Trustees gave no reason for their action.
Attorneys representing both the board and Thompson had been negotiating a settlement. As part of their agreement, the district will pay Thompson $88,848 out of its general fund in return for his resigning that evening, on Valentine’s Day.
The vote followed a 54-minute executive session.
The board met in the district’s cafeteria to accommodate a crowd of more than 75. Before the board went into executive session, it conducted a public hearing, allowing 11 people who signed up to voice their opinion. Most praised Thompson’s leadership, questioned the board’s motivation for firing him, or warned that the board’s action was dividing the Pettus community.
The speakers had planned to talk for five minutes; board president Joe Constante allowed only two. He served as timekeeper.
Hana Kruger, the daughter of Trustee Caryel Kruger, was the first to speak, “This board has brought nothing but pain and suffering to our students. Please, think of the kids,” she begged them.
“I’m asking this board to do what we do every day as teachers,” asked computer instructor Laura Warnix, “think with your heart. Can you honestly say Mr. Thompson hasn’t done his best for the district?”
Thompson was in the crowd but unable to comment, following the advice of his attorney, Tony Conners, who has not returned repeated telephone calls for comment.
Mike Smith, who, with Danny Foley, helped organize a protest meeting the night before at the community center, told the board it was losing the trust of the community, citing that three district coaches and its athletic director resigned in protest over its intention to fire Thompson.
“Our board president,” charged Foley from the podium, “has shown his consistent discontent for his community…for his fellow school board members; he pushes his own agenda on the school board, knowingly incites conflict…”
Constante then told Foley his two minutes were up.
“I intend to keep going; I have five minutes, sir,” he answered.
A shouting match ensued until Foley was escorted from the podium by two sheriff’s deputies.
At the protest meeting the night before, Missy Dunn, the wife of Trustee James Dunn, said the solution to conflict with the school board was more community involvement. At the Friday board session, she admonished faculty members for “getting involved with what’s happening,” citing conversations she had heard about the controversy being discussed between students and teachers.
Glancing around the room, Clifford Bagwell began his remarks by saying, “I’ve never seen this many people at a school board meeting before, but then,” he paused, “I’ve never seen a community meeting to protest the school board before, either. This is costing the school board a lot of money; it’s causing a lot of hardships.”
J.D. Carrillo told the board it needed better ways to promulgate information about its meetings. “Not everyone has access to the Internet. You need to print up fliers to be sent to the community and to the parents.”
Jeff Hodge didn’t need two minutes. “All off us should be ashamed of ourselves…acting like little kids…this is wrong…and every one of you on the school board who has impaired this school to grow? Every last one of you should resign,” he said, and sat down.
But it was Michael Lee, the ninth speaker, who tried to raise the discourse to a higher plain. He warned that the board was ignoring the students and pointed out how the controversy was affecting them.
“Our community is not at peace. Our teachers have lost that sense of security that everyone deserves in a job they love. Our kids are scared of change and the discord they see all around them...many of the questions at hand leave us with a bitter taste in our mouths and doubt about the future of the district.
“We need this school board to...put aside its cronyism and cliquish nature and make this community believe that they are the people we believed them to be when they were elected.”
Five of the seven trustees are up for election in November.
What effect—if any—the comments had on board members is hidden behind the impenetrable wall of the executive session.
Twenty-eight minutes into the closed session, the board’s attorney beckoned Sanchez to follow him back to the executive session.
Returning from closed session, Constante returned the meeting to open session by calling for a vote to terminate Thompson.
Most of the 4-3 minority remained silent, which, by board policy, is the same as voting in the affirmative.
Thompson then performed his last duty as superintendent: he sat at the end of the table as the board fired him.
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.