(Note: Unlike last time, I will add updates to the bottom, so scroll down to see if there are updates. I thought that might be easier to read. Last update was at 5:13 p.m.)
NOTE: References to competition at Pearl High School should have instead referred to Petal High School.
Calvin Ellis’ personnel hearing is about to resume after about a six week recess. It was recessed on Dec. 7.
Rachel Murphree, the assistant finance director for the Tupelo school district, is on the witness stand.
School district attorney Kelly Stimpson asked if the hearing could begin earlier in the day and end later in the day in order to expedite it.
David Butts, Calvin Ellis’ attorney said he does an objection to that. He said he will try to expedite the process but that he has an extensive witness list from the district and that he needs some time to be able to prepare for the hearing. “I am asking for some flexibility because of the difficulties I face” because of not having been given information from the administration. He said he doesn’t mind going later tonight.
Stimpson we want it to be stated we are willing to expand our hours to get this thing concluded. She said it has been numerous weeks since the district presented Butts its documents and that the district also won’t know what witnesses Butts will be calling.
Hearing Officer John Compton said they will look and see how each day goes.
Worked for the district for 3.5 years
assistant finance director
Murphree said that part of her duties are to do a review from time to time of booster clubs of extra-curricular organizations. She said that she did a review of the booster club finances but did not know then that a personnel issue was involved. She said that she did not know Ellis at that time.
She said it was important that she did not have the information (about Ellis’ personnel situation) so that she could have “clear eyes” and be objective.
She met with the booster club treasurer, Terri Stewart, in October 2011. She said that Stewart brought her books and that Murphree asked generalized questions about the books. Stewart told her that she did not have receipts from some charges, such as payments from the credit card. Murphree said that was the first time that Ellis’ name came up.
Murphree said that she was told Ellis had had the credit card but that the card had been lost and it had not been replaced. Murphree said she was not told why the card had not been replaced. They discussed the process for bills to be paid, invoices would be addressed to Stewart and she would cut a check.
Stimpson asked whether any other issues came up.
Murphree said: There were some odds and ends papers stuck in a flap in the binder. She tried to make sure she asked her about them because she wanted to be sure to get all questions asked while Steward was there.
There were some applications for permission to arrange music in there that had been copies that had not bee received back.
Stimpson: Why was that odd
Murphree: It was odd stuck in the binder and not having who the checks were to.
Stimpson asks if there were any other issues
Murphree: I saw some contracts that were signed by Mr. Ellis as employer of Tupelo High School and that bothered me.
Stimpson asked if the contract was binding and Murphree said yes.
Stimpson asks why was that a problem
Murphree: We had a board policy related to contracts that only allowed superintendent, someone in finance or bonding agent to sign contract committing the district to spend money.
Rachel Murphree said she asked Stewart whether she had issued any 299s and that Steward said she had only issued one.
She said the only other issue came up with the credit card. The charges would be multiple uses for food or gas. Murphree said she asked her if that was something the booster club approved. She was told sometimes yes and sometimes no.
Murphree said she read the booster club bylaws. It said that no booster club member is to receive compensation.
All routine expenses are supposed to go before the club.
Murphree said she had concerns that Ellis was being paid to do things he was already being paid to do in his supplement.
She said that numerous individuals were being paid to arrange music and some were being paid for the same songs that Ellis arranged.
Murphree said that at that point in the in the middle of October, Steward told her there was an issue with copyrights.
Stimpson: Had it appeared that Ellis had ever applied for copyright permission in the past?
Stimpson: Did Stewart say why she paid credit card fees without receipts
Murphree said Stewart said she did it to avoid late fees and also if there was an arranger in town, she wanted to pay then in order to maintain good relationships between the district and the arrangers.
Murphree said she never saw Ellis’ termination letter.
The district presented Murphree with an exhibit. It is one of the contracts Ellis signed as employer of Tupelo High School. It is between Calvin Ellis as employer and Jamie McMahon (spelling?) as employee. Amount of contract was $2,750 plus incidentals, meaning expenses. Murphree said Stewart told her she paid it.
Murphree said her main issue was that Ellis was representing himself as employer of Tupleo High School, which he is not authorized to do.
Murphree is now reading another contract between Ellis and McMahon. This one was for $750 plus incidentals. She said it appears that Ellis signed the contract. She said her issue is that Ellis is representing himself on behalf of high school as employer.
Another exhibit is a program from Wave Connection. It has handwritten notes from Murphree noting who had arranged which song for and how much had been paid for each song. For three songs, Ellis and another arranger were both paid. There was a fourth song that Ellis was paid to arrange but there was no written record of that song being arranged.
Looking at another program. Song “Crush crush crush” Ellis and another arranger were both paid to arrange it. Another song “I drove all night” Allegro Music Arranger was paid to arrange that. Stimpson asked whether there was an issue with that. Murphree said she doesn’t remember.
Murphree is reading an email from Ellis to Stewart from June 2011. In it, Ellis asks for the club to pay an arranger. Murphree said her concern was that they were pre-paying for products and services they weren’t getting the benefit of.
Butts objects that he was not given the current exhibits. Stimpson said the district does not have any obligation to provide documents.
Murphree is speaking of an excel document she created that filtered information she received from Stewart. It contains invoices Ellis had submitted to the district for arranging and the money he was paid.
