Students at Homer Pittard Campus school will not have Chontel Bridgeman as principal when they return to class for the 2013-2014 academic year, and the embattled former principal is threatening to sue the county over her transfer.
Campus School, a kindergarten through fifth grade teaching school owned by Middle Tennessee State University and operated by the Rutherford County Board of Education, is considered a top-notch facility, with parents across the county adding their childrens' names to the enrollment waiting list each year.
The school's test scores consistently rank among the highest in the Rutherford County school system, but Bridgeman came under fire in recent years from parents and school board officials alike for the reported loss of school property and allegedly questionable financial practices that seem to conflict with prescribed School Board policy.
Nonetheless, Bridgeman's attorney, Quentin White, told The Daily News Journal that her reassignment "could be racially motivated."
"I understand that there are widespread inconsistencies we anticipate uncovering in the months to come,” he said.
Last week, Director of Schools Don Odom announced administrator changes affecting multiple schools, including a transfer and demotion for Bridgeman.
“It’s important we find the best fit for administrators and the communities they serve for the betterment of the schools,” Odom said in a release.
Beginning in August, Bridgeman will be assigned to both Barfield and Blackman Elementary schools as a "split assistant principal," which comes with a nearly $8,000 decrease in salary, from $83,092.45 down to $75,238.02.
According to school board officials, the Campus School principal position will be advertised soon and a hiring decision will be made later in the summer.
Bridgeman's tenure as principal became controversial in 2010 when Dr. Tracy Pack went to court to obtain public records concerning his son from Rutherford County Schools, Campus School and Bridgeman.
Pack's son was a student at the school, but later transferred.
He requested copies of the documents as part of a Tennessee Public Records Request in September 2010, including all files concerning his son on Bridgeman’s school laptop.
The files were not produced, and Pack filed suit in Rutherford County Chancery Court to compel the Rutherford County Board of Education to produce them.
During May 2012 testimony in Chancery Court, Bridgeman claimed the laptop was stolen at a teacher retreat at Vanderbilt University, but she admitted to not reporting it missing until its contents was requested nearly seven months later.
She testified she did not file a police report with Vanderbilt University or Nashville Metro Police when the incident occurred, and did not ask fellow teachers about the missing property nor did she inform School Board officials until seven months later when its files were requested by School Board Attorney Angel McCloud as part of Pack's open records request.
Chancellor Robert Corlew admonished Bridgeman and the school board at the time for "astonishing behavior," and worried that their actions would undermine the Tennessee Public Records Act.
“Nobody was consulted, no serial numbers were even recorded or sought, and only one call was allegedly made to Vanderbilt with no report to security or Metro Police, not even a verbal followup.” Corlew stated before ruling against the school board. “There is not even a single document showing that the Board did anything to at least inquire about anything.”
“This is very concerning to me as a citizen,” he later added. “None of her (Bridgeman’s) testimony in the matter can be corroborated – the evidence rises and falls with Dr. Bridgeman.”
Pack also requested access to missing and altered checks from the Campus School Parent Teacher Association bank account, and altered school signout sheets.
An attempt by The Murfreesboro Post to view the school's checkbook as part of a public records request in October 2011 resulted in a reporter being ordered to leave the premises.
Pack sought and won court orders forcing the School Board to release documents through motions and hearings, but the laptop remains missing.
The court case still is ongoing, and school board officials produced five sealed bankers boxes in April under court order to Chancellor Robert Corlew, who will review the documents before they are released, Pack's attorney Theodore W. Goodman said.
Each document represents data that was deleted but recovered by a court-appointed computer expert, and Corlew ruled in September 2011 the school board must reimburse Pack for his litigation costs.
"Dr. Pack has every intention of carrying through with his public records request," Goodman said. "We look forward to seeing documents that have been withheld by the board for over three years."
When asked what impact Bridgeman's reassignment as a "split principal" between two schools will have on the current litigation, Goodman responded that Pack remains focused on continuing the legal process.
"I just hope the board does not issue Dr. Bridgeman another laptop that could conveniently disappear during her travels between those two schools," he said.