Pitt County Superintendent on transparency - WNCT

Pitt County Superintendent: 'I don't regret hiring an investigator.'

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Emory answers questions from 9 On Your Side during a Thursday news conference. Emory answers questions from 9 On Your Side during a Thursday news conference.
"And, so, was it painful? Yes. But, would I do it over again? Yes," says Emory on her time in Pitt County. "And, so, was it painful? Yes. But, would I do it over again? Yes," says Emory on her time in Pitt County.
9OYS Exclusive Interview: Emory on Student Surveillance 9OYS Exclusive Interview: Emory on Student Surveillance
GREENVILLE, N.C. -

Pitt County Schools Superintendent Dr. Beverly Emory is speaking out about her successes, challenges and controversies during her tenure.

Emory said she would be stepping down from the Superintendent position in June and accepting a new position as Superintendent of Forsyth County Schools.  This comes after 9 On Your Side uncovered documents pointing to close to $3,500 taxpayer dollars Emory used to hire a non-licensed professional to keep surveillance of students believed to be living outside of their school district.

"My tenure here has been about improvement and trying to put some things in place that bode the district well," said Emory.

During a news conference Thursday morning, Emory touched on the advancements made during her tenure.

"Test scores have gone up every year despite the fact that we've had reduced resources and positions and textbooks," said Emory.

Pitt County's graduation rate did rise 15 percent and Emory faced many more challenges during her seven years in Pitt County. Some, harder than others, after a J.H. Rose high school student athlete died from a concussion related injury.

"Burying a young man who died from second impact syndrome in 2008 was the hardest thing I've ever done in my whole career," said Emory.

Emory called the 2010 redistricting battle a new level of transparency for her but it's that same transparency that was lost during last year's student surveillance controversy.

"I don't regret hiring an investigator. I don't regret that it cost us only $3,500," said Emory, "What personally pained me the most in that was any thought I was doing something wrong or trying to hide it."

Emory said there was a fine line for investigating where people live saying, "The thinking at the time was just the pressure from the number of complaints we were getting," she said, "It, maybe, rushed us to that."

Emory admitted she should have made a more transparent decision but just making the decision, she says, was something she had to do.

"Not everyone is going to like them so do them in such a way that people can understand. Hopefully they'll respect why you made them, even if they don't agree with them," said Emory.

The Pitt County Board of Education is conducting a special meeting Thursday night to being the process of looking for new leadership.

9 On Your Side obtained a second resignation letter Emory sent out to her administration. It reads as follows:

March 26, 2013

Dear Administrative Family,

A little after 10 this morning, I signed a contract to become Superintendent of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School District effective July 1. It is a bittersweet decision for me as I love this community and have thoroughly enjoyed our work here.

You are such hardworking and devoted leaders and you demonstrate every day what it takes to help children succeed. It has been my sincere honor to work with each and everyone of you. I will work just as hard to ensure a smooth transition as I have worked with you for seven years. You have been like my family and I will miss the culture and community we have built in this district for our students.

Thank you for understanding this decision and how difficult it was for me. An important aspect of leadership is being intuitive about your own effectiveness… I think new leadership will be a good thing for this school system and I pledge to do whatever I can to ensure that happens in PCS.

Please know you are loved, appreciated and respected. Bev

From the James Taylor song, "Another Day"
Another night has gone, life goes on, another dawn is breaking.
Turn and face the sun, one by one, the world outside is waking.
Morning light has driven away all the shadows that hide your way.
And night has given away to the promise of another day.

Sources close to the investigation say Emory notified the school board Tuesday morning.  During a formal announcement in Winston-Salem that same day, Emory stood by her decision to conduct the surveillance.

"I think part of that scrutiny was people feeling like it wasn't public and that it was somewhat secretive that we did that. I take full responsibility for that," said Emory, "This was about trying to be fair and equitable and not treat one student differently from others. And, so, was it painful? Yes. But, would I do it over again? Yes."

We talked with Pitt County Board of Education members who say Emory has been in conversations with them about stepping down for some time now.

"I think Doctor Emory has worked tirelessly as the board has in terms of unitary status - that's an important thing for our school system moving forward," said Marc Whichard, board Chairman.

Vice Chair Worth Forbes agreed, saying now is the time for the board to band together.

"For us, we have to gather together as a team and we need to look at our strengths and weaknesses," said Forbes.

The Pitt County Board of Education is conducting a special meeting Thursday to discuss the hiring process of a new superintendent.

