Cobb County Schools has come under pressure recently to change the way it investigates educators accused of misconduct and may have already taken action to remove its top internal investigator.
Multiple sources close to the situation told the MDJ that Mary Finlayson, the district’s professional standards and ethics director who has led the charge in several high-profile investigations of school principals, may be on her way out.
After the last investigation fell apart because of a lack of evidence, the school district became the target of criticism by parents and teacher advocates who said it had taken a “guilty until proven innocent” approach to investigating accusations. Most of the cases have involved a principal allegedly not reporting a case of sexual misconduct.
District officials would not confirm reports that Finlayson had been terminated or asked to resign, but unofficial sources said Finlayson worked her last day Thursday, even though she would still be on the payroll for a few more days.
When pressed Friday on whether Finlayson was still employed in her position, the communications director for Cobb Schools, Jay Dillon, said “technically, yes.”
He also released a joint statement from Superintendent Michael Hinojosa and Board Chair Randy Scamihorn.
The statement acknowledges “concerns that have been expressed about certain employment decisions” but did not touch on Finlayson’s employment status, nor did it mention her by name.
“We take the concerns very seriously and have spent the last several weeks looking at changes that need to be made,” the statement reads. “Though personnel decisions can be difficult, we strive to make decisions that are in the best interest of the Cobb County schools.”
Sources said Finlayson was told her position would be eliminated because of budget cuts. However, Finlayson’s job is funded through July 1, when the 2014-15 budget kicks in.
The statement acknowledged that CCSD’s central office will face a reduction in positions, noting reorganization is “inevitable” in the coming school year.
Scamihorn said the Cobb School Board is in the midst of a tough budget season as it tries to make up for an $86 million shortfall.
“Our tentative budget has 16 people cut at the central office and 182 out in the field at schools and other offices; most of them are teachers unfortunately,” Scamihorn said Friday.
Also up in the air is what will happen with Finlayson’s staff of two full-time investigators, Chris Dowd and Jay Morrissey.
One source suggested they could be reassigned to other jobs within the central office.
Finlayson, who was a former county police investigator before joining the school system, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Finlayson led investigations into three high-profile cases over the past couple of school years.
Allegations against Awtrey Middle School Principal Jeff Crawford were dropped earlier this month, following an unsubstantiated claim that he failed to report an incident of reported rape. The alleged incident took place off school grounds between two seventh-grade students and it was later determined that no rape took place.
In another case, Kell High School Principal Trudie Donovan resigned last school year after district officials, led by Finlayson, brought accusations that she failed to file a mandatory report within 24 hours. The criminal charges against Donovan were dismissed March 27 of this year.
Just a few months prior to Donovan’s resignation, the school board approved the firing of both Tapp Middle School Principal Dr. Jerry Dority and counselor Yatta Collins for similar allegations.