FLORENCE, MT – Embattled Florence-Carlton School Superintendent John McGee was given a three-year contract extension and a pay raise by a divided school board on Tuesday night, just two days before he faced the Montana Board of Public Education’s licensure committee in Billings to answer for his admitted acts of plagiarism last spring in the school newsletter.
At Thursday’s hearing, the education board voted to put a letter of reprimand in McGee’s permanent file rather than revoke his license.
After an anonymous blogger identified the plagiarism last spring, McGee admitted to copying a column written by a Georgia school official into the Florence newsletter and attaching his byline.
He admitted the plagiarism to the school board, apologized to classrooms and in the newsletter, and was suspended for 10 working days without pay by the board. He also had a letter of reprimand placed in his permanent file at that time.
During Tuesday night’s school board meeting, the board adopted a resolution by a 3-2 vote stating that McGee’s acts of plagiarism have been fully dealt with locally, he has apologized for his actions and done everything that the board asked, and that the board considers the matter closed.
Trustees Pat Appleby, Vickie Cornish and Dorothy Rhodes voted for the resolution, while trustees Colby Reynolds and Mel Finlay voted against it.
Finlay later joined Appleby, Cornish and Rhodes to approve McGee’s contract extension and pay raise. McGee currently makes around $94,000 per year. His base pay will stay the same for the first year of his new contract, then he will get a 3 percent pay raise for each of the last two years.
Finlay, who voted to terminate McGee’s contract this past spring after the allegations of plagiarism surfaced, said he was conflicted about giving the superintendent a contract extension.
“McGee had a fair amount of vocal support at that meeting,” Finlay said. “If there is somebody that is in my camp, they are damn silent. I didn’t want to get lumped in with the radicals, the same old crowd that would rather get in your face than talk about things. I want to stay in the moderate range. We are going to get more done if you are not too dang annoying. I knew it was a done deal anyway, I would just as soon get it behind us. I would have given him a one-year contract, and let the community actually do the job of either getting rid of him or retaining him when elections come around, not the board.”
Finlay said that last spring’s punishment wasn’t good enough for some members of the community.
“We exonerated McGee here as a board last winter of his plagiarism charge,” Finlay explained. “He was slapped on the wrist, and given a two-week suspension. Some people in Florence didn’t like that, and reported that to the Board of Public Education. The BPE thought it had merit, or they would have told them to go pound sand. So McGee has to go answer for it today, so he’s over there today explaining what went on. Some other people are over there too.”
Board members Colby Reynolds and Vickie Cornish made the trip to Billings, as well as others.
Finlay and Reynolds wanted to table the motion to pass the resolution on Tuesday, but the three other members wanted to get it done before the Board of Public Education hearing, Finlay said.
“They wanted to take that to the BPE, and say, ‘Here, we’ve already given him a three-year extension and we have full confidence in him,’ ” Finlay said.
Board member Colby Reynolds said he was disappointed by Thursday’s ruling in Billings, which he traveled to attend.
“It’s a sad day for the public education system of Montana, in my mind,” he said. “It’s pretty disappointing. I really thought that when they took it to that next level they would come out and send a message to everybody in the school system that this isn’t tolerable. Putting a letter in his file? It does nothing to him unless he decides to leave Florence. I’m disappointed in OPI.”
Reynolds, who has been vocal in his desire to get rid of McGee, said he is disillusioned by the whole process.
“I’ve really got to rethink whether or not I want to continue to be a board member and put all this time and effort in a volunteer position,” he said. “It’s hard on family. If this is what the board of education’s message is, of course I’m frustrated. I really thought they would send a message that this is not acceptable in any way. It’s a sad day for Florence and those kids that have to continue on under the leadership of that man.”
Messages to Rhodes, Cornish and Appleby were not returned as of press time.