9 On Your Side will also be sitting down with Beverly Emory on Thursday to talk about her time in Pitt County since she first took the position in January 2006.

In a letter to the school board Emory wrote:

March 26, 2013

Dear PCS Family,

This morning I have been offered and accepted the Superintendent position in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School District. This opportunity is bittersweet. I have dearly loved this district, the tremendous growth and progress you have made for our children and the wonderful people who make it happen here...YOU.

It is time for me to make a change and this new position is both a challenge and an honor for me. I will be less than two hours from home where my parents still reside and within an hour of most all my family members in this state. W-S/FCSD is a district much like us that has faced similar challenges and made good progress; it feels like a good match for me.

My pledge to you is that I will work tirelessly to ensure a smooth transition and to support your work as best I can in the days ahead. You have been like a family to me and I so respect and admire all that you do every day for our students. I am incredibly proud of all that we have accomplished for the students and our community. There is much work to be done, but you are more than UP to the cause!

All my Best,

Bev Reep Emory

To learn and never be filled is WISDOM. To teach and never be weary is LOVE.

--- Previous Story ---

During their regularly scheduled Board of Education meeting Monday night, the Pitt County board looked at revising a policy connected to the Superintendent's spending.

Pitt County Superintendent Beverly Emory has the authority to spend up to $90,000 through contracts from a wide range of categories if she feels it's necessary for the betterment of the school system.

The new policy revision requires Emory to now supply quarterly updates to the board on contracts she approves.

--- Previous Story ---

A lot of you are leaving comments on our Facebook page asking how Superintendent Beverly Emory is able to spend taxpayer dollars without accountability and what she's spending that money on.

Many are asking about a third attorney approved by Emory to help in a student athlete eligibility hearing and we got answers.

"Most hearings in front of the school board, there aren't any lawyers but, of course, students and school employees are entitled to bring a lawyer to a hearing," said Attorney Ken Soo, Interim Attorney for the Pitt County Board of Education.

We obtained emails that show Emory approved New Bern based attorney Brian Gatchel to assist with an upcoming student athlete's eligibility hearing.

That sparked interest on Facebook.

Erika Spain Sutton saying, "The Pitt County Schools Superintendent has hired yet another attorney (3 total) to deal with the attendance issues in Pitt County. What is wrong with these people?"

We took your questions to Soo who said all the attorneys are necessary.

"The panel may also need a separate lawyer because once you have somebody who's lined up with the superintendent that person cannot give the board panel advice," said Soo.

School officials explain Gatchel represents the school district while Soo represents the school board.  In certain cases involving student athlete eligibility they say Emory could act as the face of the district, meaning the lawyer representing the district would advise her on legal matters involving the district but not on legal matters related to Emory directly.

The concern comes from parents who say there isn't enough money to buy textbooks but question how there is enough to buy lawyers.

We checked the school system budget.

The state supplies funding for textbooks but the board of education also allots $165,000 of local funds to cover any shortcomings.  The budget listed $159,000 for legal services.

So how can Emory spend that money?

The Fiscal Management Policy gives her the authority to spend up to $90,000 from a list of categories before needing approval from the school board.

Things like textbooks are not on that list and Emory cannot just spend money from the money allocated for textbooks.

"It's unfortunate when school systems have to spend money on legal fees rather than on their main mission which is educating kids but there are some circumstances where it's just hard to avoid," said Soo.

Some of you also questioned if bringing in another attorney broke confidentiality laws based on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Acts. We confirmed no laws were broken as long as the new attorney keeps the information confidential.

"The lawyer who is working with the administration or with the board of education has the same obligations as the board and administration to keep that information confidential," said Soo.

--- Previous Story ---

Accountability: it's what we're looking into after recent questionable actions by Superintendent Beverly Emory.

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) handles accreditation of school systems and monitors their development but when it comes to an incident like this, they tell us it all has to add up to a lot of tension.

"There's always a tension between leadership and what happens whether it's parental or teacher or principal," said Mark Elgart, President & CEO of AdvancED.

Mark Elgart says tension is commonly found among leaders in most school systems around the country.

AdvancED is the company that governs SACS. SACS holds the school system accountable for five standards they outline as part of their accreditation process.

He says it's only when that tension reaches a certain level that they intervene to correct problems.

"If there is a pattern of tension that is starting to disrupt the overall operation of a school or school system - that would be something concerning us," said Elgart.

We asked Elgart if he felt like the Pitt County school system could be having trouble with the second standard - "Governing and Leadership" pertaining to the recent surveillance of students.

