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Hernando school district inquiry finds no vital documents at Nature Coast Tech were shredded

BROOKSVILLE — Last summer, the School Board decided to settle a lawsuit by ineligible Nature Coast Technical High students in part because board members feared that some important documents in the case had been shredded.

Turns out that no vital documents are missing or destroyed, though a secretary did shred some attendance records without permission, a district investigation has found.

Meanwhile, Margaret "Tizzy" Schoelles, the 51-year-old former Nature Coast principal who prompted the investigation by saying she was told some documents were missing, has said she will retire at the end of this school year.

Her husband, David Schoelles, a 51-year-old, longtime district employee who is currently a curriculum supervisor, also plans to retire this year, according to personnel changes up for School Board review Tuesday.

Officials found no wrongdoing on the part of Tizzy Schoelles, and interim superintendent Sonya Jackson said her decision to retire is not linked to the investigation and that Jackson did not give her an ultimatum to retire or risk losing her job.

"We did not have a conversation like that," Jackson said. "It's strictly her decision."

Neither Tizzy Schoelles nor her husband returned calls for comment Thursday or Friday.

Schoelles prompted the inquiry by sending a letter in August to then-superintendent Wayne Alexander that she was told by another secretary at the school that secretary Linda Campbell had been seen shredding documents in Schoelles' former office.

Schoelles had already taken her new job as principal at Fox Chapel Middle School and her successor, Toni-Ann Noyes, had not yet arrived at the school. Schoelles told Alexander she left important admission records in her office and worried they may have been destroyed.

The School Board's litigation attorney notified the board on Aug. 13, the day before the district was due in court to fight the attempts of two out-of-county Nature Coast students who had been barred from returning.

The students wanted a judge to allow them to return this school year. District policy requires magnet students to be Hernando residents and 20 Pasco residents have been admitted in recent years.

The prospect of missing evidence was one reason that the board chose to settle the case and allow all former out-of-county students to return if they wished.

"There is no evidence to support that any documents shredded at NCTHS, by Mrs. Campbell or any other staff member, were related to litigation matters and/or lottery/magnet school files," Heather Martin, executive director of business services, wrote in the investigation report.

"The letter from Mrs. Schoelles … was submitted without any factual information and was based on a secretary telling her it occurred. The secretary did not witness the shredding and was not physically present on campus at the time of the shredding."

The missing documents have all been accounted for, Martin wrote.

During questioning, Campbell said she is aware of rules for document retention and that the older attendance records she destroyed were copies, not originals, and were taking up space. She acknowledged she acted without permission but pointed out that no one seemed to be in charge at the school at the time.

Jackson sent Campbell a formal letter of reprimand for destroying documents without authority.

"Regardless of the circumstances, such inappropriate actions on your part do not reflect positively on your position," Jackson wrote. "You are to refrain from engaging in the same or similar conduct in the future.''

Campbell told school officials that she and Tizzy Schoelles have a tense relationship because she helped research the investigation into the out-of-county students and previous allegations of improper recruiting for sports teams while Jackson was director of school services.

Campbell served as Jackson's assistant and had been reassigned to Nature Coast last summer.

"Why would I shred lottery stuff when I worked so hard on it with Sonya?" Campbell told Martin and Board attorney Paul Carland. "Tizzy and I didn't have a good relationship. I wouldn't destroy anything to save her."

"She took the first opportunity to throw me under the bus," Campbell added.

Campbell said she believes Schoelles knew that ineligible students were being admitted to the school. "In my heart, I know that she knew," she said.

Reached at Nature Coast Friday, Campbell declined to comment.

"What I said in the transcripts is exactly it," she said. However, she did contradict a statement by assistant principal Robert Griffin, who told investigators that he told Campbell to stop shredding documents.

"He never spoke to me," Campbell said.

Tizzy Schoelles sent her retirement letter to Jackson on Oct. 13 — about the time the investigation was wrapping up — notifying her that she would be retiring effective June 30. She did not give a reason in the letter, though she said she is giving notice now so the district could factor her vacant position into personnel plans.

"I thank you for having had the opportunity to serve the students, staff and families of Hernando County for these past thirty years," Schoelles wrote.

In a letter to Jackson dated Oct. 26, Schoelles reiterated concerns about Campbell's actions.

"Her blatant disregard of the instructions given her by her supervisor to cease shredding of documents is inexcusable, and thus appears to validate the initial concerns that prompted me to notify the District Office of this alleged incident in the first place," she wrote.

School Board member Sandra Nicholson says she was glad to hear no important documents had been lost, but acknowledged that she'd lost confidence in Schoelles' ability to lead at Nature Coast.

"Everyone I talk to at Nature Coast is happier this year," she said. "Things have really calmed down and they're working to make it a friendly atmosphere over there."

As for Schoelles' decision to retire, Nicholson said, "Sometimes it's time for people to move on. I wish her well."

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

Hernando school district inquiry finds no vital documents at Nature Coast Tech were shredded 10/30/09 [Last modified: Friday, October 30, 2009 8:53pm]
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