Chesterfield’s former school superintendent was faulted last week by a school board member for the district’s maintenance and transportation woes. At the school district’s... Coyner blames former sup’t for school district’s problems
A group of mostly women protested outside last week’s school board meeting about health and maintenance issues. (Courtesy photo)

Chesterfield’s former school superintendent was faulted last week by a school board member for the district’s maintenance and transportation woes.

At the school district’s Sept. 10 meeting, Bermuda District representative Carrie Coyner laid blame at the feet of former superintendent James F. Lane, who led Chesterfield schools from July 2016 to June 2018 and left to become the state superintendent of public instruction. Lane was replaced by Merv Daugherty, who started Nov. 1.

“We have had ongoing maintenance problems,” Coyner said. “After 2015, something changed.”

“We have a superintendent who’s not here anymore,” she said. “As a board, we hire and fire one person,” referring to the district’s top job. “Before 2015, we were making progress on maintenance problems,” adding that the district had been improving that situation, along with third-grade reading levels. “The one person who started these things isn’t here anymore.”

In 2017, Lane was named the state’s Superintendent of the Year for his leadership in Goochland County, where he spent four years prior to coming to Chesterfield. However, when Lane resigned last year, county supervisor Dorothy Jaeckle was quoted in the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “With him leaving so soon, it is hard to tell what he has accomplished.”

When Lane came to Chesterfield, he replaced Marcus Newsome, who had held the job for 10 years. (Newsome then became superintendent at Petersburg, a post he held for three years until his retirement June 30.)

“I think we need a completely outside and independent group to investigate all of our funding and processes for our facilities and transportation,” Coyner said.

Also during last week’s school board meeting, parents spoke about various issues, including Legionella bacteria, school maintenance and problems with transportation. A number of Midlothian parents complained about mold and cockroaches at Midlothian Middle School.

Some citizens criticized the school district’s chief operations officer, Nita Mensia-Joseph, for the problems. Mensia-Joseph was hired to fill the district’s new COO position in November 2015 on the recommendation of Newsome, who left seven months later.

“It’s a process problem. It gets talked about all the time, and it doesn’t get solved,” Coyner said. “I don’t think we’ve been funded enough, but that doesn’t have anything to do with the cooling towers.”

That was a reference to Legionella bacteria recently discovered in cooling towers at five district schools.

Prior to the meeting, a group of mostly women protested outside the building about maintenance issues.

During the meeting, Matoaca District representative and board chair Rob Thompson said the district recently cleaned 34 cooling towers.

“When test results last week showed cleaning was not adequate at Bird and Matoaca high schools, we went back and cleaned them again,” Thompson said, adding that the district was waiting on test results from those two schools.

A phone call and email to Lane for this story were not returned.

During the district’s Feb. 14, 2017, meeting, the school board voted unanimously to change the school start times beginning in the fall of 2018.

At the 2017 meeting, Coyner said she “really struggled” with the plan, which she called “an imperfect solution.” She listed 12 concerns before the vote that she hoped would be worked on.

At that 2017 meeting, Lane said, “The transportation team will continue to test these routes to make sure that they’re going to hit the marks.”

Also at that 2017 meeting, Midlothian representative Javaid Siddiqi said that Lane was hired “because he shined as someone who could really lead this change.” Siddiqi added that there was “much work to do in the short term and long term.”

Last fall and recently, some parents have complained about buses being late and about being unable to communicate with the school district in efforts to find out where their children were, in spite of the district implementing the use of a phone app this year to locate buses.

The district is on its third transportation director since 2015. James Calvin Frye, the former principal at Swift Creek Middle School, was hired in June as director of student transportation, replacing Binford Sloan, who held the position for a little over a year.