It lists invoice dates of June 16, July 14, Oct. 15 and Nov. 30. All 2010. $7,400 was paid to Ellis for arranging music.
She has the same information for 2011. It also contains a submission for “gas for Gail.” Murphree said that she doesn’t know what that was for.
Ellis was paid $450 for arranging music. Total was $557.81, including the amount for gas.
Invoice dates were June 7, 2011, July 14, 2011 and July 27?, 2011.
Murphree is mentioned another Excel document for 2010. She compared each of the songs provided on the invoice to the programs of music performed by the groups. She put Xs if the song wasn’t performed. Other notations are for songs not arranged at all or for songs that had multiple arrangers or songs for which no formal music was produced.
On page 1. June 16, 2010. Eliis was paid $2,400 for arranging music. Stimpson “Tell me about each song and what you found.” One song was performed, one was not performed, two were not arranged, one had someone else also paid to arrange some song, one was printed from musicnotes.com, two were not performed.
Stimpson: That bill for $2,400 represents songs he arranged, was paid for and were not arranged or were arranged by someone else?
Murphree: That is correct.
Now she is referred to an entry from July in which he billed about $3,000
One had no formal written music, one not performed, one someone else paid to arrange same song, one not performed, another not performed, another had someone else paid to arrange same song, one not performed, one he billed twice, another one not performed.
Now referred to an entry from August. It has a few songs that an arranger billed the district to arrange and Ellis was also paid to arrange same songs.
Now referred to an entry in which the treasurer paid Ellis by there was no description in the check for what he was being paid for.
Now referred to a payment made to Ellis in November, 2010. It has several songs that Ellis was paid to arrange and someone else was paid to arrange the same song.
Now an entry from 2011. One song was not performed, one song someone else was paid to arrange some song as Ellis and another someone else was also paid and it was never performed.
Murphree said Stewart gave her the programs so that she could double check which songs were performed.
Murphree is referring to another document she created. Said she learned that many other songs were arranged without permissions to arrange them.
Now exhibit 64, the one 10-99 that Stewart had prepared. She said that no 10-99 was prepared for Ellis. She said that the threshold is that 10-99 should be issued for $600 in a calendar year. She said that it is the taxpayer’s responsibility to report income even if he doesn’t have a 10-99.
Stimpson asks Murphree if she recalls a receipt for expenses for gas for a Laurel trip. Murphree said she does and that she was concerned because there was no receipt for that. She learned that Ellis charged for gas for going to Laurel to serve as a judge for a choral competition that Tupelo was not performing in. She said that he went as an independent judge but that he charged the booster club and that he did not get pre-approval for that expense. She said she did not know whether Ellis was paid for judging.
Murphree said the problem with not securing a 10-99 is that the burden of reporting income is on the taxpayers. Without a 10-99 the IRS does not have a record of income.
Murphree is referred to a contract from an arranger to Ellis. Contract said that copyright permissions would be obtained that the responsibility to obtain the copyright permissions was on the district and not on the arranger, Anderson.
Second page is an email from Ellis to Stewart in August 2009. It said he is trying to find two invoices and asks what happens if he’s lost them. There is also an email from Anderson to Ellis. It says that an invoice for the season was attached. Muphree said that Steward pre-paid it for $1,100.
Stimpson completes her examination of Murphree. Butts is about the begin his cross.
Butts asks Murphree why this is the first time she has audited the books of the booster club books and why this was the first time. Murphree said that this wasn’t an audit but was a review. She said that she had reviewed the books before, three separate times.
Butts: you have been employed with the district for 3.5 years in those 3.5 years how many reviews of booster club records have you performed.
Murphree said she has just done one review, this review of choral club booster club financial record. She had done reviews before of other booster club. She said that Finacne Director Linda Pannell asked her to review the records. She didn’t know why but generally she is asked to do a review when there are problems.
Butts: Is it your understanding that no public funds were involved within operation of booster club?
Murphree said that is correct.
Butts: We are not talking about tax money levied by the school district, we are talking about funds raised by the booster club? Murphree said that is correct.
Butts asks Murphree if the district has any authority over how booster club spends its money. Murphree said not over how they spend their money but that fundraisers and the goals of the club do come before the board.
She said that if something wasn’t an approved activity by the board, then they couldn’t spend their money on an activity that wasn’t pre-approved.
Butts: Otherwise, the board of trustees and the district doesn’t exercise any authority over day-to-day spending of funds by booster club?
Meadows said that is correct.
Butts said, we are not talking about one cent of public funds, right?
Muphree said that is correct.
Murphree said that the booster club has a board that is supposed to approve funds spent by booster club.
Butts: We can draw that any and all expenses were approved by board of choral booster club.
Murphree said she doesn’t think so. She said that if a check is paid before club approves it doesn’t mean that they approve it.
Butts said that all expenses were approved by Stewart. He said that Ellis did not write any checks.
Butts: The process is that Mr Ellis would either get approval for an expenditure and Ms. Stewart would pay it or with a credit card, he would submit it to Teri Stewart and she would pay it?
Murphree said that was correct.
Butts: We have not seen anything where board or a member disagreed with any of those payments.
Murphree said that to her knowledge she hadn’t seen that.
Butts refers to the exhibits. Said, you claim that Mr. Ellis exceeded his authority by signing a contract to Tupelo High School or the district. Murphree said that is correct.
