PB board members unhappy with bankers’ reaction to Bolding vote

Some Pine Bluff School Board members have expressed displeasure with a pair of letters from local banking leaders and a prominent physician’s telephone call criticizing the panel’s 5-2 vote on April 16 to separate the joint positions of Pine Bluff High School athletic director and football coach, both held by Bobby Bolding.

The board reversed its decision by a 4-3 margin in a special called meeting Wednesday night. Several directors said Thursday that although the Monday-dated letters from Simmons First National Corporation Chairman and Chief Executive Officer George Makris and Relyance Bank President and CEO Chuck Morgan recommended the board’s reconsideration, the idea had been in the making since last Friday.

Board member Harold Jackson, who favored the separation in both votes, said he was “upset” by “the way (Makris’) letter was done.”

“We weren’t trying to fire (Bolding),” Jackson said. “By splitting the position, he would have had more time for football.”

Adding that he didn’t think Bolding should be “supervising himself” as athletic director, Jackson took issue with Makris’ strong letter.

“The board knows what the district needs,” Jackson said. “We didn’t need that letter. I didn’t appreciate the letter. We’re on this board and know more than someone else about what this district needs.

“We weren’t trying to run (Bolding) off,” he continued. “His salary probably wasn’t going to change, but he might have had to teach a class or two.”

Director Phyllis Wilkins was critical of both letters, and noted that Morgan’s addressed a recent community commitment to help fund the district’s participation in the University of Virginia’s School Turnaround Program. The two-year student leadership development program is designed to boost results within some of the nation’s lowest-performing schools.

In his letter, Morgan said that in exchange for their commitment to help fund the turnaround program, supporters received a pledge from the board and the district administration to “work together with an agenda to improve the educational opportunities and results for our children.”

“I ask you to please keep that in mind, while carrying out your responsibility as a board member,” Morgan wrote.

“I took that as a veiled threat to withdraw support from the district,” Wilkins said. “I do not appreciate that at all.”

Wilkins said she is dedicated to working with her fellow board members for the best interest of the district’s students.

“That’s what I’m about,” she said. “I work for this district and those children. I don’t work for Mr. Morgan or Mr. Makris. If they want to be helpful and make suggestions, that’s wonderful. But don’t try to threaten to withdraw support if we don’t do exactly like you want us to do.”

Noting that five generations of her family have resided here, Wilkins said she felt the letters questioned her family’s devotion to the city.

“And that’s never happened before,” she added.

“I certainly didn’t intend to question anyone’s loyalty,” Makris said. “It’s simply that my opinion is that the board has certain responsibilities and there are lines that they don’t cross. The board hires administrators and then the administrators make recommendations in regard to personnel. The board doesn’t have to agree with the recommendations, but when it doesn’t, there should be an explanation as to why.

“No explanation was offered when the board took its actions on April 16,” he said. “To accept an elected position, you accept extreme responsibility to the public that elected you. I didn’t think that decision was consistent with those principles. As I said, the board selects and hires a superintendent, and the superintendent makes recommendations on personnel. It’s not the board’s job to hire an athletic director.”

Makris wondered aloud what might have contributed to the board’s original decision.

Director Leon Jones Sr., who initially favored the separation but reversed his vote Wednesday, dismissed the hubbub over the letters, saying Makris and Morgan were “just stating their opinions.”

“We were already on top of this situation before the letters arrived,” said board President Piccola Washington, who said she believes Makris was merely “showing concern” for the district. Washington said she opposed separating the two positions held by Bolding in each vote because there is no documentation of any wrongdoing on his part.

Superintendent Linda Watson sent an email to board members on Tuesday that she said was relating a telephone message from Pine Bluff urologist Dr. David Jacks. Watson indicated that Jacks said the decision to separate Bolding’s responsibilities constituted the sort of action that might might cause some local physicians to stop donating their time and services in providing free physicals for students.

Jacks seemed stunned when advised by telephone that his message generated some negative responses from board members.

“I don’t know anything about any letters or emails,” he said. “I just called Dr. Watson to express my concerns. This district needs to be about graduation and good grades. We don’t need negative publicity on actions that are embarrassing and don’t properly serve our district’s students. We’ve lost half of our district, and I just want to help take care of our kids.

“I love Pine Bluff,” he concluded. “I want to be as positive as I can and I want everyone here to get along, but I think that some of the board members need to be reminded that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Jacks, Makris and Morgan said Bolding is responsible for improved academic performances by the school’s athletes.

As of press time, Morgan had not returned a message left on his home telephone Thursday.