STORMY SCHOOL MEETING

Board to hire private eye to look at issues at Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind

2013-05-01T00:00:00Z 2013-05-01T10:50:45Z Board to hire private eye to look at issues at Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the BlindJamar Younger Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 01, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - The Governing Board of the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and the Blind will hire a private investigator who, with the assistance of the Attorney General's Office, will look into complaints filed by five employees against the school's superintendent.

The board instructed board member Michael Williams to initiate the investigation after hearing a parade of parents, students and employees call for the resignation of Superintendent Robert Hill and Board President Bernhardt Jones.

Tuesday's meeting was held specifically to address the complaints and mounting criticism of the school's two leaders.

About 150 people filled the Governor's Conference Room at Capitol Executive Tower for the meeting, which was raucous and featured several interruptions from the crowd and board members.

Many people criticized what they called poor communication and lack of leadership from Jones and Hill, who are already under scrutiny from the state for potential conflicts of interest and excessive travel expenses.

The two men have been the target of numerous student protests and complaints from teachers, staffers and parents, who are upset about the dismissal of longtime administrator Nancy Amann and agriculture teacher Richard Layton, as well as the suspension of the agricultural program at the Tucson campus and other issues.

Jones, who led the meeting, continually reminded people to comment only on the agenda items when they veered off topic.

Later, he passed out a two-page letter to board members and the audience to clarify concerns about his potential conflict of interest with Hill, and his role with the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment program, which certifies interpreters.

Hill didn't speak during the meeting and would not comment afterward.

Amann, who was employed by ASDB for 14 years, said she filed a complaint on March 8 but never received a response from board members.

Amann, who is deaf, was one of two executive directors for the school, and principal of the school for the deaf. She was placed on administrative leave on Feb. 15 before the board decided not to renew her contract during its last meeting on April 9.

Jones said Amann's contract was not renewed partly because of "illegal activity," but he would not provide details.

Armann said she believes the investigation into her conduct was slanted and she was never given an opportunity to defend herself during the last meeting. She also said she was never questioned or interviewed about her actions while she was on leave.

"It feels like I've been placed on house arrest," she said through an interpreter.

Amann said she did not want anyone from the superintendent's office to investigate her complaint, to which Jones responded it will be done by an independent party.

Other speakers, including those who filed complaints, used other incidents to illustrate a lack of leadership and communication from Hill, the board members and other top administrators.

Brandon Decker, athletic director for the school, filed a complaint because he felt the school botched a drug investigation last May.

Decker, who was interim principal at the school for the deaf at the time, said Tucson police came to the campus to interview students after receiving reports of drugs at the residential campus.

He said the investigation was conducted without his knowledge, although he was acting principal.

The students were scarred from the experience, in which they were forced to communicate with police without an interpreter, he said.

He blamed Hill for not properly communicating with him and some of other deaf staff members.

"Did he ever plan to inform us this was happening?" Decker asked through an interpreter.

Board members assured the crowd they received the critical emails and other messages, but said they couldn't respond because of open-meeting laws.

During an interview, Jones said the administration needs to talk with other staffers, students and parents, and he acknowledged the administrators could do a better job."I think that will improve," he said.

In his letter, Jones said he was not the director of the Educational Interpreter Performance Assessment, but someone who administer's the test on behalf of 14 state departments of education.

Staffers, students and parents were concerned about Jones' and Hill's association with the program.

Jones is the director of TASK12, which administers the assessment for a $310 testing fee. Hill is listed on the TASK12 website as a local test administrator.

Jones, however, said in the letter that TASK12 does not receive the testing fee.

He also said he disclosed this information to the board in 2009 and received assurances from the Attorney General's Office there was no conflict of interest.

Contact reporter Jamar Younger at jyounger@azstarnet.com or 573-4242. On Twitter: @JamarYounger

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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