Butts: These two contracts are between Ellis and Jamie MacMAhon. It is your contention that that phrase, Calvin Ellis of Tupelo HS constitutes him being a signee for the district.
Murphree said that is correct. She said that item A
Butts: It does not maintain that McMahon is an employee of THS.
The questioning is asking why Murphree took the contract to mean that Ellis was signing for the high school.
Murphree: If I am not mistaken, the employment contracts they have at the high school doesn’t say by, it just has a line where they sign for the high school.
Butts: Is there anything in there that specifically says that Mr.Ellis is obligating the district to anything.
Muphree said that in item A it says he is engaged in the business of high school show choir.
Butts: You maintain this is a contract where Mr. Ellis improperly obligated TPSD to a contractual obligation, what payment did district make to Jamie McMahon.
Murphee: IT did not but if the booster club hadn’t paid Ms. McMahon for her services, she would come to the district for it because it has Tupelo High School on the contract.
Butts: Is it pure speculation by you that she would have come to the district?
Murphree: Yes sir.
Butts refers Murphree to an exhibit, Ellis’ contract. He directs her to portion of his contract that deals with supplemental pay. Murphree said it covers anything associated with show choir duties. Butts asks how she knows whether arranging is included in show choir director duties.
Murphree: I don’t know if we have anything that spells out what duties are involved in any supplement.
Butts: Do you know if arranging duties are covered by Mr. Ellis’ supplement.
Murphree: I don’t have a fact in front of me that says that….I can give you an opinion and I can give you a fact. My opinion is that it covers arranging. The fact is I don’t have anything in front of me that says that.
Butts: What leads you to that conclusion?
It say THS show choir directing. It leads one to believe that any duties involved with show choir directing falls under that.
Butts: Let’s say this covers his time after school with students. Do you whether or not while he is arranging songs, he is with students?
Murphree: I do not.
Butts: A significant portion of your testimony deals with credit card documents and credit card receipts. Do you have a document showing how much we are talking about in undocumented credit card receipts.
Murphree: I do not.
Butts: Were you not interested?
Murphree: I was but most expenditures that did not have documentation had students involved, whether Mr. Ellis took a group of students to eat or something of that nature.
Butts: Correct me if I’m worng, I took your testimony to mean Mr. Ellis improperly charged some expense to credit card, is that correct?
Murphree said it is correct.
Butts: Are you saying that in your opinion, Mr. Ellis improperly charged whatever amount to booster club credit card?
Murphree: That is correct.
She said she could go over those if she had everything in front of her but that as part of her work she didn’t compile those charges.
Butts: You can’t tell us what those charges are or how much they are and that you don’t have any documentation to back that up?
Muphree said that is correct.
Butts asks if this is for booster club credit card and that it does not involve any public funds. Murprhee said that is correct., that she answered that earlier.
Butts asks if she had ever seen any record where boosters asked Ellis to pay something back. Murphree said that is correct, she answered that earlier.
Butts asks Murphree if she knows anything about music education or show choirs and about whether arrangements or choreography need to be redone to fit in a show. Murphree said she does not know.
Butts: What do you know about financial end of show choir.
Murphree: I do know how to look at a set of books and review them.
Under questioning, Muphree said she wouldn’t know whether an arranged song could not be used because show had changed.
She said that any copyright that had been paid would have been paid by booster club, not by the school district. She said that she would not know whether Ellis or the booster club even had to apply for permissions for any of these songs.
Butts: You have testified about bylaws and constitution of booster club, on one occasion, Mr. Ellis was paid some $7,400 in 2010. It is your contention that Mr. Ellis should not have been paid that because by-laws said members should not be compensated. What directed your attention to that?
Murphree said she requested the bylaws as part of her review.
Butts said that booster club, not district, paid Ellis and that any objection to that payment would be made by booster club not by district.
Butts is asking about the 10-99, saying that it is the individual’s responsibility to report to the IRS. Asks if she has seen
Murphree said she had seen his tax return because it was on his school-issued laptop when he turned it in. She accessed his tax return for the 2010 year.
Butts: How did you find it?
Murphree: It was on his desktop.
Butts asks if she went through every file and she said she didn’t. He asks how she came across that.
Muprhee said she looks at every laptop when it is turned in. Since she had done this work, she saw the tax return on there and looked at the tax return and saw that income was not reported.
Murphree said she got a legal opinion from Stimpson if it was OK to look at the tax return. She said she got that permission after she looked at the document.
Butts asks if there were other personal documents on that computer. Murphree said there were some pictures. Butts asks if they were printed out. Murphree said she didn’t know.
Butts asked whether Muphree knew whether Ellis filed an amendment to his return. Murphree said she did not and that she did not know whether to tax return on the laptop was the one that was filed.
Butts asks about exhibit 65, a contract from Steve Anderson. Date is August 10, 2009. No signature is on there. He asks if she has any knowledge of obligations of music arrangers to obtain copyright permissions. Murphree said she did not.
Butts asks if there were other such contracts. Murphee said there were, said she does not know why this one contract was brought up and others weren’t.
Stimpson is about to begin re-direct.
Murphree said when she finished her review she wrote down conclusions and presented them to the superintendents. Stimpson summarized the conclusions, including, Ellis’ conflict of interest, that it did not appear to be a 10-99 issued to Mr. Ellis and that the Constitution of booster club maintained that no member could receive contribution and Ellis did
Stimpson asks does district have the duty to ensure district employees act in a trustworthy manner with its booster clubs?