Elgart says Monday night's decision by the Pitt County Board of Education to continue using focus groups to assess player eligibility and surveillance is part of a process they leave up to the school system.

"We don't expect school systems and schools to be perfect but what we do expect is when they reach challenges or experience challenges like this - do they move forward with a process to address them and try to fix them so that it doesn't happen again in the future?" said Elgart.

Elgart says if any laws were broken, they leave that up to local authorities. For now, he says, they don't plan to investigate the school system unless this problem continues.

"If it's an overall issue regarding the health and effectiveness of a school or school system and it's related to our standards then we would get involved," says Elgart.

Elgart says they rarely intervene for school systems. He says anyone can file a complaint with them on their website but the complaint must be against the entire school system, not individual problems.

--- Previous Story ---

9 On Your Side is continuing its coverage of questionable practices by the Pitt County school system.

The board met Monday night. And we followed up today about comments following the meeting.

After a closed door session, board vice-chairman Worth Forbes talked about his disappointment with the board's decision and referred to "focus groups".

Tuesday, 9 On Your Side asked him what he meant.

He said the "focus groups" are pre-established groups that consist of school faculty and are headed up by Superintendent Beverly Emory.

In the fall out of our investigation,  he said those groups will now look at policy changes to the athletic eligibility rules.

Forbes also told us, in Pitt County, superintendents have the right to spend up to $50,000 of taxpayer money without board approval.

9 On Your Side requested all invoices and receipts authorized by Emory to see what she's spending taxpayer's money on.

Stick with 9 On Your Side for any new developments we uncover.

--- Previous Story ---

A two-hour closed session ended without any major actions following the Pitt County School Board meeting Monday night.

The board met for two hours.  Sources close to the board say this meeting was to discuss the handling of questionable surveillance practices.

Sources also tell 9 On Your Side focus groups already in place will look further into the ongoing situation.

Several leaders tell 9 On Your Side they were not satisfied with the outcome of the meeting.

When the meeting ended, board member Jill Camnitz stormed out and told our crews "Good luck with that."

Vice Chair, Worth Forbes said, "I was not satisfied with the communication.  I was not satisfied with the way it was handled.  I think we have got some different groups, focus groups, in place.  They're going to give us feedback and the board will look at this situation and how it's handled."

We also took a closer look at the law involving private surveillance. You can see the details in the story above.

Stay with 9 On Your Side for more on this developing story.

--- Previous Story ---

The Pitt County Board of Education will hold a private meeting Monday night.

That meeting is scheduled to start immediately after a regularly scheduled meeting.

9 On Your Side uncovered that Pitt County Superintendent Beverly Emory paid a non-license professional to do surveillance on students.

Emory says what she did was not illegal. She says her decision to keep an eye on these students was a reaction to the case of football star Maleek Gorham, who was suspended for living outside his school district.

Alex Freedman is at the public meeting tonight. Stay with 9 On Your Side for the most up-to-date information.

--- Previous Story ---

New details are coming in about 9 On Your Side's investigation into the questionable actions of Pitt County School's Superintendent Beverly Emory.

The district hired at least one person without an investigator's license to stake-out student athletes and their homes.

It's a story no other news outlet is reporting.

In this special report, we show you how all these incidents are connected starting from the very beginning.

"It's been pretty hard not being able to play football because that's what I've been doing since I was a little kid," said Maleek Gorham.

In October 2012, then junior D.H. Conley star football player Maleek Gorham was suspended for 365 days from high school athletics for living outside his school district.

Less than a month later, J.H. Rose football coach Todd Lipe was suspended after allegations arose he asked other student athletes to do surveillance of Gorham. It was a suspension that led to termination.

At the same time, Pitt County Athletic Director Ron Butler was also suspended after emails showed he flip-flopped on whether to file a complaint against Gorham.

Fast forward two months, that's when 9 On Your Side obtained documents pointing to the hiring of criminal justice instructor Altrice Gales to do surveillance on student athletes.

It was all under the watchful eye of, not the athletic director but, this time, Superintendent Beverly Emory.

"I was just monitoring - conducting basic surveillance," said Gales, "I was hired by Pitt County Schools. I was told what to do and that's what I did."

We asked Superintendent Beverly Emory if she felt their attempts to crack down on student athletes were too aggressive.

"No, I don't and I will say what happened in the fall with the ineligibility of a young man is heartbreaking and from my perspective if other people are getting away with something that's not legal for someone that doesn't have the financial resources to do that, that keeps me up at night," said Emory.

