The Ferguson-Florissant school board has issued a list of charges to Superintendent Art McCoy, now on paid administrative leave, that could lead to his being fired for cause according to the terms of his contract.
Details of the charges were not released. The next step is for the board to schedule a hearing on the charges, which may or may not be open to the public, depending on whether McCoy and board members can reach mutual agreement on that point. No date for the hearing has been set.
The board voted 6-1 on Dec. 11 to issue the notice of charges to McCoy, with member Paul Schroeder voting against the measure. Schroeder was also the only dissenting vote on Nov. 6 when the board voted to place McCoy on leave.
Board members have declined to be specific about why they took the action. But in response to questions, board President Paul Morris has said the move was not related to McCoy’s active embrace of the student transfers from Normandy and Riverview Gardens, nor his stance on school choice. He has also said no wrongdoing with a student was involved and race was not an issue. McCoy and 78 percent of the Ferguson-Florissant student body are black; no members of the school board are black.
In a letter posted on the district’s website Thursday morning, Morris said the notice of charges resulted from “an independent, third-party investigation.” A district spokeswoman said the investigation was conducted by attorney Douglas Copeland, whose practice has included work for local school districts.
Morris said after the hearing into the charges is held, the board will determine whether to fire McCoy for cause; if that occurs, it will not be responsible for his salary and benefits.
“This was a very difficult decision,” the letter said, “but one that we believe is in the best interests of our students, parents and community. It was made after a thorough, independent investigation and much careful deliberation among all members of the Board of Education. We recognize and are grateful for Dr. McCoy’s contributions to our students since becoming superintendent. Unfortunately, we find it necessary to take this action at this time.
“We want our students, their families and our community to know that we will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that every one of our students receives the highest-quality educational opportunities available, and that we will work closely with our district community to forge the path forward with the ultimate goal of success for all of our students.”
McCoy was not immediately available for comment on the latest development. He has mostly remained silent on the situation, though he did tell the Beacon in an interview, and later said in a news conference, that the action against him took him by surprise and he has never been fully told why it occurred. Morris later issued a statement that said “despite what you may hear otherwise, I believe that it has been made clear to Dr. McCoy as to the reasons he is on administrative leave."
When McCoy’s paid leave was first revealed, the district statement said that the action was due to "differences in focus and philosophy.” Morris said the move was not an indication of wrongdoing on McCoy’s part.
With the latest development, Jana Shortt, spokeswoman for the district, said the statement about wrongdoing has been misunderstood. She said Thursday that it did not mean the board thought McCoy had done nothing wrong; it simply meant that “there is no indication of wrongdoing when someone is placed on paid administrative leave.”
With the later developments, she said, and the issuance of a notice of charges, that situation may have changed, though she could not be specific.
“People can draw their own conclusions,” Shortt said. “What the board says today is that by a vote of 6-1 they have decided to issue that notice of charges, to give reasons to terminate his contract for cause."
McCoy’s contract spells out under what circumstances such action can be taken. They include: neglect of duties and responsibilities; poor performance, incompetence, or inefficiency in the line of duty; failure to comply with policies and/or rules and regulations of the board; failure to comply with directives of the board; failure to abide by state law; immoral conduct; material breach of the contract; or “any other good cause as defined by Missouri law.”
Under his contract, which was renewed in April of this year to run through June 30, 2016, McCoy is paid $217,644 a year.
Shortt said the board will not reveal how many charges were in the list sent to McCoy or how many many items in that section of his contract are involved.
Asked why the public was informed of the charges Thursday, when they were voted on last week, she replied via email:
"The District's first priority remains the education of our children, so careful consideration was paid by the Board to making sure that any distractions were minimized during this final exam period. Therefore, the Board released this news after most students were finished with end-of-semester testing."
She said Copeland was chosen to conduct the investigation that led to the charges because of his familiarity with school law and superintendent contracts. He was paid $8,325 for 33.3 hours of work.