Murphee said it does.
Murphree is asked about the acceptable use policy. She said that all employees must sign it when they are given their laptops. She said the policy states that any information on those computers is district property.
Stimpson asked a question about the supplement for the football coach and other coaches, but I didn’t catch the question.
Stimspon completed her re-direct of Murphree.
Hearing begins a 10-minute break.
Next witness is on the stand. It is Suzy White Williams. She is choral director in Tupelo. Hired by Jason Harris at the end of July. She said she was interviewed by Harris and Niki Peel and that Ellis sat in on the interview.
Williams: Said the job was enticing to her, it was to direct Sound Wave, the women’s show choir and another advanced women’s choir and that it did not involving teaching Wave Connection, which her daughter was in at the time. She said she did not want to teach Wave Connection.
She said when she was hired her schedule stated that she was a coach assistant first period, taught Madrigals second period, Women’s choral third period, coach assistant fourth period. Also had a homeroom class, a keyboard class and advanced women’s choral.
Stimpson: How much time between the time you were hired and the time classes started?
Williams: The offical word I was hired was bout July 17 and the formal paperwork began at that time. She said she reported to work on August 1. She first saw the schedule on that day. Students reported on Thursday of that week.
Stimpson asked if she spoke to her principal about that schedule. Williams said she did in order to be prepared for those classes. She asked Harris if those were the classes she would be teaching and he told her they were.
She said she received phone calls from several parents that she was scheduled to teach their children’s classes.
She said she did not have anything to do with the schedule she was given and that she never asked anyone to alter the schedule. She said she spoke with Ms. Bullock, the other choral director about the fact that the women’s choir had been hers to teach. Williams said she just wanted to know what she was expected to teach so that she could be prepared.
Williams said the schedule did change before the year began. She said she continued to be concerned that Thursday when roll around and she would not be prepared to teach the classes she was supposed to teach. She continued to check with counselors about the schedule and that she learned that Wednesday her classes had been altered. New schedule had her coach assistant, off period, coach assistant, coach assistant, home room, keyboard class and advanced women’s choral.
Stimpson: You went from teaching five classes on original schedule to two classes.
Stimpson: What does coach assistant mean?
Williams: My experience has been that person has you in there if they need you or otherwise not.
Stimpson asksed if Williams disussed her schedule with Ellis. Williams said she did. She said I just need to know what I am teaching so I can be prepared. She said Ellis told her the schedule was not correct and that Madrigals was his class and he ahd the right to teach it. She said Ellis told her he was the director of choral activites and that he decides who teaches what.
Williams said she spoke with Debra Atkinson the person who had her position before her. She said Atkinson told Williams that her class roster had been changed and that she was essentially a secretary and an accompaniest to Mr. Ellis and that she should be careful she did not end up as a secretary and an accompanist.
Williams said she was also choral director at the Tupelo High School in 2000-01. Mr. Mac Curlee was her principal then.
Prior to acception the job, she spoke with Curlee about tutoring. She said she was a late hire because person who held the job vacated late in the summer. At the time, she had 47 private voice students. Curlee told her that if she came to work, she couldn’t teach any student privately she taught during school day. Williams said that resulted in her giving up most of her students, she could keep younger ones or ones not in a class she taught. Said Curlee told her it was a conflict of interest.
Stimpson: Are you aware of any tutoring by Mr. Eliis.
Williams said yes and that it was during school day. She said she was aware Mr. Ellis had a private voice studio. Said she noticed during her eight-period class, students would go in music library to have lessons with Mr. Ellis. Williams said she had one conversation where Ellis accused Williams or turning her in. Williams told him she did not turn him in but that she did think it was a conflict of interest.
Stimpson: Did you ever speak to your principal about Ellis tutoring.
Williams said she was asked abut the tutoring and she said yes, but that she did not initiate the question.
Public was dismissed at 11:19 a.m. because Williams would be testifying about a matter that involved students.
Hearing is recessed for lunch until about 1 or 1:15 p.m.
Hearing resumes with Suzy Williams on the stand.
Williams said she has a docorate in vocal pedagogy. Her undergraduate degree is from Southeastern Louisiana and her master’s and doctorate are from Ole Miss.
She said she did learn about copyright in her classes. She said she learned about it both through music education and church jobs. She said it is illegal to make mass copies of choral music. She said when she was chairman of Charity Ball they were using a piece from Phantom of the Opera. They purchased the music. Junior Auxiliary is a non-profit. She printed out all pertinent copy right laws to be sure they were safe.
Williams said when she met with Ms. Atkinson before the school year began some of their connection was about what plans had been made for Sound Wave. Some of that involved agreement made with Steve Anderson to arrange 4 to 6 songs. She then put that on hold when she knew that she was leaving and a new director was taking her place.
Williams said she knew copyright permissions took time to obtain and she used a few different songs. She said at a mid-September booster club meeting, she reported which songs she had obtained copyright for. She said Ellis was at that meeting and reported that he was still in the process of obtaining copyright.
Williams said someone brought up you could do it if you are not charging a fee and that there was discussion about doing it anyway and asking for forgiveness later. She said many people were talking. Several people were trying to help come up with solutions for what could be done for Wave Connection to be able to have their show in October.
