Dec. 3, 2009: Bibb schools superintendent under ethics investigation

The Georgia Professional Standards Commission is investigating whether Bibb County schools Superintendent Sharon Patterson and two deputy superintendents had ethics lapses for failing to report school system misconduct.

School board members Gary Bechtel and Lynn Farmer filed an ethics complaint against the school leaders with the commission last month.

The board members contend that Patterson and her deputy superintendents investigated two Bibb County principals for misconduct in the past year, but that those investigations were never turned over to the standards commission. That’s the state agency that tracks teacher certification and requires educators to act professionally.

“I felt like we received information there was behavior by certain administrators that rose to the level of investigating ... but the behavior wasn’t reported to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission,” Bechtel said. “We filed a complaint because we felt ... they should have been reported.”

Former Northeast High School principal Sam Scavella was investigated by the central office this year for having an affair with another school worker, which the school system said he admitted. He resigned in May and now works for Atlanta’s city school system.

Appling Middle School principal Robert Stevenson also was investigated. He was placed on administrative leave in August by the system’s central office after accusations that he mentally and physically abused students. He resigned from his job in the past week.

Neither man could be reached for comment.

In a letter to Patterson, the standards commission said it had reviewed the board members’ complaint and determined that it warranted an investigation. The commission has given the school system until Friday to respond.

Patterson held a news conference Wednesday, saying that neither she nor deputy superintendents Sylvia McGee and Mack Bullard had done anything wrong, and that they would comply fully with the commission.

“Anybody, anytime can file this (kind of) complaint,” Patterson said. “We believe fully that the (commission’s) investigation will find no wrongdoing.”

Patterson said the central office did report its investigation of Stevenson to the standards commission, but she did not remember when it was reported.

The commission requires educators to report suspected ethics violations within 90 days.

Scavella’s investigation by the central office wasn’t reported to the standards commission at all, Patterson said, because school system attorneys said it didn’t require reporting.

In its guidelines, the commission does not specifically address an affair with a subordinate as a violation. It addresses how educators should conduct themselves professionally, including this rule:

“An educator shall demonstrate conduct that follows generally recognizable professional standards,” describing improper conduct as “any that would impair an educator to function professionally on the job or behavior detrimental to the health, welfare and discipline or morale of students.”

If Patterson, McGee and Bullard are found to have violated any professional ethics standards, they could face warnings or, worst-case scenario, lose their certifications, said Gary Walker, director of the ethics division for the standards commission.

School board President Tom Hudson said there will be a called meeting at 5 p.m. Monday to further discuss the ethics complaint. He would not comment further.

To contact writer Julie Hubbard, call 744-4331.