ALBANY — After steadfastly refusing to call a special meeting of the Dougherty County School Board to discuss how best to deal with the school lunch fraud case of Morningside Elementary Principal Gloria Baker, Superintendent Joshua Murfree relented Friday afternoon and called a special session for 3 p.m. Wednesday.
Emails between Board members Darrel Ealum and David Maschke and Murfree, obtained via Open Records Law requests, indicated some disagreement regarding Murfree’s objections to a special session.
Baker and her husband, Chester, were booked and released Thursday from the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office downtown on charges of making false statements to obtain free school lunches for their child.
In an email sent to Murfree at 11:46 a.m. Thursday, shortly after the Bakers turned themselves in at the judicial building, Ealum wrote: “I have received (calls) concerning Principal Gloria Baker ... I feel we should be proactive with the charges against her and we should move quickly to reach a decision by calling an Emergency Called Meeting of the Board.
“Our next scheduled meeting is 11 days away, and I feel like a lack of attention to this matter is having a negative affect on our STEP III vote on Nov. 8th. The calls I am receiving have a high tone of negativism toward the Board and toward the 1 percent sales tax. Failure to get our sales tax passed will create tremendous problems for our school system.”
At 2:24 p.m., Murfree responded: “A special called meeting is not warranted as this is a matter that we are handling at the district level. A recommendation will come from me, if so needed. This office along with the HR Department will be in touch with the PSC (Professional Standards Commission). Reflect on cases that have been even more severe than this case.”
At 2:45 p.m., Maschke weighed in with: “Please be reminded that the Board Chairman (James Bush) himself can call a Special Board Meeting or that any four members of the Board can call for a Special Board Meeting. A Special Called Meeting does not require the Superintendent’s concurrence.”
Bush was out of town today and could not be reached for comment.
After a news conference at the School Administration Building Friday Morning called to tout DCSS’s improved AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) numbers and a new robotics program at Dougherty High School, Murfree refused to answer questions in regard to Baker’s situation.
The superintendent had assured media he would take questions after a photo opportunity, but instead slipped away to his office.
DCSS Director of Public Information R.D. Harter said he would give the superintendent a list of written questions via email and respond.
The four questions submitted by The Herald are:
n What is the current status of Gloria Baker?
n Who authorizes reduced or free lunch applications?
n When do you expect to see the results of the entire investigation?
n Why isn’t the investigation and findings by the DCSS police enough for you and the board to act?
The Herald has not yet received a response.
Shortly after the news conference ended, however, Murfree sent out the following email to board members: “The investigation is still ongoing with other entities that we have not been able to meet with, etc. The investigation by the DCSS Police has been done. I have only a summary statement at the moment from DCSS. Once the entire investigation has been completely I will present to the findings to the Board, etc.”