Waynesboro school board loud, rude

October 14, 2000

Waynesboro school board loud, rude


The language can be raw. Discussions escalate into shouting matches. Chairs and tables have been pushed. The audience interjects its opinions into board discussions. Physical violence sometimes seems imminent.

No wonder some members of Waynesboro Area School Board say at times they feel like they're on "The Jerry Springer Show."

"What we need is that big bald guy, Steve, making people stay in their seats," said board member Stanley Barkdoll, referring to the man who tries to maintain order on Springer's television show.

The board's volatile meetings have resulted in front-page headlines, prompted letters to the editors of area papers and brought out residents who say they won't miss a meeting.


Board member agree on their mission: To provide the best quality education possible. What they vehemently disagree on is how to accomplish that.

"It's not like Jerry Springer; this is not entertainment," said board member Leland H. Lemley, who once served as the board's president but now says he is often a "minority of one."

"This is serious business, regardless of the conduct."

Board members have fought over issues as small as school library magazine subscriptions and an accounting of classroom scissors and as big as teacher contracts, building maintenance and construction.

Members said they try to be fiscally responsible.

However, Barkdoll said, "We didn't take an oath when we got elected to place the welfare of the taxpayers as our highest priority. Our challenge is to run a school system that promotes education with tight fiscal responsibility."

For Lemley, who formed the group Better Education Without Increasing Taxes in 1986, striking that balance can lead to raucous debate.

'May Massacre'

One such debate took place on May 30 when the board heard a consultant's report on school space and building renovations needs.

During what some board members now call the "May Massacre," Lemley began yelling at Pat Heefner, then a school secretary and member of the study committee.

Heefner asked Lemley why he didn't want to put money into software for the school system - moments after Lemley said he wouldn't support any increase in school funding until academic performance rose.

Shouting erupted and Lemley told Heefner he "kicked her ass" in the last election and that he would "kick her ass" again.

During the loud exchange, Lemley said he "hated" Heefner and made other personal comments.

Board President Dr. Robert J. Ternes kept raising his voice in an attempt to control the meeting, leading to a shouting match between him and Lemley.

"You cannot speak to a member of the public in that manner," Ternes told Lemley.

Lemley responded by challenging Ternes to "get up and do something about it."

The meeting ended as several board members left the room.

"If it takes vigorous interjections, that what it takes," Ternes said later. "I have to maintain order."

It was not the first time Lemley had been involved in a testy exchange.

At a May 1995 meeting, Lemley, then board president, argued with business owner Claire Hunter. According to a Herald-Mail account of the meeting, Hunter questioned the wisdom of capping spending in certain areas at 90 percent of the budgeted amount.

"If you're just going to stand there and try to be cute I'm not going to bother with you," Lemley reportedly told Hunter. "You don't know much about management."

When Hunter responded, "I own a business," Lemley shot back, "You probably don't do a very good job."

At a May 1993 meeting, Lemley, then a candidate for the board, was so disruptive then-board president Valorie Dick threatened to call the police, according to a Herald-Mail account.

Commenting on his public clashes, Lemley said he "will use all the tools to accomplish whatever the objective is," and makes no apology for doing so.

"The objective," he said, "is always better education."

Heefner, who asked for an escort to her car after the May meeting, said Lemley has an ax to grind.

"His agenda undermines the district. He hides behind the facade of fiscal responsibility. I know that he is absolutely anti-teacher," she said.

Lemley, however, says he is not anti-teacher or anti-education.

Differing views

Other board members and school officials see the loud exchanges and the board's performance differently.

"Lee has wonderful ideas, knowledge. I just wish they were brought out in a better (manner)," said board member K. Marilyn Smith.

Why do board members clash?

"Some of it is ego, differences on what is important," Smith said. "Playing to the press comes into it. Personality gets into it.

"It's a shame, we do a lot of good things."

For some, board service "is just to get even," said Ternes, who plans to step down from his leadership position in December. He said his decision is not related to the board's conduct.

The board's meetings are often time-consuming and cumbersome.

The Herald-Mail Articles