Just two months after the Gorham incident, 9 On Your Side obtained invoices and receipts for more than $3,000 taxpayer dollars made by Gales and sent to Beverly Emory.

The description for services rendered only had one word: "surveillance."

"There was a perception in our community that we were not aggressively enough investigating and equitably and fairly investigating some cases, some, I would almost call historical. Families that for years there is a perception they've been, sort-of, cheating the system," said Emory.

But was this new aggressive measure against the law since Altrice Gales didn't have a private investigator's license?

9 On Your Side asked Attorney David Sutton and the Vice President of the North Carolina Association of Private Investigators, Suzanne Creech, if general statute 74C for Private Protect Services was violated.

They both agreed it was.

"That's frightening. It's crazy. My school system does not need to be paying - using my money, our money, your money to send people out to see where you put your head at night!" said Sutton.

"She does have that she did surveillance and she is charging the mileage," said Creech looking at Gales' invoices, "which could fall into a violation of 74c."

Gales says she did nothing wrong.

"It's from my understanding that I was not and I also want to say that, I want the responsibility to lie with who it should," said Gales.

We asked if Pitt County Schools should have known better.

"Well, I'm saying it's not my responsibility to have known," said Gales.

Gales says she would receive only a name and address from Emory and the school system's attorney.

She'd then wait outside the homes of student athletes in Pitt County, taking notes about their living situations. Some days, she says she drove all over the county to do surveillance on multiple students.

We showed the invoices to Emory during our exclusive interview and asked her if she had broken the law.

"No, I don't think we violated the law," said Emory.

"Don't you have to question the integrity of the information obtained and the fact that may have been used by the superintendent and.or the school board to reach their decisions?" asked Sutton during our interview.

Emory says all surveillance has stopped since nine on your side first aired this story last Wednesday but this is far from over as we now believe there could have been other people like Gales who did surveillance on students for the school system.

Sources are now telling 9 On Your Side the Pitt County School Board could soon take action against some of the parties involved.

The board has a regularly scheduled meeting tomorrow night at 6:30 and we'll be there.

--- Previous Story ---

It's day three of our investigation into questionable actions by the Pitt County School system that some say could have been illegal. It's an investigation 9 On Your Side was first to break.

It's a story you'll only see on 9 On Your Side. The woman hired by Superintendent Beverly Emory to stake-out student athletes and their homes is coming forward and talking exclusively with 9 On Your Side.

Altrice Gales tells us she did nothing wrong.

Gales says she's been out of the state and is only now hearing about our investigation. We talked with her by phone Friday morning. She says she's ready to clear her name and if a law was broken, it wasn't by her.

"I received a phone call from the attorney and we met. I gave him my resume and I was hired and given the title of Special Assistant to the Superintendent," said Gales.

Altrice Gales says it was only a verbal agreement, just a short document listing her services. No written contract. No signatures. No real paper trail for more than $3,000 taxpayer dollars.

"They just asked me to assist them in checking addresses of students they're getting complaints about living out of district," said Gales.

During our exclusive interview, Gales says she was hired by Superintendent Beverly Emory after D.H. Conley high school football player Maleek Gorham was suspended for living outside the district.

Gales says she was given names and addresses of other students believed to be living outside their district and, in her words, she watched them.

"I wasn't sitting outside with a video camera, that type of thing. I wasn't doing any of those things. I wasn't sitting at these people's house in the middle of the night," said Gales, "I was just monitoring - conducting basic surveillance."

She also stands buy her invoices, including charging for more than 1,000 miles of drive time she says was for multiple students she watched and took notes on.

We asked Gales if she believed there was a difference between a "Special Assistant to the Superintendent" and a "Private Investigator"

"It's absolutely something different," said Gales.

We also asked Gales if she believed she went against the Private Protective Services statute and broke the law.

"It's from my understanding that I was not and I also want to say that, I want the responsibility to lie with who it should and I feel as if my name is the one on the forefront. I was hired by Pitt County Schools. I was told what to do and that's what I did," said Gales, "I'm saying it's not my responsibility to have known."

Pitt County School's Board of Education Attorney Ken Soo doesn't agree.

"The Private Protective Services statute governs people who provide the services, not the people who buy the services so, people who provide the services have to comply with that statute. It doesn't really address conduct by others," said Soo.

Altrice Gales says she was not the first person to assist the superintendent. In fact, she says there were multiple people who were hired before her.

