The principal of a local middle school has reportedly denied asking his teaching staff to only vote for the three incumbent school board members during the May 8th primary.
However, one teacher secretly recorded a follow up meeting where Selma Middle School Principal Chris Germanoski is reportedly heard asking everyone at a staff meeting to support the incumbents.
Selma Middle School recently made the news due to the controversy over the selection of a new mascot called the “Railblazers” and the associated cost of a mascot change.
Two faculty members we spoke with, on the condition of anonymity, believe Germanoski should be more focused on improving student performance than the winners of the school board election.
Principal Germanoski declined repeated requests for an interview.
April 18th and April 20th Meetings
On Wednesday, April 18th, Germanoski held a routine meeting with all the Selma Middle teachers to discussing school-related issues.
During the meeting, two people in attendance allege Germanoski asked school staff to only vote for the 3 incumbents school board members and not any of the 5 challengers. He allegedly said if any teacher was not aware of the incumbents to see him after the meeting and he would give them their names. The names were incumbents Todd Sutton, Dorothy Johnson and Butler Hall. The principal also allegedly asked staff members to support the November school bond referendum.
WTSB News and JoCoReport.com reached out to Johnston County School officials about the April 18th meeting. Officials said they had already heard the allegations and were investigating. Later, school officials denied Germanoski made the statement.
In a specially-called staff meeting on Friday, April 20th, Germanoski again reportedly asked his staff to support the three incumbents. He also handed out copies of his statement.
A person in attendance of Friday’s meeting secretly recorded Germanoski’s comments.
Below is an excerpt of what he said:
“It has come to my attention that my comments Wednesday during our Faculty meeting about the upcoming bond and encouraging you to exercise your right to vote may have been misconstrued. Please allow me to repeat myself clearly. On Wednesday afternoon, I said with the upcoming election it is important for each person to have their voice heard and exercise their opportunity to vote. There are two important issues with this election especially important to us as educators in JCPS (Johnston County Public Schools).
There will be a bond referendum up for vote and it is important to know that it does not just support new schools and overcrowding but also older schools and supporting their needs, like our new roof and the roof at Selma Elementary School.
The second item of importance is that we recently had the opportunity to listen to a forum of candidates for School Board and County Commissioners answer questions directly related to education. If you would like to hear how they answered some questions, I would be happy to share those with you outside of the school building. Also, with our push and direction of JoCo 2020 and innovation and supporting different ways of learning for our students, if you support that vision, there are three incumbents that currently support that vision of JoCo 2020. The most important thing is for everyone to exercise their right to vote.
Please know that my words were intended to let you know not only that you have every right to vote, but that it is especially critical this year in light of the upcoming bond, which needs support from every voter to successfully pass. Public Education is on the ballot and it is my commitment to keep you informed. If my comments gave the impression of coercion in any way, they were only intended to objectively inform.”
LISTEN TO AN AUDIO CLIP OF A PORTION OF GERMANOSKI’S COMMENTS
A total of 8 candidates are running for three open seats on the school board. One of the candidates, who is not an incumbent, is Tracie Zukowski.
After reading Germanoski’s comments Zukowski told WTSB News, “I am disappointed by the principals’ actions. He is essentially asking teachers to support the three incumbents, not taking into consideration that they are educated and have their own voices,” Zukowski said. “As a teacher, I understand the needs of teachers and students who are in the classroom every day. The teachers know the importance of this election and how it could impact their classrooms. Their voices should be heard and their choices respected without influence from anyone in a higher position.”
Another candidate running against the three incumbents is Jimmy Clapp, a retired employee of Johnston County Public Schools. “This is a violation of Johnston County Public School Board Policy 5170 and is not a conversation that should have been discussed between any employees with the school system during normal work hours and specifically from an administrator to their staff,” Clapp said.
“No one within the school system has reached out to me for any comments or views regarding any issues with the school system, specifically JoCo 2020 or the bond referendum. This statement is not only damaging to me, but to all candidates for the Board of Education. School system employees have the right to vote for whomever they choose and should not be subject to the comments of their principal to reach their decision.”
Sharon Castleberry, Chairperson of the Johnston County Democratic Party found no problem with Germanoski’s statements. “There is no electioneering going on. These are statements of facts only. Everyone needs to be informed. The Democratic Party of Johnston County fully supports public education and everyone who is a part of that from students to everyone who unlocks the door at 5 o’clock in the morning.”
State Law And School Policy
According to NC state law, it is illegal for a state employee to engage in political activity while on duty or within any period of time during which a person is expected to perform services for which they receive compensation. It is also illegal to use the authority of a position to secure support for or oppose any candidate, party or issue in an election involving candidates for offices or party nominations. The willful violation is considered to be a Class 1 misdemeanor.
A legal expert, Frayda Bluestein, a Distinguished Professor of Public Law and Government at the School of Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, does not believe any laws were broken by the principal. Bluestein said the state statute applies onto to state employees. While Johnston County Schools receive state funding for their employees they are not considered to be state employees.
However, Johnston County Schools Policy Code 5170 clearly states, “No person employed by the Johnston County Board of Education shall engage in partisan political activity during the employee’s working hours or at any time the employee is performing his or her job duties for the school system.”
“Just Don’t Say That”
At the conclusion of the April 20th meeting, the secretly recorded audio captured one teacher telling Germanoski they didn’t appreciate his comments about the 3 incumbents. “From hearing all this, I think you only mentioned three people. If you just went out and said to vote that would be better. I am going to stand up and say if you had not brought in those 3 people it would have been fine. Just don’t say that. Just say go out and vote – Democrat or Republican or whatever. Does that make sense? Germanoski did not reply.
Selma Middle Report Card
According to the North Carolina Schools Report Card, Selma Middle scored an overall grade of “D” in 2017. End of grade math scores were “F”.
Teacher turnover rate at the school was at 15.6% last year, higher than the county average of 11.6% and the state average of 14.7%.
Last year, short-term student suspensions at the school were double that compared to all the other middle schools in Johnston County.