The Escambia County Board of Education voted Friday to buy out the contract of Superintendent Michele McClung after heated discussion and accusations of corruption within the school system.
The BOE previously voted down the renewal of McClung's contract, which expires in May 2024, but on Friday, the board voted to buy out her contract and dismiss her immediately.
McClung, a math teacher turned administrator, was hired as superintendent in 2021.
District 3 board member Mike Edwards, who supported McClung, said she is a victim of corruption from past administrations.
"Ms. McClung had nothing to do with it," Edwards said. "She's absolutely guiltless. She had no guilt. She had to expose these atrocities in our system and because of it, she's become the target of those here, in front of you and some in the audience. It's atrocious and I'm ashamed of this county and of this Board of Education for what they are doing."
Although the school system has seen improvements in test scores since her hiring, other controversies have plagued McClung's time in Escambia County. Two school board members, a school system bookkeeper and a reporter were arrested earlier this year.
Board members Sherry Digmon and Cindy Jackson have been indicted on charges of revealing grand jury information. Digmon, the publisher of the Atmore News, was also indicted on the use of position for personal gain and impeachment.
Veronica "Ashley" Fore, the county school system's payroll and insurance bookkeeper, was also charged for leaking information.
Don Fletcher, a reporter at Atmore News, was indicted on two charges of revealing grand jury evidence. The Committee to Protect Journalists called on officials to drop the charges.
Despite support from community members, including District Attorney Steve Billy and State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Atmore), McClung did not have votes from the board to keep the job of superintendent.
"I had limited sleep last night," said board president Danny Benjamin. "As I thought about it, it's almost as if we won the National Championship in performance, grades, school performances - may very well be the most improved school in the state - it's almost as if we won the National Championship and then we fired the coach. I wanted to share that. That's exactly what's happened. Shame on us. As I said to you yesterday, I hope you can sleep at night."
"What's been done is a major injustice," Benjamin continued. "A person's contract should be extended because of job performance, not personal opinions and so, I am saddened, angry disappointed and all of the above. Our board is in disarray we need team building and if we don't get it together, our system is going to suffer."
McClung wrote the following farewell letter:
To my Escambia County Family,
These past two and a half years have been a very powerful and rewarding experience as the Superintendent of Schools.
I want to recognize all employees for your efforts in helping our district grow astronomically. Our test scores are among the best in the state, with 80 percent of our schools making dramatic leaps. We’ve worked to increase salaries, filled needed vacancies, provided quality tools for the classroom, increased credentialing, provided onsite support, created a pre-K program, and recognized the best in our school system for outstanding service.
Your collective efforts have paid off in the most important way, on the report cards of our children. 80% of our schools improved in one year, with 50% of our schools improving between 7-14 points, and 40% improving between 11-14 points.
While I am proud of these accomplishments…
None of this happens without you.
I’ve enjoyed being here in Escambia County and my prayers will be with the faculty, staff and students each day.
I’d like to congratulate Michele Collier who has been appointed Acting Superintendent, and I feel confident you will show her your support. Only by working together can we achieve greater goals. Remember, “we are one” regardless of who is leading the team. Never forget that we do what we do for the children, as we touch the future every day.
I’ll be on special leave of absence to care for my mother through January and will retire in February after 33 years.
God bless each and every one of you and I pray you will all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
There is no word on when the search for a new superintendent will begin.
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