Both have rated me a one on nearly every category. The vast majority of categories involve student achievement. It is my belief that the only reason that neither marked “0” is because member(s) have to provide a reason.

-Several months ago, Board attorney Mike Owsley was fired on a three-to-two vote at the continued insistence of Smith Breiner and Anderson. Owsley was viewed as my personal attorney and taking him away from me was thought to have left me without defense.

-Smith-Breiner and Anderson have and continue to release confidential and sensitive information to social media sites, which has produced widespread harm to other board members, the district, and myself.

-Smith-Breiner continues to have ongoing conversations with EPSB Director Alicia Sneed in regards to my conduct in Union County and Montgomery County. Smith-Breiner has actively recruited individuals to file a claim against me with the EPSB.

-The Board was contractually obligated to indemnify me for cost of legal services for the EPSB hearing. In a closed session, Smith-Breiner stated, “Paybacks are paybacks” and refused to authorize pay. Alice Anderson stated, “That’s what you get for turning me in to OEA and telling all those lies.”

Here is a brief summary of Board Member misconduct:

Mrs. Anderson instructed both Phil Rison and myself to hire Lara Barnes for Lead Custodian. When we did not, she became angry. Mrs. Barnes continues to be quite disgruntled and has participated in a variety of improper behaviors, including stealing my children’s federally-protected records and forwarding them to social media. The district administration has clear evidence to support her conduct, teachers have expressed extreme dissatisfaction at Barne’s conduct, yet all are afraid to address it because of Board Member Alice Anderson.

Gene Nornhold was hired instead of Lara Barnes. Mrs. Anderson continues to attack Mr. Nornhold and his employment with the district and uses her position on the Board to do so.

Mrs. Anderson has made a variety of threatening comments concerning Kristi Carter during Board meetings. She has continuously attempted to retaliate against her.

Mrs. Anderson abuses her role as a Board member and refuses to follow school rules. She refuses the directives of school personnel and picks her grandchildren up in the rear of the school This behavior has created a safety hazard for children and, according to reports, one child was nearly run over by a car. Others have followed suit with Anderson and when administration directs them to move, they indicate they will comply when Mrs. Anderson does.

Mrs. Anderson continues to attack Phil Rison, his wife, brother, and daughter, all who are employed in the district. She uses her position on the Board to do so by attempting to prevent professional development activities and multiple attempts to reduce salaries.

Mrs. Anderson reports falsehoods and attempts to sabotage district practices. She becomes extremely involved with school personnel and continues to provide directives to them.

Among the various inappropriate made, Mrs. Anderson stated publicly during a Board of Education meeting that you couldn’t trust Mexicans; that they steal and she would not support the district hiring them as custodians.

Mrs. Anderson publicly reported falsehoods including the maintenance building project. She presents claims in a false and defamatory manner.

Mrs. Anderson refused to comply with the state-mandated raises. She insisted that no administrator, classified or certified would receive the mandated raise. She even presented her own salary schedule to the Board. Not surprisingly, she attempted to retaliate against those she did not like by endeavoring to substantially reduce their salaries.

Mrs. Anderson recently took pictures of one of the district trucks and directed Maintenance Supervisor David Walters to correct employee behavior. This practice is actually an example of the KSBA ethics training for Board members of which Anderson attended.

Mrs. Anderson took pictures of District salt trucks last year, presented them to me, and directed me to correct the matter. This practice is actually an example of the KSBA ethics training for Board members of which Anderson attended.

Mrs. Anderson has said threatening, degrading, and defamatory statements in closed sessions (e.g., “I’ll be your worst nightmare”).

There had been a lawsuit filed against the district by two former employees who claimed that they were retaliated against for reporting that Alice Anderson and her husband, also a custodian in the district, stole supplies and used district equipment for personal gain, completing for-profit jobs for people.

Even though Alice Anderson resigned due to the “right company” not being selected for furniture, the district again finds itself in the exact same situation. The teachers have selected the other company for an ongoing renovation project and Mrs. Anderson publicly stated that the teachers did not know what was best and advised the board against the purchase.

In June of 2014, my family and I were on FMAL and I notified the Board of such. Alice Hatfield is a supporter and has spoken positively at Board meetings. On one occasion, Smith-Breiner said that the reason she voted against the Chinese program was because Sammi Hatfield had a Chinese daughter. On another occasion, in response to Mrs. Hatfield speaking at a Board meeting (regarding Chromebooks), she informed me that she would like to “…smack the shit out of Sammi Hatfield for talking like that.” Smith-Breiner also has attempted to retaliate against employee Sarah Woodford on multiple occasions and said, “Sarah Woodford and Sammi Hatfield are the bitches that got me transferred”.

Smith-Breiner has made several retaliatory comments about employee Kristi Carter, regarding both her professional and personal life.

Smith-Breiner began working for Mary Kay and continues to do so. She used her authority and influence as a board member to make employees work both directly and indirectly for her business, meaning that she has profited off of district employees.

Smith-Breiner has made several disparaging and public comments about employee Jason Woodard. She attempted to prevent Mr. Woodard from gaining employment opportunities. Mr. Woodard is the one of the few African Americans in the district.

Smith-Breiner scheduled an appointment with her daughter’s boyfriend and myself and directed me to hire him.

During a meeting with me and a district employee, Smith-Breiner attempted to be hired as a School Administrative Manager and Principal of Mt. Sterling Elementary.

Smith-Breiner reported that I needed to get rid of Mt. Sterling Elementary Principal Sharon Rankin.

Smith-Breiner made the following comments about Principal Jim Dusso: “He needs to go,” and “You should have fired him. You need to fire him.”

While I was on FMLA, I was informed that Smith-Breiner met with Assistant Superintendent Phil Rison. Even though I had informed the Board regarding my FMLA, Smith-Breiner informed Mr. Rison that I would not be coming back and offered him the Acting Superintendent job.

I am requesting that you investigate the mentioned board members, the conduct that has occurred in Montgomery County, and, also, advise me whether or not to forward this complaint to the Office of the Attorney General and/or the Governor’s Office. I have maintained multiple forms of documentation to prove the allegations. Additionally, as i have advised, Alicia Sneed has also continued on a path of unethical and illegal behavior and has worked collaboratively with Smith-Breiner to produce harm.


Joshua E. Powell, Ph.D.

Still awake? Feel free to click here to read all about nearly everything Powell has alleged. Review the actual documents, the various investigations, emails, listen to the audio, watch the video. You’ll walk away with quite a different picture than the one Powell has attempted to paint.

And don’t forget to read the other letter Powell wrote that can only be considered career suicide.