This story isn't over and we'll continue to follow it. We will have a special report for you on Sunday, after the Super Bowl.

--- Previous Story ---

Is it possible the Pitt County School System broke the law? An attorney and now a private investigator are saying - yes.

It's a story you'll only see on 9 On Your Side. We were the first to break the story after we obtained copies of invoices and receipts showing Pitt County School Superintendent Beverly Emory authorized a criminal justice instructor to do surveillance work but the person hired doesn't have a license to do it.

During our exclusive interview, Emory said it's all part of a more aggressive approach to make sure student athletes are living in their school districts but attorney David Sutton says hiring a non-licensed person to do the work of a private investigator is against the law.

"The woman doing this work teaches criminal justice or use to. She knows she was acting illegally or should have known," said Sutton, referring to the Pitt Community College instructor Altrice Gales, hired by Emory to keep surveillance on student athletes and their families.

Gales billed the school system for more than $3,000 taxpayer dollars.

"The 1,200 miles she's got on a bill only has about 50 hours. She literally has got to be driving almost the entire time to make the mileage work," said Sutton.

As our investigation continues 9 On Your Side talked with a licensed private investigator about where to draw the line.

We brought the invoices and receipts to Suzanne Creech, a licensed private investigator with years of experience and who is also the Vice President of the North Carolina Association of Private Investigators.

We asked Creech if the high mileage was a result of circling locations during surveillance.

"This mileage would be excessive because you don't want to circle a house for numerous times because your goal is to get the job done without being seen," said Creech.

Creech says if Gales was paid for surveillance services while non-licensed and not representing any company or organization, then she would likely fall under State General Statute Chapter 74C – Private Protective Services.

During our exclusive interview, Superintendent Beverly Emory disagreed.

"No, I don't think we violated an law. My understanding is that someone - the specific you're referring to - someone can't promote themselves as a PI," said Emory.

Creech says the statute is often misunderstood and the people often find themselves accidentally violating it without knowing it.

"A lot of people don't know and she may not have any idea what so ever she was doing was not legal," said Creech.

9 On Your Side tried to reach Altrice Gales multiple times by phone, by email and in person but she didn't return our calls or e-mails.

Pitt County Schools released a document listing services Gales agreed to provide for Emory. All of them seem to be right in line with private investigative work.

You can see the document for yourself here.

--- Original Story ---

9 On Your Side is digging deeper with our investigation into questionable practices by the Pitt County school system.

9 On Your Side sat down exclusively with Superintendent Beverly Emory.

People are saying the school system hired someone to follow students to their homes.

Invoices and receipts obtained by 9 On Your Side show the school system paid close to $3,500, taxpayer dollars, to hire someone to do "surveillance" work.

Emory says it's a necessary step to insure people are living where they say they are but others say it's against the law.

"Her bill says she did surveillance. It's got her name. This is illegal," said attorney David Sutton. He's representing clients who say they were followed and watched by Altrice Gales and the Pitt County school system paid her to do it.

"Now our school board is following us around to find out where we live? Is that what we want our school board doing?" said Sutton.

"That's frightening. It's crazy. My school system does not need to be paying - using my money, our money, your money to send people out to see where you put your head at night," said Sutton.

Gales is listed as a criminal justice instructor at Pitt Community College, but we could not find a valid private investigator license for her. Sutton says it's against the law for her to charge for private investigator work such as surveillance and not have a license.

9 On Your Side brought these concerns to Pitt County Superintendent Beverly Emory during our exclusive interview.

"We looked at her background, her credentials and we asked for her help," said Emory, "We may not have properly used the right person. I don't mean that in terms of the actual individual but we will, going forward, do that."

She said it's a more aggressive attempt to crack down on student athletes living outside their school district in light of the recent controversy involving a high school student who was suspended after officials claimed be didn't live in his district.

"It's kind of hard for us. You know we can spot check; we can have a social worker make a visit but that's not really aggressive," said Emory.

We asked Emory if she believed Sutton's allegations that they did anything against the law.

"No, I don't think we violated the law," answered Emory.

She said the law only applies to people advertising themselves as private investigators. She said Gales did not.

"Do you feel like this might have been too aggressive, having an investigator follow people to their homes and make sure they're where they're suppose to be? Was there a line that was crossed," asked 9 On Your Side.

"No, I don't and I will say what happened in the fall with the ineligibility of a young man is heartbreaking and from my perspective if other people are getting away with something that's not legal for someone that doesn't have the financial resources to do that, that keeps me up at night," said Emory.

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