I owe an apology to Michael Nellums, who took early retirement as principal of Mills High School yesterday, just as a report was completed on a review of his role in what Prosecutor Larry Jegley has said was a scheme by Nellums and School Board member Tim Clark
Fox (early morning brain short) to discredit School Board member Gwen Williams.
I reprinted several e-mail exchanges with Nellums last night. He chastised me later, after I'd gone to bed, for not running his retirement letter. (It's important to him that this be cast as retirement, not a resignation, as the School District release had put it.) I reviewed the e-mails this morning and found that I'd somehow overlooked the letter Nellums sent to Superintendent Charles Hopson, which he'd placed at the bottom of one e-mail. It follows:
June 14, 2011
Dear Dr. Hopson:
I hereby give notice of my intent to retire, effective June 30, 2011 from the Pulaski County Special School District. I appreciate the privilege of working with you and for more than 26 years in a school system that provided a quality education for all students, regardless of social and economic status, race, or gender.
I want to acknowledge the patrons of all the communities I worked in over the last 26 years for their gracious treatment and respect. I want to particularly thank the patrons of the Mills High area, and the members of the Jacksonville community. Our experiences together at those schools and especially Jacksonville Boys Middle School were the highlight of my professional career. Ron Lewis, Linda Derden, Eugene Stuckey, and Keith Straughn, thank you for your wisdom, and support at Jacksonville. I have never worked with a more dedicated and diverse faculty and staff who daily gave their very best to uplift poor and disadvantaged students. Those administrators, teachers and staff made the difference in the lives of so many students who had been discarded and labeled as un-teachable.
Dr. Hopson, I appreciate your leadership, and those who served before you, namely Bobby Lester, Don Henderson, and James Sharpe. I appreciate the members of the Jacksonville World Class Education Organization and their willingness to help mentor young, African-American boys at Jacksonville Boys Middle School. To Representative Mark Perry, Daniel Gray, Will Bond, Daddy-Mr.. Ivory Tillman, The Wilson Brothers, Bishop James Bolden, and Rizelle Aaron, thank you for your commitment to public education and your willingness to help “all students succeed in public schools.” You were a great group to work with.
Finally to Mrs. Mildred Tatum, and the Mills High School family; you are a vital part of the promise to provide an equal education to all. Thank you for your tireless efforts on behalf of the children in some of the most impoverished areas of Pulaski County. It was a privilege working alongside such extraordinary and committed people. Erma, Jamie, and Sue, thank you so much for your leadership at Mills High School.
I am looking forward to retirement and spending time with my family, and friends. I have been greatly blessed to meet so many wonderful people and to positively impact the lives of so many students who are still near and dear to my family. I don’t fish, but... I plan on starting soon.
Again, thank you and the board for this opportunity.
Mills High School
The district had declined to release this letter without getting clearance first from Nellums. He made $103,000 as principal of Mills. Teachers qualify for maximum retirement benefits at 28 years, but may take early retirement after 25. According to an estimator on the retirement system website, a member with Nellums' experience and final pay could make about $58,000 in retirement benefits, plus a 3 percent annual cost of living adjustment.
PLEASE NOTE: This article from Stephens Media and a mention of one of the people Nellums thanked in his departure letter:
In another development today, Pulaski County Prosecutor Larry Jegley said the county sheriff’s office is investigating an incident involving an audio tape of a conversation purportedly between PCSSD board members. Board members alleged they were threatened with the release of the audio tape if they fired Hopson.
Board member Tom Stuthard said the threat was in the form of an email from Rizelle Aaron, a resident of the district and a supporter of Hopson.
Aaron denied that he threatened anyone with retaliation if Hopson was fired.
“The only thing I can say about that statement is that it is ridiculous and offensive and that it was probably made by someone who is upset with the outcome of the vote,” he said today.
Stuthard provided the Arkansas News Bureau with a copy of an email dated Sunday that apparently was sent from Aaron to board members. In the email, Aaron says he has learned of a planned attempt to fire Hopson and says, “Please listen to the audio which I have received and hopefully you will take the time to refocus your attention.”
Stuthard also provided an audio file he said was attached to the email. In the audio file, a man is heard talking to a woman and saying he is going to give her money.
Aaron says in the email that he has turned the audio over to the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office and says he has tentatively scheduled a news conference to release more audio files to the news media.
More clandestine taping? Another episode of pressure on school board members who might vote contrary to someone's wishes? Hmmmm. Where have I heard this before?