Complaint filed against Norfolk School Board over plane ticket purchased with public funds


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A school board scuffle in Norfolk is raising eyebrows when it comes to what is legal and what is ethical. It surrounds a ticket purchased for a school board member so she could vote on an important topic: who would fill the seat as the interim superintendent of the Norfolk school district. 

The president of the Norfolk Federation of Teachers, Thomas Calhoun, filed a complaint against the Norfolk Public School Board members, the School Board’s attorney and the City Attorney after the board’s June 19, 2019, business meeting. He says what is happening between school board members is “unethical” and he wants it investigated.

“I filed the complaint because it’s a breach of school board policy, that’s why, these policies, all of these policies that I read through here,” said Calhoun. 

He cites policy 3.a.: Gifts to individuals are not authorized from the school funds. This includes gifts purchased for staff birthdays, or other personal occasions.

Calhoun says policies like 3.a. were violated by some school board members when they decided to purchase a flight with public funds so a member of the board could be present for a vote on the interim superintendent. That member was going to be out of town at the time of the vote. 

“They cannot do anything they want and they cannot doing things unethical and telling us ‘it’s OK’ because it’s not illegal,” said Calhoun. “In my job, I am fighting for the people who work for the school district and the children who attend it — that’s my job. I know I have rules I have to follow, and so do they.”

Calhoun told 10 On Your Side that he has not reached out to school board members.

However, 10 On Your Side did, and we received a statement from the school board chair, Dr. Noelle Gabriel. She confirms a ticket was purchased. 

The most important job of the School Board is to hire a superintendent.  Because the highest position in the district was in effect vacated on June 12th, the need to name an interim superintendent was imperative.  As such, a decision was made to hold the vote for the interim appointment at the June 19th Business Meeting.  It was essential that all Board members participate in that choice, both in discussions in executive session and in the vote in the public session.

Before Dr. Boone’s sudden resignation, Ms. Martin had planned to be absent on the 19th as part of a family vacation, including attending a wedding.  After Dr. Boone’s announcement, Ms. Martin made a judgment call to put her duty as an elected official before her personal plans and through a series of discussions, she decided to be physically present for this meeting.

The facts and circumstances of the situation were provided to Deputy City Attorney Jack Cloud for an opinion as to whether the Board could cover the additional expense inherent in Ms. Martin’s remaining behind to attend the meeting. Mr. Cloud considered the law and the circumstances, including concerns as to the technical ability, allow for Ms. Martin to participate electronically both in the discussions of the executive session and the votes in the open session, which were held in two different rooms.

He ruled that the under Virginia law and Norfolk School Board Policies the division could legally pay the cost of a one-way ticket for Ms. Martin to resume her personal plans as soon as possible after the 19th, to ensure her complete participation in the Board meeting and to mitigate any financial penalty upon her because of her commitment to carrying out her duties as a school board member. Mr. Cloud informed the School Board Clerk of his opinion and directed her to purchase the ticket. 

Expenses for work directly related to Board business for the division, which includes travel, are appropriated in its annual budget. The Board takes its fiduciary responsibilities very seriously and abhors even the mere insinuation that this action was illegal, unethical, or irresponsible.  The School Board of the City of Norfolk aims to have a smooth transition with the new administration and continue as the cornerstone of a proudly diverse community and as a collective body that is more united than divided.  

Dr. Noelle Gabriel 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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