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Board measure will require schools chief to sign off on speakers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - From now on, the Kanawha County superintendent will have to sign off on all assemblies about sex, religion or politics.

School board members passed the measure Wednesday by a 3-2 vote. Those in support said recent events show the need for more oversight. Those opposed said principals should be in control.

The measure comes in the wake of a scandal at George Washington High School. An assembly there in April drew national attention when one senior called out the abstinence-only speaker for "slut shaming" and scare tactics.

That student, Katelyn Campbell, eventually filed a lawsuit against GW Principal George Aulenbacher, claiming he threatened her after she took her protest to the media. A judge denied her request for an injunction last week.

But the assertions riled up a contentious debate on the motivations of certain speakers and their place in public schools.

Board President Pete Thaw introduced the measure Thursday, saying the county needs oversight in these kinds of sensitive issues.

Board member Becky Jordon, who has fiercely defended Aulenbacher throughout the controversy and whose husband donated money to the religious group that brought the controversial speaker to GW, said the measure wasn't necessary.

"It's micromanaging," Jordon said. "Let the principals do their jobs."

"We tried that," Thaw responded.

"And he's a great principal, back off," Jordon fired back. The measure ultimately passed three-to-two, with Jordon and board member Robin Rector voting no. Rector said she didn't necessarily approve of the speaker's presence in Kanawha County schools, but was wary of a measure that resulted in an increased workload for county employees.

"I think that maybe what we gain from this should be a lesson learned and not a new policy," Rector said.

Thursday's meeting also hosted a contentions debate on salaries of county school employees.

At last month's meeting, Jordon requested a discussion of principals' salaries this month. That agenda item brought more than a dozen teachers union members to the meeting.

Jordon's concern - that Kanawha County doesn't pay its principals enough to attract and retain high quality candidates - was unpopular among the crowd of teachers, who maintain that the same problem exists among all school employees in the county.

With an average principal salary of $80, 673, Kanawha County ranks 25th among the state's 55 school systems.

Kanawha's principal salaries range from $77,600 to $91,200.

Fred Albert, president of the Kanawha County branch of the American Federation of Teachers, pointed out the average teacher's salary in Kanawha County - $33, 405 - is the tenth best in the state.

And Dinah Adkins, president of the Kanawha County branch of the West Virginia Education Association, said that the board should consider teacher pay before administrators.

"And if I had been awarded a raise I would refuse to accept it until those inequalities were corrected," she said, referring to the board's decision last month to raise Superintendent Ron Duerring's salary by 5 percent.

That decision raised Deurring's salary by $7,500, to $157,500.  

Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.



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