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Some complain about Bartlett

April 17, 2001

Some complain about Bartlett



By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Former and current Washington County educators say they believe employees are so intimidated by Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett that they retire early, find jobs in other school systems or are afraid to speak out about their work environment.

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They also said Bartlett discourages employees from talking to School Board members about their concerns.

During a public meeting last year, teachers accused Bartlett of intimidation.

Bartlett said Monday he wasn't aware of the concerns and that no employees have come to him with intimidation issues. If they have an issue that needs to be resolved, he said, the board has a policy they should follow.

Bartlett also questioned why the former and current employees talked to the press about their concerns before trying to resolve them.

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"It does leave one to question why they chose to resolve it in the papers," Bartlett said.

Bill Fager, a former Smithsburg High School principal, said that shortly after Bartlett was hired three years ago he told all Board of Education administrators and supervisors to bring their concerns to him, not to School Board members. If board members approached them, they were to carry out the conversations but then immediately call Bartlett.

"I sort of took that to be, 'Don't talk to a board member,'" Fager said.

Bartlett denied that was the case and said there is nothing barring employees from speaking to School Board member about their concerns.

Fager said Bartlett would make inappropriate comments to staff, sometimes humiliating them in public.

He said he was at Bartlett's first faculty meeting when Bartlett embarrassed an employee after the employee smiled at a joke made by another employee.

"He stopped, stared at him, and said, 'Do you have something you'd like to share with the whole group?'" Fager said. "That's something you do with kids. You don't handle an adult situation like that."

Bartlett said he didn't recall the incident, but said an employee should go first to his or her supervisor. If the issue still isn't resolved, the employee can go to the human resources department. After that, the next step would be to go to the superintendent or the School Board.

"If it's all going to the press before anyone has a chance to resolve it, it'll never get resolved," Bartlett said.

Fager said he feels that principals are often wary of how they respond to concerns from parents or handle school issues because they fear the repercussions.

"You don't know when you're going to get your fingers slapped or if you're going to get praised," Fager said.

He said staff, including central office employees, are cautious about what they say to parents or the public to protect themselves.

School Board Vice President Bernadette Wagner said at a recent work session that parents from at least four different schools in the county thought principals were being silenced by central office administrators.

Fager spent 31 years in education. He said he had hoped to stay on the job for 35 years, but retired last year because he thought it would be the best thing for his health to find another job. He now works for an insurance company.

"It just got to the point where it wasn't worth it," Fager said. "The biggest reason was to keep my sanity."

Four other former employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, backed Fager's claims and said they had similar experiences while working for the School Board.

Donna Messina, the board's former community relations specialist, declined comment on specific instances of intimidation, but did speak about the work environment.

"Considering the current environment of the school system, I was fortunate to have the opportunity for employment with the city of Hagerstown, where suggestions for improvement and creative ideas are embraced and applauded," said Messina, who left the school system in November.

Bartlett said he didn't know why Messina would make those comments.

"I think we embraced her ideas, and she left because she wanted to leave," Bartlett said. "I never asked her to leave. I never in any way implied she should leave."

Former School Board member B. Marie Byers said many employees have expressed concerns similar to Fager's and Messina's. She claimed Bartlett has told principals he could fire them if they didn't comply.

"This man has really put the muzzle on folks," Byers contended.

Sharon Chirgott, president of the Washington County Teachers Association, said she hadn't heard any concerns about intimidation since teachers raised the issue last year.

"But that doesn't mean it's not happening," Chirgott said. "It could be that fear factor."

Chirgott said teachers might fear the repercussions of speaking out. She also said there's pressure by Bartlett to improve MSPAP scores and that some teachers are afraid to talk to him.

"I'm not absolutely sure what has caused that fear," Chirgott said. "For some reason, they simply won't talk to him."

Chirgott, as well as Fager and Byers, said they believe employees are leaving Washington County because of the alleged intimidation by Bartlett.

Bartlett said he didn't know of any instances in which employees left the school system because of him. He said it is his hope that employees would follow board policy if they have any concerns.

"They're all perfectly aware of the board's rules and regulations," Bartlett said. "I don't believe any of them have ever utilized the process that was in place. They decided to come to the press for some reason."

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