Jan 252014
 

WS0607_Cupcake-Wars-Angry-Birds-01_s4x3_lgAt the recent Union County Board of Education work session concerning the proposed and extremely controversial student redistricting, a heckler, as described by the news media, shouted “Suck it Cupcake!” while board member Kevin Stewart was speaking. A chorus of hoots, howls and laughter followed; most likely in response to the character of the questions Mr. Stewart was directing at Dr. Ellis and Dr. Webb, but the timing was perfect. Very few people know what was being referenced by the remark, so here is the back story.

Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to March of 2012. If you remember, the 2012-13 County Budget cycle was an occasion where members of the Board of Commissioners laced budget negotiations with open attacks on UCPS and the school board. The verbal criticism included colorful phrases like “spending like drunken sailors” from Jonathan Thomas or “stop spewing your bald face lies” by Todd Johnson, which only served to ramp up the animosity between boards. (View Jonathan Thomas Budget Comments of 2012 @19:40 minutes)

In an attempt to sway public opinion, Commissioner Todd Johnson (according to court testimony) joined with Kevin Stewart to create a webpage specifically designed to exploit the state cuts in funding for teachers and teacher assistant and use them as a straw man to attack the school administration. Mr. Stewart has been an outspoken critic of school spending, the school administration and was never shy about editorializing his viewpoint.

One of the more revealing segments of sworn testimony in the August lawsuit between the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education, was the details of the of how Mr. Stewart operated the website with the collaboration of Commissioner Johnson.

The phrase shouted out in Thursday’s meeting referenced the following post of April 24, 2012 in Citizens for Union County Teachers, where Mr. Stewart closed the post with the following “Quit hiding behind skirt tails Ed and Dan, face the music; Luan, suck it up cupcake, you get paid very well to answer questions”. The attack on Luan Ingram, then the UCPS Communications Director, referred to a television interview where Ms. Ingram appeared irritated at the questions being asked by a reporter. Many people found Mr. Stewart’s comments very offensive and indicative of how coarse the politics have become. Few people knew of Mr. Johnson’s involvement though many of the comments mirrored those posted in the EJ of the time.

Suck_it_Up_Cupcake

[Click to enlarge]
For years Mr. Stewart and I have been adversaries on many of the issues facing the county and the school system, we’ve had spirited exchanges on the Village Scribe and opposing letters to the editor in the Enquirer Journal. Contrary to my expectations after Mr. Stewart was elected to the school board in November of 2012, he has recognized the financial issues the school system faces and is now a vocal proponent.
 
postscript4
 
 

I have had requests for more examples of the now defunct Citizens for Union County Teachers website. When I realized that was taken offline back in June of 2012, I knew from past experience the something was up. So I archived it just in case. The Cupcake remark gave cause to explain the reference and now readers are curious.

Citizens for Union County Teachers Page 1
 

Citizens for Union County Teachers Page 2


RETRACTION: The VSO received an phone call from Commissioner Thomas, “requesting” that his name be removed from any association to Kevin Stewart’s former website. I reported on what was purported to be court testimony conveyed to me by someone who was present in court. Commissioner Thomas vehemently denied any connection. I should have noted the secondhand nature of the information.

Dec 132013
 

By Carolyn Steeves

MONROE — The Union County Board of Education rejected the Union County Board of County Commissioner’s most recent settlement offer Thursday.

The refusal came in the form of a seven-page letter sent Thursday to County Commission Chairman Frank Aikmus, Vice-Chairman Jerry Simpson and the three other county commissioners.

UCPS Board of Education met in closed session Tuesday and decided unanimously to reject the offer.

“Eleven million dollars is a lot of money,” School Board Chairman Richard Yercheck said. He said all nine members of the board wanted to thoughtfully consider the offer made by the county commissioners.

“At the end of the day, we wanted to honor the jury verdict and the fact that we’ve got more than $91 million (worth) of needs,” he said.

Yercheck added that they want to structure the $91 million jury verdict over a period of time so there would not be a hardship on the taxpayers and the county could continue moving forward with its needs without requiring a tax increase.

“The school board is willing to agree to payments made on a schedule that is both aggressive and attainable, so that we can begin to address these needs,” Yercheck wrote in the letter. “I would welcome the opportunity to meet and work with you constructively towards that end.”

Richard Schwartz, the school board’s attorney, will contact Union County Attorney Ligon Bundy to respond in more detail to the settlement offer, according to the letter.

The commissioners asked for a joint meeting between the two boards in a Dec. 2 meeting. No such meeting is yet scheduled.

Whether a joint meeting could be productive would depend on several concerns, Yercheck wrote in the letter. A meeting now to discuss developing the school’s 2014-2015 budget would be premature due to the statutory timeline imposed by the state and the standard budget development process.

Last year, the budget timeline was accelerated and it was neither convenient nor productive for the school board and did not have a positive result, he wrote.

“Given those results last year, we think it would be more productive to maintain the normal budget development schedule, as set by state law, which allows us to receive more reliable information about our needs and obligations and more reliable information from other funding sources, so that we can produce a more informed and better budget,” the letter states. “This will also enable you to gain a better idea of your additional revenues available at the time you receive our budget.”

Yercheck also addressed the desire to promote improved relations between these two boards. It is something the commissioners seem to strongly endorse as a goal, but he questioned their method.

“We can all agree that it is important for the two boards to develop a better working relationship,” he wrote. “However, it would not be fruitful to have a meeting in which school officials are chastised and characterized as irresponsible spenders by commissioners, sometimes reading scripts, which all too frequently has been the case.”

He instead suggested they address outstanding issues regarding the 2013-2014 budget and the jury verdict awarded in the fall.

“The Board of Education has a $91 million money judgment against the county,” Yercheck wrote. “The judgment is a legal obligation, but more than that, it represents the jury’s findings as to the existing needs of the Union County Public Schools. That is an essential fact that seems to be ignored in the County’s responses.”

He added that so far, the county’s main response to the verdict has been to file an appeal.

Yercheck also objected to the perceived characterization of the school board by commissioners.

“All too often, the attitude toward the Board of Education from commissioners is to attack and disrespect the school board,” he wrote. “The Board of Education has been characterized as ‘spending like drunken sailors’ and commissioners have told our citizens in public meetings that you have protected them from ‘tax and spend school board.’’

The “drunken sailor” comment refers to something said by

During the April 16, 2012 commissioners meeting, Commissioner Jonathan Thomas said, “That’s what we need folks, we need a board of education that will work with us, not send out publicity stints (sic) to get people all upset when we’re spending money like drunken sailors in the central office.”

Yercheck’s letter states that both boards are elected and entitled to equal respect and the the school system is not a department of the county.

Yercheck also addressed the settlement offer made Dec. 2, which had a deadline of noon, Dec. 6.

via Union school board rejects deal | The Enquirer Journal.

Nov 202013
 


Speakers: Rob Jackson, Jill Wagner, Victoria Liccione, Claudia Zapka, Denise Starnes, Kim Ormiston and Beth Bowker.

* Due to video length issues, a number of speakers were not included, this in no way diminishes their contribution.


Speaker: School Board Member: Kevin Stewart
 

Parents and teachers were out in force again at last Monday’s Commissioners meeting, as speaker after speaker addressed the $91M judgement, the accumulating interest costs and urged the defiant Commissioners to withdraw the Boards appeal of the jury award.

Nov 062013
 

This past Monday night at the Union County Commissioners meeting 48 citizens signed up to speak in public comments. The meeting hall was packed with standing room only in the hallway.

I will post a video of speakers as time permits, but I did want readers to hear the comments of School Board member Kevin Stewart, who spoke with great passion.