Layoffs part of Sequoyah Schools reorganization
BY TESINA JACKSON Reporter TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – In June, eight Sequoyah Schools employees were laid off because of a Cherokee Nation reorganization of the school. Those laid off were former Superintendent Rita Bunch, former Dean of Leadership Teresia Knott, former Dean of Academics Geary Crofford, former Dean of Students Louie Jackson, former Dean of Operations Larry Masters, former Senior Security Lead Officer Jerry Dry, former Senior Security Officer Clay Troutman and former Security Officer Richard Acorn. Education Services Director Dr. Neil Morton said the layoffs occurred because the reorganization involves administrative and some departmental job classifications. “The process resulted in deleting some positions, adopting some new job descriptions, and in some cases, layoffs of some personnel,” he stated in an email to the Cherokee Phoenix. “The new titles and job descriptions are now in place, as is the process for filling four new positions at Sequoyah. Those employees who were laid off are eligible to apply.” Morton also said Education Services was reorganizing campus security, including possibly entering into a memorandum of understanding with the CN Marshal Service to provide security. CN Chief of Staff Charles “Chuck” Hoskin Sr. said the reorganization, which does not involve the immersion school, was to make Sequoyah more traditional in terms of administrative positions. “I believe the thought process behind it is to bring it more in line with the traditional structure of high schools, elementary and secondary,” Hoskin said. “The direction that (Principal) Chief (Bill John) Baker had coming into office was to review every department, every program that we had. That task was assigned to the Education (Services) department and Dr. Morton has spent many long, hard hours on it, and obviously the request was to look at any way we could improve it, look at anyway we might be able to streamline and strengthen the program for the students at Sequoyah High School.” Dist. 1 Tribal Councilor David Walkingstick said the CN is veering away from the “New England” private school infrastructure with all the dean titles. “The direction I think we are wanting to go in was to go back to the regular public school system were you just have a superintendent, principal, athletic director,” he said. “I think the problem that you run into is that you have too many supervisors and they don’t have clarification on who to go through, and with this system, it cuts down your supervisors and you have more clear communication.” Walkingstick added that the eight former employees should have been moved to different positions instead of losing employment altogether. One former administrator said he believed the layoffs were political in nature because the Baker administration had the employees sign 30-day contracts several months prior to the reorganization. But Hoskin said none of the decisions made for the reorganization were political. “All teaching positions are contracted with 30 days required upon layoff and so that’s what was held with this case,” he said. “That’s the way current contracts read for Sequoyah personnel. To the best of my knowledge, I believe that is correct.” According to a May 29 layoff notification signed by Hoskin, the positions were “eliminated due to a restructuring/reorganization of the Education Services Group” and took effect at 5 p.m. on June 30. However, Knott said she and some of the other former employees didn’t receive their layoff notices until June 14. According to Human Resources, the superintendent position was posted online on June 11 and a principal position was posted on June 25. “In my case, I’m certified to be a superintendent, a principal, among other things,” Knott said. “And had I had enough advanced notice that I was being laid off, I would’ve been applying for jobs.” A Sequoyah employee memo signed by Morton states that on June 21 Dr. Gloria Sly, Education Services government relations officer, took over as interim superintendent until a new superintendent could be hired. The Phoenix attempted to reach the former superintendent, Bunch, but was unsuccessful. When asked why Bunch was laid off if the reorganization involved keeping a superintendent, Hoskin said it was a personnel decision and didn’t know if he could comment. He said once the superintendent position was filled, officials would start interviewing for other positions involved with the reorganization. “The superintendent position is really a key position before you start interviewing for the principal and athletic director, so there were interviews conducted on Monday (July 2) of the three applicants who had made that panel,” he said. Hoskin would not comment about who was on the superintendent panel, but that a new superintendent was expected to be chosen by mid-July. Attorney General Todd Hembree said there is no law preventing the administration from reorganizing Sequoyah Schools. He said a legislative act listed on the Tribal Council’s Research Center website giving control of personnel matters to the school board is not effective. In 2002, the council passed the act stating the Sequoyah School Board would be responsible for establishing or endorsing policy relating to school operations; monitoring overall school operations, including procedures, actions and general administrative direction; approval of employment of school administrators; and ensuring that due process has been maintained in the dismissal of school employees. However, former Principal Chief Chad Smith vetoed the act and the Tribal Council later sustained the veto.
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