Stimpson asks if she was involved with any booster meetings with Ellis following that meeting? Williams said she was not.
Stimpson: When you were hired by the school district, did you execute an employment contract?
Williams said she did. Said she didn’t read the contract. Said she was familiar with the Mississippi Code of Educator Conduct being in the contract and that she read and signed it.
Stimpson finished her direct exmanition.
Butts will be asking questions concerning students, so hearing goes into closed session at 1:16 p.m
Hearing is back in open session. Williams is still testifying.
Butts is asking Williams about her previous employment. She said she has worked at ICC previously. Butts asked Williams about her employment. Stimpson objected. Lawyers conferred and hearing went back into closed session at 2:02 p.m.
Hearing resumes at 2:10 p.m.
Butts: We’ve established that Mr. Ellis did not recommend you for the position but that he recommended Danielle Freerer. Did you hold any resentment against him because of that?
Williams said no.
Butts asks how long Williams has known Tupelo High School Principal Harris. Williams said about two years. She said he has never visited her house.
Butts: You said your schedule changed so that several of your class periods were defined as coach assistant. Coach assistant means what?
Williams: Helper, I guess.
Butts: When you took the job, did you understand you were to teach or instruct Madrigals?
Williams: There was no discussion about that.
Williams said she was told she was to teach Advanced Women’s Choir and Sound Wave.
Butts: When you talk about new schedule, operating under (a different schedule, changed schedule)….You attribute that change to Mr. Ellis?
Williams said she doesn’t know who changed it.
Butts asks what helper means. Williams said she doesn’t know what coach assistant means. She said that during her interview process she said she wouldn’t care to co-direct. Said she thinks it is confusing for students to have two directors, thinks it causes problems. She said that she is off first period, Madrigals second period, coach assistant for women’s’ choral, Sound Wave, assists MS. Bullock with a group, homeroom, key board, advanced women’s. After school she does Sound Wave.
40 students are in Sound Wave now, she said. They will have a public competition in April and will go to a competition this weekend. Williams said they are going to two other competitions.
Butts: Concerning Mr. Ellis’ double dipping, as you called, are you aware of any board policy that teachers should not tutor students they teach during the day.
Williams said she doesn’t know if a policy exists or not, she just doesn’t think it is appropriate.
Butts asks whether she saw Ellis tutoring students on school time. Williams said she did at least two. Said she doesn’t know for how long and that she did not report that to Ellis.
Butts: Do you know how it came about that one of the charges in his termination letter is double dipping and tutoring students on school time.
She said she does not.
Butts asks Williams how much training she has in copyright. Williams said she learned it as part of her music education classes at Southeastern Louisiana University.
Butts asks whether she has ever previously directed a show choir. Williams said she directed Spirit of Ole Miss show choir in 1993 when she was in school. Said she was on a fellowship with choral department at Ole Miss.
Butts: From 1993 until this year, you have not had any direct involvement in directing a show choir?
Butts: When you were chairman of Charity Ball, was it Phantom of Opera song.
Williams said yes. Said they were exempt from needing to get copyright permission because they were a not-for-profit organization.
Butts: In preparing for Sound Wave performances did you obtain copyrights for songs that would be performed?
Williams said yes. She said contract she was working from was signed by Ms. Atkinson with Steve Anderson as arranger. Contract said THS would have to get the permission.
Williams said she used pre-done arrangements by a guy named Jeff Bowen. He puts out a book of arrangements he had done in the past. They had been previously approved.
Butts asks if Williams worked with any other arrangers/
Williams said she called Bowen. The choral boosters paid for the copyright and the arrangement. Said they paid Treysona for the copyright and Bowen for the arrangement.
Butts: If it turns out it was not necessary for Sound Wave to get any copyright permissions would you consider the money spent to get those permissions squandered?
Stimpson objects to the question.
Butts: I would like for you to assume Sound Wave did not need to get any copyright permission. If that is true, the money spent by the booster club would have been wasted or squandered money?
Williams: I would agree.
Butts completes his cross examination.
Stimpson begins redirect.
Williams said she took hair and makeup night to be a school event, not an optional event. She said it was her understanding that in such events girls should be keeping students under control. Williams said she was told that Ms. Ellis accompanied the girls earlier in the night. Said there were no sexually-suggestive items used when the girls pulled a prank on the boys’ cars.
Stimpson completes her re-direct of Williams, ending her testimony.
Hearing takes a break at 2:30 p.m.
Tupelo High School Principal Jason Harris is the next witness on the stand as the hearing resumes.
Harris said he has know Ellis since July, 2011. Since he started at Tupelo High School on July 1.
Harris is asked about his hiring of Dr. Suzy Williams. Said Dr. Atkinson left before he started and he needed to fill that position. Said he and assistant principal Niki Peel conducted her interview.
Butts said it would be helpful to know what charges Harris would be dealing with so he could determine the relevancy.
Compton said he has never seen anyone have to outline that before. Overruled.
Keith: How did Mr. Ellis come to sit in on that interview.
Harris said he invited him to come in more as a courtesy since they would have to work together. He thought it would be beneficial.
Harris said that Ellis didn’t make a preference to him but said that he knew everyone who had interviewed for the position.
Keith asks what Harris knows about the schedule change.
Harris said he knows there was a schedule change made for Ellis to take Madrigals. At the time, he would not have known the difference if he was the director or not. He said the schedule was set before Harris came on board.
