School board has 30 days to fill vacancy
By Don Rush
It was business as usual at last Tuesday night’s Oxford School Board meeting. President Tom Donnelly led the meeting, the board listened, talked and voted. When the night was done the meeting ended. There was no indication of what would happen the next day.
On Wednesday, Oxford Schools Superintendent released the following statement.
“This afternoon, September 14, School Board President Tom Donnelly announced he is resigning from the Oxford Community Schools Board effective today. We are very appreciative to Mr. Donnelly for his years of dedicated service. We will communicate further information in regards to the open school board position as it becomes available.”
Donnelly has been on the school board since 2016.
Following the Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School where four students Tate Myre, Hana St. Juliana, 14 Madisyn Baldwin and Justin Shilling, all died of gunshot wounds and seven more were injured the school board — and in particular Donnelly — have been the focus of intense anger and frustrations from members of the community. Many folks since the shooting have shown up at board meetings demanding he resign and sometimes in not too polite ways.
Two parents, Andrea Jones and Lori Bourgeau, have been vocal in their opposition to the board’s actions over the last 10 months. They helped form a group of students and parents called #Charge4Oxford. A few hours after Donnelly’s resignation their group issued a press release.
“The announcement of Tom Donnelly’s resignation brings some relief to parents and students looking to improve communications, and secure policies that improve safety as well as accountability from our district,” Jones’ statement read. “Mr. Donnelly has not been transparent with regards to the events of November 30, 2021. He often cited guidance from the district’s attorney, Mr. Mullins, as the reason for his inability to communicate details about the event to the community. After 10 long months without answers, it is my hope that his replacement will take an active lead in beginning the healing process this community so desperately deserves.”
Bourgeau’s statement in part read, “Mr. Donnelly’s resignation has come 10 months too late. As board president he could have made a great impact in the restructuring of Oxford School District . . . Instead, Mr. Donnelly stayed in the position long enough to inflict the district with his direction and decisions that will affect this community for many years to come. In the recent months Mr. Donnelly appeared to be listening to the community, promising to change and put the families and children up front. Evidently this was too hard of a job for Mr. Donnelly, as shown by his recent announcement. We thank Mr. Donnelly for recognizing his limits and stepping down. Now we must hope for someone with stronger convictions to step in and stand up and undo everything he has done or allowed to happen since Nov. 30.”
WXYZ-TV, Channel 7, reported in a statement from Donnelly’s Firmly Rooted Ministries in Oxford, his wife Kimberly said, “After much deliberation and prayer Pastor Tom has announced his decision to resign from the Oxford Community Schools School Board, effective today. He and I thank you all so much for the love, support and prayers during some of the toughest times of our lives. We love you and appreciate all of you so much.”
School board member since 2017 Korey Bailey called Donnelly a “great man” who had reached a breaking point.
“Tom is a very, very passionate leader,” Bailey said. “He takes everything to heart. He has a business, he has his church ministry and, well I can tell you I work from home and since November I put in five to six hours a day between phone calls and emails for this district and my involvement compared to Tom’s is miniscule. The amount of time Tom is putting into this district only to be attacked by everybody, his family has been bashed and attacked verbally, members of his church have been attacked verbally and I think he just came to a breaking point because he throws his heart and soul into everything he does. It’s what any minister does. His heart is with the people and to have his family trampled. He needed to look after his flock and his family and something had to give. He and I have been talking for the last three or so weeks and I talked him off the cliff, so to speak and I know this is just breaking his heart. I can’t say enough good things about Tom.”
According to Oxford Community School policy on filling vacancies, the school board has 30 days to fill Donnelly’s seat. The policy which was adopted in 1996 and updated in 2010 states, “If the vacancy is not filled within 30 days after it occurs, the board of the Intermediate School District shall fill the vacancy by appointment.”
The policy states the board needs to seek “qualified and interested candidates from the community through the news media, word of mouth, and contacts with appropriate organizations.”
All applicants are to submit their interest in writing to the superintendent. The policy states the board “may” interview all interested candidates. When they have selected a person to serve, the board votes. The person the board votes for will “hold office until the next regular school election.”
Which should be interesting as there is an election on Nov. 8, with six candidates running for four, four-year school board seats, not including Donnelly’s.
According to the district’s website board member Chad Griffith has been appointed the school board’s “current acting president.”