Huntsville City Schools board votes to accept deputy finance superintendent’s resignation

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - The Huntsville City Schools Board of Education voted Thursday night on the employment of its financial officer.

On the board's agenda Thursday night was a recommendation from Huntsville City Schools Superintendent Christie Finley to accept the resignation of Deputy Superintendent of Finance Bob Hagood. The vote passed with a 4-1 vote with board member Pam Hill as the only vote against.

Hagood will leave the role to become a Financial Consultant effective immediately.

Hagood told the school board in August that an accounting error under his leadership entailed erroneous posting of $5.5 million in revenue that made it seem like the board had more money to work with than they actually did. This followed an independent audit where board members heard numbers that didn't line up and sparked further investigation. Since then, the board has been following financial updates closely with varying degrees of confidence.

Adam Keller with Alabama Education Association believes the district's financial woes are concerning.

"It's certainly concerning because these finances are the livelihood of teachers and staff members of these schools, and it really is the resources available to the students of this city," he stated.

The Agreement

WHNT News 19 obtained a copy of the agreement between Hagood and the board, approved Thursday.

It states that Hagood will be transferred from CSFO to Financial Consultant, effective immediately. He will resign as of January 31, 2019. His salary and benefits will not be affected by the change in title and relationship with the district and will continue, the agreement said, through his employment end date.

In his new role, Hagood will offer information about finances, cooperation, and assistance in any court testimony or administrative hearings to the board. He will not have an office within the district's central office, but will be on an "on call" basis.

"I think the agreement is reasonable," Beth Wilder, Board President, said. "The superintendent also agrees the agreement is reasonable or she would not be making this recommendation. I ask that we as a board focus forward on what we can all agree is most important: putting what is in the best interest of the students first, and the future of the school system."

The Accusations

Hagood did not attend Thursday's Board of Education meeting, leaving accusations free to fly. The board also noted possible litigation based on the situation, but did not go into detail in a regular session. No action was taken in an executive session related to that.

Board member Elisa Ferrell said Hagood's job performance is questionable.

"He missed $5.5 million dollar posting error. He missed the correct posting of Apple Bus's payment last month. It has been months and months and months since I remember getting an accurate financial statement from him," she stated.

Ferrell also said Hagood "front-loaded" the teacher pay raises approved earlier this year, meaning he instituted them all at once instead of over a period of 3 years as agreed upon by the board.

She said he also brought the pay raises to the board for a vote without true confidence that there was enough money to pay for them.

"On three separate occasions, Mr. Hagood told Ms. Finley that he didn't believe we had enough money for the raise. However, he was bullied into presenting it to us by Dr. Akin," Ferrell said.

Board member Walker McGinnis said the front-loading of the raises, which he worked hard to pass through the board on a 3-year implementation, is cause for concern.

"It's for that reason, and other reasons too, but I just gave that example of why I have a concern and feel he needs to go," he stated.

But other board members, including Pam Hill who later was the sole vote against the resignation acceptance, defended Hagood to a point.

Hill said she doesn't believe Hagood should shoulder all the blame.

"I think I can see how others would like to blame Bob, but it's not-- and Bob made some real big errors," she stated, later adding, 'This was not all Bob Hagood's fault."

Hill said there may be other "bullies" in this situation, and she blames those in administration who she did not name.

"I don't know if this is personal, or trying to close a book on the past, I'm not sure anymore. But I know that there are people who are bullying people in this school system." She added, "After everything that has been disclosed to me this week, I think some other people should go."

Michelle Watkins, another board member, said she thinks Hagood is being blamed for something that is not his fault.

"I told him before he took that seat, 'You do not need this job. This is a mess, and you are going to get blamed for it.' And wow, that's exactly what happened."

Watkins detailed contracts the district awarded over the past few years, some done without bids. She also detailed property values for school buildings the district sold to the city over the years, and said they were sold for millions less than the appraised value. She insinuated that this is how the previous board/administration left the "mess" for the current officials to handle.

"They took money, they gave it to their friends, they gave it to companies, they gave our property away," she said. "Who in their right mind would have a property appraised for $5 million and sell it for $1.5?"

"A piece of property could appraise for one thing, but what counts is the sales price," McGinnis countered. "A property is only worth what somebody is willing to pay for it."

4 board members voted to approve Hagood's resignation, and Hill voted against.

What's Next

The district will need to find a new CSFO in the coming weeks.

Superintendent Christie Finley said she would need to recommend an interim CSFO, and the board will vote in January on her choice at the Jan. 10 work session. Then, they would post the job for a permanent CSFO.

When asked about some of the allegations and information board members presented Thursday, Finley said, "I'm not looking at the past anymore. I understand and I value and respect what our board members shared tonight. What I'm looking at is where we are right now, and where we want to be, because I am protecting the classroom. We're going to be looking at our strategic plan. The finances obviously will touch every pillar of that plan. I've got to focus on moving forward."

She said the teachers still have their raises, and she doesn't see that changing. But there are critical answers needed. It became clear during her remarks to media that the district still does not have a clear picture of its financial situation.

"We do have to look, and really get a firm account, of where we are with our finances. This is the first thing that needs to happen before making any knee-jerk reactions. That's not how I lead. That's not productive. We have to make sound decisions that are in the best interest of our students," she said. "I've also been working with the State Department of Education. We have had weekly meetings, and those have been very helpful. We will also see a report from them at our next board meeting too."

Finley said the district didn't get to this point overnight, so the solution can't come quickly.  She can't assert what the solutions look like without a better picture of the district's finances.

As far as whether jobs are in jeopardy, Finley said she doesn't want to make a knee-jerk response on that either. She said the district needs a better handle on how many "local units" it has, and how many is too many, along with attrition and retirements and other things to take into account before any decision can be made.

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