Harris said they try to make as few changes to the schedule as possible. He said Ellis made the changes that occurred to Williams’ schedule.
Harris is given a document, exhibit 66. Said document is email correspondence between Ellis and himself on July 12 with follow-up on July 13. Said subject is to thank him for sitting in on the interviews. Said he spoke with parents concerning the retreat and that they wanted to take trip as a parent-sponsored activity. Ellis asked if they could take trip as a booster-club sponsored event rather than a school-sponsored event.
Keith: What trip?
Harris: They wanted to take a trip to Smith Lake with Wave Connection group. Said Ellis brought the trip to him originally. Harris said he was not comfortable with the venue. Said the lake is really deep, there is a lot of liability with taking a group of high school students to the lake.
Harris said in the email he would not approve the field trip to Smith Lake. He was not against the trip but was against the venue. Said he also would not approve it as a booster club trip.
Harris said as a follow-up he had a request for students to spend the night in the PAC as a Wave Connection bonding event.
Keith asks Harris what issues he expressed.
Harris said he had an issue they would stay up all night. He said he was not comfortable with the students staying up all night at the school.
Asked about a trip to Disney.
Harris said permission was requested for a trip to Disney in December. Said the trip did not occur because of revenue and the boosters not being able to meet the need of students requesting scholarships.
Keith asks Harris about the pranking incident on Sept. 30. Keith asks how that matter came to Harris’ attention.
Harris said his first notification came on that Monday, mid-afternoon. He said Meadows contacted him, said he received a phone call about an event that happened over the weekend that caused some concern. He said Meadows said a parent would be coming to see Harris to advise him about what happened. Harris said the following day, two parents came to see him.
The parents told Harris they had an event on Friday night. Girls got together at a parents home and boys went to Mr. Ellis’ home. Some pranking occurred where inappropriate items were purchased at Walmart. Vaseline, condoms, bananas and car paint. Harris said earlier in the evening the girls left where they were and went to where boys’ cars were parked and wrote different things on the cars. The boys found out and wanted to retaliate and go to where girls were staying and re-prank them.
Keith asked Harris what he did.
Harris said he notified Meadows he received the report and started an investigation to find out what happened. Said he went to students who ahd been involved and have them write out a report of what occurred.
Keith said they will now need to talk about student names, and hearing goes into closed session at 2:58 p.m.
Hearing is open again.
Harris said he was asked during the investigation to call principal at Petal High School to find out why Tupelo show choirs hadn’t been invited back there. Harris said he called and learned that Tupelo students hadn’t acted appropriately. Said the Petal principal told him that Tupelo students had trashed a room there and that Petal parents did not want them back. The principal said that he called and told then Tupelo principal Lee Stratton about that. Harris said that Tupelo has not since been invited back.
Jim Keith finishes his examination of Harris.
Butts is about to begin his cross.
Butts asks Harris about scheduling in choral department. What is his knowledge about Mr. Elli’s involvment in Williams’ schedule.
Harris said when he arrived master schedule had been completed. When they interviewed for Williams’ position they had the schedule listed. Ellis would have later changed it. Harris said he would trusted Ellis to know if there was an error in the schedule that needed to be adjusted.
Butts: Had you been aware of other scheduling problems with master schedule in previous years?
Harris: Not really, but I know in scheduling there are a lot of conflicts because it is a domino. I was not aware of anything prior at Tupelo High School.
Butts: School starts and then in early October you get a call from Mr. Meadows that you should expect a call or a visit from a parent. Harris said correct.
Butts: You started two parents came to visit you?
Butts: From that you began your investigation, you were identifying all of the kids who were there. How did you do that?
Harris: Said he went to master list. He asked first kid he spoke to to list who was there. Then he asked other students.
Butts asked if it was a school-sponsored event.
Harris said if you had a gathering like that with a staff member, it was a school-sponsored event. Harris said he did not know whether such events had happened in the past and had not been considered school sponsored events. Harris said he never told Ellis it should be a school-sponsored event.
Butts: To be a school-sponsored event, you need to get it approved by administration and then need permissions from parents. None of that occurred here?
Harris said correct.
Butts asks whether anyone asked whether it has been considered a school-wide event in the past. Harris said probably Mr. Meadows. He said he investigated everything he was asked to investigate and then turned everything over to Mr. Meadows.
Butts asks if Harris has seen Tupelo city curfew law. Harris said he had seen it but couldn’t remember last time he had seen it. He said his understanding of it is that you have to be in your residence unless you have permission from your parents. Butts asks whether Harris investigated whether students had permission from parents. Harris said he did not speak to the parents but some students said they had left because they had a home curfew.
Butts asks if children stayed out after midnight with permission of parents they did not violate curfew law. Harris said he does not know.
Butts: Lets get back to your investigation.
Harris said he interviewed all of the boys but not all of the girls. Butts asks why not all of the girls. Harris said they were working through exams and he was able to get enough of the student statements. Going through exams and it was hard to get with the timeframe.
Butts: After you gathered these statements from the students, what did you do with them?
Harris said he turned the information in to Mr. Meadows. Also kept a copy.
He said Ellis emailed him and he came and they discussed it. Harris said Ellis’ quote was that his biggest mistake was that he did not look in the bag to see what was in the bag.
