Westside School Board cuts assistant principal position

Westside votes to not renew assistant principal's contract
Updated: Apr. 24, 2020 at 6:53 AM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - Students at Westside Middle School will go without seeing their assistant principal, Ulanda Branch, for the upcoming school year.

During a special meeting Thursday night, the school board voted to not renew Branch’s contract. “The purpose I have in life is to stand for right, even if I stand alone. Even if I have to take a loss."

She believes it came down to ethical reasons saying, "some things were going on that should have been stopped. That could have been stopped. That were not stopped.”

Branch’s personal attorney, Felicia Branch, voiced many of her concerns during the personnel hearing.

Although she claims there’s more to why her contract was not renewed, the board said it was for three reasons:

  1. "The school district has had static enrollment, is facing an increase of salaries for classified staff of over $150,000, is facing an increase of salaries for certified staff to meet the state imposed new minimum salary, has increased expenses for debt service, and is facing a rising increase in teacher retirement payments.
  2. Your position of assistant principal at middle school is not required by Arkansas standards.
  3. The district cannot afford to keep you in a position that is not required to be filled."

“What we are trying to do is keep intact the personnel that directly impact instruction on our campus,"said Superintendent Scott Gauntt.

He added that positions that were not required by state law--like extra nurses, guidance counselors, and Branch’s position--would have the least impact on students.

However, Branch says she did more than her job title required and she was just as qualified as the other principal who holds the same license.

At the meeting, she refuted the district’s use of policy 3.4 to make licensed personnel reduction in force.

The policy states:

“In the event that reductions in the licensed staff, including administration, becomes necessary due to decreased student enrollment, shortage of revenues or circumstances outside the control of the school district, the Board of Education shall endeavor to accomplish the necessary reduction in an impartial and objective manner. However, the continuation of the quality of the district’s educational program shall receive highest priority in these considerations. This RIF policy is not a dismissal policy.”

The district said they followed the book by using the seniority policy.

However, Branch says she has worked for the district longer than the other principal.

She also said that many small incidents, including made-up incidents placed on her personnel file, the way she disciplined students by the book and the lack of support in the public eye and behind closed doors, made her job difficult.

When she arrived at the school, she said someone approached her and told her “the community is watching you as the first African-American administration.”

Her attorney claimed this has all been on a “systematic trek.”

“Regardless of what she said in the meeting, she has not had any issues in the last three years," Gaunt said. “She has done a good job; she’s energetic. This hearing had nothing to do with her performance."

In the end, the board voted unanimously to go with the recommendation not to renew.

Branch said she wanted to send one last message to her students.

“My high expectations have not changed. I am now holding you accountable vicariously since I won’t be there physically to hold you accountable. You all are amazing. Have a great school year," Branch said.

As far as the future of that assistant principal position, Gauntt said he could not speak about it and or say if they will fill the position in the future.

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