Lillie Jessie Responds to Reimbursement Controversy: ’45 Years of Honest, Hands-On Leadership’

| March 17, 2019 | 0 Comments | Education

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: 

By Lillie Jessie

School Board Representative Occoquan District

March 14, 2019

I have been a member of the Prince William County School Board for six years and a member of this school division for more than forty years.  During these last six years, I have been attacked by social media, had my information seized under the Freedom of Information Act, and publicly confronted by my colleagues on the Board.  I have made it a practice of not responding.

I am breaking that tradition because a fellow Board Member, Mr. Willie Deutsch (Coles District), has publicly accused me of pushing a policy that in his words would “benefit herself financially.” He has published his accusations on social media, a political website and sent it to local newspaper outlets. Mr. Deutsch and Mrs. Allyson Satterwhite (Gainesville) have also indicated that I have received reimbursements for trips that that were not “official” school board function and/or “non-school division functions.” I will not allow anyone to besmirch my reputation or accuse me of taking money that does not belong to me without a response. I also will not allow Mr. Deutsch or Mrs. Satterwhite to imply that the Finance Office either knowingly or unknowingly broke policy to enrich me.

During my dedication speech for the naming of John Jenkins Elementary you heard me say that I adopted his “people to people” policy. That is who I am and that is who I will continue to be.  I have been a “hands on”…”get in your car and go see type” of leader for decades. I do not plan to stop that nor will I apologize for traveling all over this county, the state, and to various states as an official Prince William County Schools representative. I have attended numerous events to meet the needs of my constituents. In many instances, I am the only Board member present. I often filled in as Chair when I was Vice Chair and later as Acting Chair.

One of my first acts on this school board was to respond to parents in River Falls who said their high school students’ bus trip was too long.  The only way to determine if that was an issue was to follow that bus at 5:00 a.m. in the morning so I did. The parents were correct. During the recent boundary debate, the only way to determine whether parent concerns were legitimate was to drive the disputed areas and to visit the schools grounds.

Mr. Deutsch and Mrs. Satterwhite contend that I have attended conferences that were “not official.” The two conferences I believe they referred to are the National Association of Black Educators (NABSE) and the Professional Learning Community Administrative Leadership Conference. Both conferences were out of state, both were approved.

I was assigned to be the Board Representative for National Association of Black Educators (NABSE), my first year on the Board by former Chair Milt Johns and each subsequent Chairman. That assignment has continued even today despite my continued reminders that there is no local chapter. Dr. Walts (superintendent) brought this organization to PWCS. I think a chair assignment to the organization as the official representative makes my trip “official school board business.” I will need Mr. Deutsch and Mrs. Satterwhite to explain how fulfilling the duties my chair assigns and going to the conference I was told to attend is not “official school board business.”

Prince William County Schools has adopted the Professional Learning Community (PLC)DuFour Model countywide.  In fact one of our schools, Minnieville, recently received the International Rick DuFour Professional Community Award. That makes my approved trip a “school division function.” My former school was a Model PLC. Again, I will need Mr. Deutsch and Mrs. Satterwhite to explain how an approved trip where I was attending a conference where I learned more about the model used by our schools is not a “school division function.” By the way, there is no list of what is “official and non-official” for Board members to follow.

Finally, the word “re-imbursement” means return of money for services paid out of pocket. The Finance Department reviewed every one of my transactions to ensure theymet the school division’s guidelines.

 To Mr. Deutsch’s and Mrs. Satterwhite’s contention that “she (Mrs. Jessie) was paid over $1000.00 for one month…more than her monthly salary” is a failure on their part to examine the record more thoroughly. Had they done that they would have learned that this was actually for three months of travel and included the out of state PLC conference. Based on their numbers during the three years in question my average monthly reimbursement was only $188.00. I do not think that small amount “benefits me financially.” Especially when the $188.00 was reimbursement for expenditures, meaning these are cost I legally incurred.

The Prince William County School Board has a Code of Ethics. In it we pledge to “…hold confidential all matters…. if disclosed, would needlessly injure individuals or the School Division.” In this instance Mr. Deutsch has disclosed personal information about me on social media and even to newspaper outlets that is filled with errors of judgment on his part that could injure my reputation with my constituents, colleagues and member of the PWC community, and more importantly my family. It is also injurious to the PWC Finance Department because it intimated they approved fraudulent requests for reimbursement.

I continue to believe that any School Board member, myself included, deserves to be reimbursed for travel expense wherever that travel occurs. Remember our homes are our offices. We deserve the same benefits given to principals and central office personnel. If a Board Member doesn’t believe or want to receive compensation for his or her expense he or she has the right to not submit them. However, for them to impose their belief on other Members is unwarranted. It should be each Board member’s choice to request those funds.

This article is the sole opinion of the author. 

© 2019, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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Category: Education

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