Butts: He asserted that he did not know condoms would be used in the prank?
Harris said he reported to Meadows exactly what Ellis said.
Butts: By the time Ellis was placed on administrative leave on Oct. 6, …Refers to a letter, exhibit 27. Asks Harris to look at it.
Harris said he and Personnel Director Jim Turner wrote the letter. It was the letter that told Ellis he was being placed on administrative leave.
Harris said reason why Ellis was being put on administrative leave was not expressly said in the letter. He said that he and Turner had met with Ellis and told him why he was being placed on administrative leave.
Butts: You are telling him we are putting you on administrative leave because of incident that occurred on Sept. 30 and you are to follow these instructions, is that correct.
Harris said yes.
Butts said that letter said that Ellis was to have zero contact with students and with students with whom he was conducting private lessons. Asks Harris to explain.
Harris: Mr Ellis was giving lessons to students on campus. We knew that would be a conflict because her couldn’t interact with students. Said Ellis wrote down the names of students he was giving voice lessons to and Harris contacted them and said Ellis would not be able to tutor those students at school while he was placed on administrative leave.
Harris said he could not tutor his high school students while being placed on administrative leave. Harris said he wrote a letter to those parents and then personally called them.
Butts said that Harris also told Ellis not to come on school property, not to have contact with students, not to have contact with district employees other than Meadows, Harris or Tuner. Also not to have any retaliatory measures.
Harris said that he wanted to make sure as they were conducting investigation Ellis didn’t have any interaction with students.
Butts said you told Ellis to contact Turner’s office every day at 3 p.m. to discover whether investigation had been completed. Said Ellis had to turn in ID badge and keys and to get any of his property off THS campus.
Butts: Did you determine to put him on administrative leave or were you instructed to do so?
Harris said the superintendent made that decision.
Butts: At the meeting with Mr. Ellis, what was the allegation against him at that time?
Harris: It was not an allegation, we were conducting an investigation.
Butts: It does say of recent allegations, what were the recent allegations?
Harris: That he had students at his house at an undesirable hour.
Butts: Was Ellis given opportunity to discuss this situation fully?
Harris No. Said only conversation with Ellis was the previous one in his office. Said there was no conversation with Meadows to his knowledge. Said he had no conversations with Ellis between the date Ellis was placed on leave and the date he was terminated.
Butts: Is it part of procedure that you give teacher an opportunity to defend himself before you take administrative action against them?
Harris said he has seen it done different ways. Sometimes there is a concersation. Sometimes person is put on leave and brought back and has a conversation later. He said that is the superintendent’s decision.
Harris said that he is not aware of an opportunity Ellis was given to meet with anyone in the administration and go over all of these charges.
Keith objects saying it would be speculative.
Haris said he did not have any knowledge. The last time he had spoken with Ellis was that day, Oct. 6.
Butts: One would think that a school district and its principals, administrators superintendent would work to afford its teachers a full opportunity to explain any concerns that come up with his job before taking administrative action against him.
Keith objects, speculative.
Butts: Is it a part of the Tupelo Public School District’s policy to afford accused teachers an opportunity to give an explanation before disciplinary action is taken.
Harris said he is not sure whether there is a written policy. Said it probably lies under the discretion of the superintendent.
Butts: Are you aware of any policies that a superintendent should give an accused teacher an opportunity to (defend self) prior to any disciplinary action being taken.
Harris said he is not aware.
Butts: Have you worked in other districts?
Harris said yes.
Butts asks if Harris is aware of policies in other districts that give teachers an opportunity to defend selves before action is taken.
Harris said he doesn’t know.
Butts asks Harris about Ellis being able to sit in on interviews for choral directors job. Harris said Ellis was there and that he did not make a recommendation about whom he would prefer.
Butts: During those interviews, did you and Ms. Peel and Mr. Ellis complete score sheets?
Harris said they did. He said that Ellis scored someone beside Ms. Williams higher than he scored Williams.
Butts directs Harris to an email between Harris and Ellis. In it Harris said Tupelo High School would not authorize a performance with songs that do not have copyright permissions. Butts asks Harris his familiarity with copyright law. Harris said he is not a copyright guru but during his time at Columbus High School they did have a show choir and it would not perform songs without copyright permission.
Butts: Did you assume Mr. Ellis needed copyright permission for all songs to be performed by show choir.
Harris said he needed permission for every song to be performed. He knew that from his time at Columbus High School and his principal there telling him.
Harris said he consulted Ms. Stimpson about that and that he remained convinced that Ellis needed to have copyright permissions before the show could go on.
Butts: Are you familiar with whether or not Tupelo Public School District has ever expended public money to get copyright permission for any song.
Harris said he knew they had gotten permission from J.W. Pepper before.
Butts: The booster club pays for the copyright permission is that your understanding?
Harris said for some but that the school has bought some copyright permissions, from J.W. Pepper, this year.
Butts: Are you aware of potential of other copyright violations that may occur at your high school.
Keith objects on relevancy.
Butts: I want to find out if there are other alleged violations other than this one, what are you doing about it?
Harris said he is not aware of any alleged violations. He said he checked with others, checked with the band. They told him they are not violating copyright.
Butts asks Harris about his conversation with Petal High School principal.
Butts: His statement to you was that some Tupelo students had trashed a room?
Harris said correct and that their behavior was substandard. He said he did not go to that competition.
Butts asked if he had talked to students or parents involved. Harris said many of those students had graduated from the high school because it had occurred two years earlier.
Butts asks if Harris knows whether Lee Stratton took any disciplinary action against Ellis. Harris said he did not know.
Butts: Are you aware of any situations where a teacher has been fired without being disciplined first. If you have notice of some misconduct on the part of the teacher, would you fire them without instituting any discipline first.
Harris: I don’t know of any. That would be whatever supervisor makes that decision.
Harris said he has never fired a teacher, that is superintendent’s decision.
Butts: We talked about the statements you gathered from many of the students involved. Would you agree with me there is nothing in any of those statements that indicate Ellis knew condoms would be involved in the prank.
Harris: No, it just said that he went to the store with them, but none of them explicitly wrote that he knew exactly what they were buying.
Butts asking about termination letter. Asks Harris whether he met with anyone from booster club about allegation Ellis had squandered booster funds. Harris said no.
Butts: What about allegation of improper conduct in allowing show choir members to run laps around the PAC?
Harris said he did not.
Butts asks about Harris having conversations with parents about other charges. He said he did speak with booster club treasurer Teri Stewart.
Harris said he did not do any investigation into allegation of telling students to skip class. Said he didn’t investigate charge of coercing students to skip class.
Butts: As I understand, really the extent of your investigation is getting the statement of these kids involving this pranking icncident. Beside the copyright.
Butts: In your judgement, should Mr. Ellis have been given an opportunity to address these charges before he was fired.
Harris: I think he was affored an opportunity, I think he met with the superintendent. Said he was not there for that.
Butts ends cross and Jim Keith begins redirect.
Harris said he has concerns about how other school districts view Tupelo High School. Said he was concerned by what Petal High principal told him about substandard behavior.
Keith asks about copyright. Haris said Ellis told him that he had four songs at the time, said ‘no news is good news’ and that he felt confident he would be able to obtain copyright.
Harris said Ellis never told him that there was no need to get copyright. Said Ellis said this all came about from Glee phenomenon. Told Harris he was working to get permissions.
Keith asks about Williams’ interview.
Harris said that Williams scored the highest of the candidates interviewed. He said that other candidates would not know about how they scored.
Harris is referred to a letter placing Harris on paid administrative leave. Keith asks if Harris was still a paid employee of the school district at that time. Harris said yes.He said the letter was given to Ellis the day after he and Ellis had a conversation about the event.
Harris said Ellis told him he stayed in the car the whole time but students said Ellis had gone into Walmart and looked at magazines. Said he was not getting a consistent report from Ellis and students.
Keith asks Harris why it is helpful to place an employee on administrative leave during an investigation?
Harris said it helps by removing them from the situation and taking them out of the situation.
Keith: Was it your belief Mr. Ellis knew exactly why he was being placed on administrative leave?
Harris said yes. He said Ellis didn’t ask him why he was being placed on administrative leave.
Keith: What concerns did you have when Mr. Ellis told you that his biggest mistake was not looking in the students’ bags?
Harris: The biggest thing was being in a car with high school students at that hour and if an accident had occurred not being able to defend that.
Keith: Was his biggest mistake not looking in their bags?
Harris: Probably his mistake was being in the car, period.
Keith: Did any parent tell you their child had permission to be out with Mr. Ellis pranking other students’ cars?
Keith asks what understanding Harris had about hair and makeup night and whether or not it was optional for students.
Harris said he did see an email a concerned parent showed him, an email from Ellis asking whether her child was in or out.
Keith asked Harris whether the fact that approval was not required in past years for the event made it appropriate to not get permission this year?
Harris said no.
Keith: What authority did Ellis have to change the schedule?
Haris: Teachers can’t change the schedule.
Harris said when condom pranking event happened, Ellis never came to him to talk to him about it prior to Harris beginning his investigation.
Keith asks Harris if he is Ellis’ direct supervisor.
Harris said he is.
Keith concludes his redirect of Harris. Harris is done testifying.
Tammy Harrington is called as the next witness. She said she has children in Tupelo school district and her daughter is in choral department.
She said he child has been involved since 9 th grade. She has known the Ellis’ since her daughter was in seventh grade. Mrs. Ellis was her daughter’s theater teacher in seventh grade.
Harrington said she was booster club secretary in 2009-10 and 2010-11. She also served as parent rep for the Madrigal group. During that time, Tracey Hudson was president, Beth Holliman was vice president and Teri Stewart was treasurer.
Stimpson: After Mr. Ellis’ termination, did you have conversations with any other parents about the charges that resulted in his termination.
She said she did not recall any conversations. She said she did read them in the newspaper but that she doesn’t remember specifically talking about them with anyone.
Harrington is directed to an exhibit. She said it showed that the club didn’t have any money left to get any additional music or additional choreography.
Sitmpson asks if Ellis had contacted her after he had been placed on leave?
Harrington said she got a phone call and text message, saying he had some questions he wanted answered. Harrington said it was after his dismissal. She said he texted him back and said she was hesitant to get involved if she didn’t have to be because it had become such a hostile topic in the community.
Harrington said she was familiar with show choir board but that she was not on it.
Hearing goes into closed session at 4:38 p.m. because Harrington’s testimony will involve a student matter.
Harrington completes her testimony, most of which was done in closed session.
Hearing is recessed until 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday.