Local News Articles

Abstinence Based Education to be Offered in School System (VIEW VIDEO HERE)

August 14, 2014
by: 
Dwayne Page

The DeKalb County School System is partnering with the Cookeville Pregnancy Center to offer an "abstinence based" education course to Middle and High School students this year.

The Board of Education gave its blessing during Thursday night's regular monthly meeting at the request of DeeAnna Reynolds, School Health Coordinator. "We're required by law according to our (teen pregnancy) rate to require family planning," said Reynolds.

The program will be taught for two days, in 45 minute sessions, to middle school aged students at both DeKalb West School and DeKalb Middle School through guidance and to high school students at DCHS through the wellness classes.

Lisa Reeves, Abstinence Education Coordinator for the Cookeville Pregnancy Clinic, said state law requires school systems to offer such a program if the county's teen pregnancy rate exceeds a certain level. "According to the Centers for Disease Control, the pregnancy rate in DeKalb County for the 15-17 age group is 35.3 per 1,000 females. Under state law, if your rate is over 19.5 you are required to have some type of abstinence education to try and address that number," she said.

Though the subject matter is sensitive, Reeves, who will be the instructor of the course, said every effort will be made to present the material at age appropriate levels. "I have been teaching abstinence education through the Cookeville Pregnancy Clinic now for just over four years. The way I approach this material is that I talk to children just the way that I would if their parents were in the room. I always strive to do everything that I can to be above reproach. We do not allow a student in our classroom without a permission slip and that is state law. I am a mom too and I don't want anybody talking to my kid about such a sensitive topic unless I have given that permission," she said.

"Our program (Cookeville Pregnancy Clinic) has been in effect for over ten years in Putnam County but we're also in White County and Overton County. We're a pregnancy clinic. We see girls who are teenagers coming to our clinic on a regular basis in a situation they didn't want to be in. What we have found is the only way we can be preventative is to try to go into the schools and talk to students about the choices that they are making before they find themselves in that situation. We go in and talk about and help them understand not only the risks that are associated with Teen Pregnancy but the risks that are associated with sexually transmitted diseases and the emotional consequences. We also talk to them about healthy relationships and boundaries to make in their lives," said Reeves.

In a letter to be sent to parents, Reeves writes "This letter is to inform you that the Cookeville Pregnancy Clinic's Abstinence Education Program has been invited to come to your student's class this semester."

"The Cookeville Pregnancy Clinic believes that saving sex until a committed, marriage relationship is the best way to protect against the emotional and physical consequences that can result from premarital sexual activity. The high rates of teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and emotional consequences can only be stopped by teens understanding the importance of abstinence and making wise choices for their future."

"This program will be taught for two days in your student's class. At the end of those days, students are encouraged to take the provided material home and share it with their parents or guardians. We understand that the subject matter that will be discussed is sensitive and we make every effort to present the matter at age-appropriate levels."

"Our curriculum, is called "Think On Point". I have also been certified by the National Abstinence Education Association," concluded Reeves in her letter.

Girl Scout Troop Preparing Food Boxes for Needy Seniors

August 14, 2014
by: 
Dwayne Page
Girl Scout Troop Preparing Food Boxes for Needy Seniors
Carly Vance, Leah Davis, and Hannah Willingham

Members of the 5th Grade Junior Girl Scout Troop 2103 have been busy this week preparing food boxes to be delivered to thirty five low income senior citizen households in this area.

The Troop, including members Carly Vance, Leah Davis, and Hannah Willingham, have been working toward the Girl Scout Bronze award by collecting non-perishable food items at local food drives and assisting in packaging the food baskets. The Smithville Senior Center, a partner with the Girl Scout Troop, will now work with UCDD and UCHRA to coordinate the delivery of the food to those Senior Citizens in need.

Troop members and leaders wish to thank Smithville Food Lion, Prichard's Foods in Alexandria, Bert Driver Nursery, and the Smithville Church of Christ and Upper Helton Baptist Church for their support during the food drives. Also thanks to Wal-Mart in Smithville for making a donation of $150 in store credit to purchase non-perishable food items to add to the food boxes. Other anonymous donations were also received.

According to the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (April 2013), Tennessee ranked second in the nation in senior hunger or food insecurity. The Upper Cumberland Area Agency on Aging and Disability located in Cookeville has made this issue a top priority.

Thank you for your support in our effort to end hunger for Senior Citizens in DeKalb County.

(TOP PHOTO: left to right- members of Junior Girl Scout Troop 2103 Carly Vance, Hannah Willingham and Leah Davis)

(BOTTOM PHOTO: Carly Vance, Leah Davis, and Hannah Willingham)

Boats Destroyed in Fire At Edgar Evins State Park Marina

August 13, 2014
by: 
Dwayne Page
Boats Destroyed in Fire At Edgar Evins State Park Marina
Firefighters pump water from the lake to battle the boat fires at Marina

A house boat, pontoon, and the fuel island were destroyed by fire Wednesday at Edgar Evins State Park Marina.

The fire began as the houseboat was being refueled. Several people on board were quickly evacuated. Some had minor smoke inhalation. The blaze spread to an unoccupied pontoon boat that was tied to the dock. Employees of the park and marina fought to contain the blaze while county firefighters were enroute. The gas pumps were turned off and the remainder of the marina was unaffected.

Assistant County Fire Chief David Agee told WJLE that firefighters received a call of a gas pump explosion at the marina shortly after noon. Upon arrival, they found the two boats on fire along with the fuel island.

According to Assistant Chief Agee, a party of eight who had the houseboat rented from the marina had just returned to the dock when the incident occurred. As the group was still on board, a marina employee began refueling the boat. After stepping away from the pumps for a moment, the marina worker told Agee he heard a pop and then saw a small blaze followed by an explosion. Everyone on board the houseboat was evacuated and except for minor smoke inhalation by some, no one was seriously injured. No one had to be transported to the hospital. All the group's personal belongings on board the boat were lost in the fire.

Members of the Temperance Hall, Cookeville Highway, and Main Stations of the DeKalb County Volunteer Fire Department responded. Firefighters also deployed their boat to help battle the blaze along with an equipment truck. Members of the TWRA, Corps of Engineers, Edgar Evins State Park and Marina employees, and DeKalb EMS were also on the scene.

DeKalb School System Awarded New LEAPS Grant for After-School Program

August 13, 2014
by: 
Dwayne Page
Michelle Burklow

The DeKalb County School System recently received approval for a $200,000 grant from the Lottery for Education Afterschool Program (Leaps Grant) to provide students at Smithville Elementary and Northside Elementary Schools with academic enrichment opportunities and support services. The goal of the program is to help students meet state and local standards in the core content areas of Language Arts, Math, and Science.

As a way of creating more fun and excitement for children as they learn through the program, Michelle Burklow, Supervisor of Instruction for Pre-K through 6th grade said the school system will be unlocking mysteries through the Junior Detective Academies. "We decided to go with a detective type theme and focus the entire year around mystery. Unlocking mysteries. Trying to make it inviting for kids to want to stay after school for two hours every day. We're calling it our Junior Detective Academies," said Burklow.

This grant follows an earlier one approved for the school system three years ago. "This was our second submission for the LEAPS grant. It's a competitive grant that school systems and private entities can apply for. We got the grant three years ago. We saw a great deal of success with our grant at SES and NES. After the three year cycle we had to totally re-submit a different grant with a different focus," said Burklow.

The academic academies will utilize a cross curricular theme based approach (Spy Camp). Students will participate in Language Arts, math, and science enrichment activities based on Tennessee Common Core and Science standards to accelerate achievement. The club names are: Unlocking the Mysteries of STEM, Junior Detective, Math Madness, Imagination Destination, Get Your Game On, and MILK (Morning Intensive Language Klass). Four of these themes will change each nine weeks to offer a variety and continued enthusiasm as the year progresses, MILK and Get Your Game On will be offered throughout the year.

Students will participate in activities to improve health and wellness through structured physical education and a daily nutritious snack will be served. "We have special things we must do in order to meet the overall focus of the goal (grant). We had to include healthy lifestyles, healthy snacks, and exercise. We're partnering with the School Nutrition program to provide a healthy snack and we're focusing on exercise throughout the school year. We're calling that "Get Your Game On". Every nine weeks we're changing up and focusing on a different activity, whatever sport might be in season (tennis, basketball, soccer, etc). We're going to focus on playing those types of games and learning the history behind those games. We're also going to be doing some yoga. We did yoga this last year. We tried it at Northside during summer school and the kids loved it so we're incorporating yoga this year," said Burklow.

The Spy Camp Kick-Off will begin the Junior Detective Academy. The goal for the students participating in this academy is "Read like a detective and write like a reporter." This club will explore numerous ways to solve a mystery or case while paying close attention to details and context clues. The sheriff or his designee will meet with students to discuss the significance of paying close consideration to facts and looking for specific clues. Teachers will create lessons around mystery chapter books and or novels for a book club. In order to prepare students for College and Career Readiness, a focus around informational text and the writing process will be implemented into these activities. The students will have an opportunity to write and illustrate a non-fiction book for the school's library and for other students to enjoy in the future. An author and illustrator will be invited to share their ideas at a parent's night. This night will be designed so the students can showcase their book for parents as well as the author and illustrator. High school students interested in becoming teachers will have the opportunity to design age appropriate activities to implement with younger students during the academy.

During the second nine weeks, the STEM Academy will begin as students "Unlock the Mysteries of STEM". Students will participate in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math activities. Teachers will design lessons for the Science component of this academy that will include microscope use, crime solving, forensic investigation and a variety of other science skills. Technology lessons will be incorporated throughout the academy, but a focus will be on computer skills and iPad use as well as interactive boards. Investigative research and writing will also play a role in this academy. Tennessee Tech University's Millard Oakley STEM Center has agreed to transport their mobile Science Lab to both of the after school sites. The students will be exposed to cutting edge technology that is housed in this lab. The students' skills will be expanded with robotics, Kinect and bridge design and building during the Engineering phase of the STEM Academy. Teachers will incorporate hands on engineering experiences and how engineering is in everyday life. Under the guidance of the Science Club sponsor, volunteer high school students will research and develop age appropriate STEM projects to implement with the younger students during this academy. To support the LEAPS theme, a local nurse practitioner will talk to students about the tools she uses to investigate illness and how she uses clues to make a diagnoses. She will also show the relationship between how important math and science are to her field.

The third nine weeks will be "Math Madness". Since the college basketball tournament is held in March, a real life activity will be incorporated into the after school program. Math Madness is a spin-off of March Madness. Like March Madness, students will work on a mastery and advancing math skills to win the big game called standardizing testing. Teachers will use basketball statistics from player cards, biographies, and NCAA Tournament brackets to form meaningful lessons. Math skills will be incorporated into basketball along with other sports related activities. In order to bridge math and reading, teachers will use sports themed books, such as biographies of athletes, to encourage reading and going back into the text to gain specific information for writing. The students will research and write about an athlete or history of a specific sport that will be displayed in the "Sports Hall of Fame" for parents to attend.

"Destination Imagination Simulation" will be the focus of the fourth academy. The purpose is to inspire and equip students to be innovative and future leaders. This academy will focus on STEM, Improvisational, Visual Arts, Service Learning and Early Learning. Each challenge is open-ended and enables student teams to learn and experience the creative process from imagination to innovation. Students have fun and gain confidence in their ability to solve any challenge. In working to solve the Challenges, teams learn 21st century skills (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, citizenship and courage) to build on their unique strengths. The goal for the first year is to attend the Academic Tournament as spectators but the ambition is to compete the next year. After attending the Academic Tournament, students will share their projects based on the tournament guidelines with community members and parents in attendance at the parent night.

Afternoon bus transportation will be provided for students participating in the after school learning activities.

Partnering with the program are the 4-H Extension Office, Coordinated School Health, the School Nutrition Program, the Sheriff's Department, Girl Scout Troop 343, Tennessee Scholars, Family Medical Center, the FCCLA Club, the DCHS Science Club, Tennessee Tech University's Millard Oakley STEM Center, and the Board of Education.

Trial Date Set In Teacher Lawsuit Against School Board and Director

August 12, 2014
by: 
Dwayne Page
Bradley Hendrix

A federal court trial date has been set in an employment discrimination lawsuit brought against the DeKalb County Board of Education and Director of Schools Mark Willoughby by teacher and county commissioner Bradley Hendrix.

In an initial case management order filed Monday August 4th, the trial is set for Tuesday, October 20, 2015 before U.S. District Judge Kevin H. Sharp and is expected to last approximately three days. A final pre-trial conference is scheduled for Monday, October 5, 2015

Attorneys for Hendrix filed the lawsuit Thursday, May 29 in U.S. District Court in Nashville. He is represented by the Hendersonville law firm of Andy L. Allman and Associates.

In the lawsuit, Hendrix alleges that he has been "subjected to a continuous and ongoing pattern of harassment and retaliation for his votes as a county commissioner on matters pertaining to the school system", particularly his vote against purchasing land to build a new high school. According to the lawsuit, "On or about March 2011, the issue of the land purchase and school construction came before the county commission for approval. Hendrix voted against the measure. From that point on, Hendrix was subjected to harassment and retaliation by Mr. Willoughby in his employment".

Hendrix is suing the Board of Education and Director of Schools, both jointly and severally, seeking compensatory and punitive damages. He also wants a jury to try the case.

In an answer filed July 17, the attorney for Willoughby and the school board, John D, Schwalb, PLLC of Franklin denies Hendrix's allegations.

According to the initial case management order, the Plaintiff's Theory of the Case is as follows:

"In the spring of 2010, Plaintiff (Hendrix), a teacher at Smithville Elementary School, began campaigning for the office of DeKalb County Commissioner of the 3rd district. He was elected by vote of the people on the 2nd day of August 2010."

"In an early 2011 meeting of the county commissioners, Plaintiff (Hendrix) voted against a land purchase and construction of a school in the county. After this vote, Plaintiff (Hendrix) was subjected to harassment by the principal of Smithville Elementary, who was his supervisor, and by Mark Willoughby, Director of DeKalb County Schools. He had job responsibilities removed from his work load and was disciplined. His actions and movements were scrutinized more heavily than other teachers and he received more discipline for alleged infractions that other teachers were not disciplined for, though they engaged in the same behavior. In April 2013 Plaintiff (Hendrix) was not selected for a DeKalb County schools job position he applied for even though he was as qualified or more qualified than the candidate who was hired."

"Therefore, Plaintiff (Hendrix) avers that since his vote against the purchase of land and construction of a school he was subjected to a continuous and ongoing pattern of harassment in retaliation for same."

The Defendant's Theory is as follows:

"Mark Willoughby is the Director of Schools for the DeKalb County Board of Education. In his capacity as the Director he is charged with essentially all personnel matters with the exception of the granting of tenure. Those duties include the appointment and assignment of both certified and classified staff. The Central Office of the Board of Education is largely consistent with the structure of a corporation in the sense that Willoughby would be the equivalent of the President and Chief Operating Officer and the various supervisors would be the equivalent of persons at the Vice President level. Each supervisor is in effect a department head answerable to the Director of Schools."

"When the former supervisor of attendance announced his retirement the position was posted and the Plaintiff (Hendrix) along with Joey Reeder applied for the position. The position requires certain endorsements or qualification. Mr. Reeder possessed the necessary endorsement for the position and was chosen for the position."

"While Plaintiff (Hendrix) claims that he voted against certain funding for the school system's capital improvements his decision to do so was a right he had as a county commissioner. However, his vote was not the reason that he was not appointed to the position of Supervisor of Attendance. Supervisors of Attendance, Instruction, Federal Programs, Special Education and the like are all within positions for which the Director of Schools may consider "goal" loyalty or administration loyalty in determining whom to appoint to a particular position. This is, to the extent that Plaintiff (Hendrix)'s view of the school system conflicted with the Director of School's view or vision of the school system, the Director was free to consider such and take it into account in making the appointment. Regardless, Willoughby appointed the individual whom he believed was the most qualified for the position."

"Defendants (Willoughby and School Board) deny that they in anyway illegally discriminated against the Plaintiff (Hendrix) for the exercise of his first amendment rights and further deny that any exercise of his voting power as a member of a public body does not protect him from discrimination under state of federal law if the Defendants (Willoughby and School Board) are ultimately found to have discriminated against him."

The parties shall filed a joint mediation report on or before February 16, 2015 and all dispositive motions are to be filed on or before May 18, 2015.

Bradshaw Gets Probation for Child Abuse and Neglect

August 12, 2014
by: 
Dwayne Page
Elizabeth Rochelle Bradshaw

A Smithville woman who tried to flee on foot from law enforcement officers early Christmas eve morning, accompanied by her children, pled guilty in criminal court Monday to child abuse and neglect for putting the youngsters lives at risk in the cold night air.

Judge Leon Burns, Jr. presided.

31 year old Elizabeth Rochelle Bradshaw received a two year sentence but was given credit for fifty one days of time served. She will be on probation for the remainder of the sentence.

Sheriff Patrick Ray told WJLE that Bradshaw grabbed her children, a seven year old girl and a four year old boy, and fled into the woods after learning that deputies were on their way to investigate a domestic incident between Bradshaw and the father of the children, Royce Dwayne McCrary, who were at the home of the children's grandmother on Halls Hollow Road in the Holmes Creek area.

"We got a call at 1:30 a.m. December 24, 2013 to go to Halls Hollow Road for a domestic," said Sheriff Ray. " After the deputies arrived, they were told by family members that Bradshaw had run into the woods with her two young children. As the deputies started their search on foot, they found the seven year old child hiding behind a tree. The child said that when Bradshaw saw head lights of patrol cars coming into the driveway, she took off running with the four year old boy in her arms, leaving her (older child) behind. Bradshaw took the younger child and ran up a steep and heavily wooded hillside," he said. The older child was taken back to her grandmother's home nearby.

Sheriff Ray said members of the DeKalb County Rescue Squad were then called upon to assist in the ground search for Bradshaw and the younger child. An aerial search was also conducted by officials of the Tennessee Highway Patrol who brought in a helicopter.

Shortly after daybreak, Bradshaw and the child were spotted. "At around 7:30 a.m. the helicopter spotted Bradshaw and the small child sitting down on a wooded hillside. Deputies and rescue squad members retrieved the child from Bradshaw and took her into custody. When they were brought down off the hillside and out of the woods, Bradshaw and the child were treated by DeKalb EMS. Bradshaw claimed to have injured her knee," said Sheriff Ray. While Bradshaw and the child were wearing coats (the child had on a hoodie), the sheriff said authorities were concerned about their prolonged exposure to the 27 degree weather. Both Bradshaw and the boy were taken by EMS to DeKalb Community Hospital for further treatment.

Sheriff Ray said child protective services were contacted and took custody of both children.

The children's father, McCrary, was arrested by the sheriff's department. He had two violation of probation warrants against him.

In other cases, 32 year old Elizabeth Chalfant pled guilty to forgery of $1,000 to $10,000 and received a two year sentence, all suspended to supervised probation. She must make restitution. The sentence is to run consecutive to a violation of probation against her. She was given jail credit from June 23 to August 11, 2014. Sheriff Ray said Chalfant allegedly passed twelve checks from a checking account without the victim's permission from May 12-29. The total of the twelve checks was $5,387. The case was investigated by criminal detectives of the sheriff's department.

41 year old Rodney H. Gora pled guilty to aggravated burglary and received a three year sentence to be served on probation. He must have no contact with the victim and pay restitution of $1,300. Sheriff Ray said that on Wednesday, November 13, 2013 Gora and 28 year old Steven Dale Davidson allegedly entered a residence on James Place and took several items from the home including a storage trunk, a picture, jewelry box, a wooden bunk bed, two mattresses, a wooden end table, and a bag containing sheets and towels all valued at more than $500.

Davidson made a court appearance in June and pled guilty to aggravated burglary and theft over $1,000. He received a four year sentence in each case all suspended to supervised probation. The terms are to run concurrently with each other. He is to make restitution of $6,100 to one of the victims. In addition to being a co-defendant with Gora in the burglary on November 13, Davidson allegedly took several items from property on Jones Mill Road November 5, 2013.

60 year old Thomas Greene pled guilty to a second offense of driving under the influence and received a sentence of 11 months and 29 days to serve 45 days with the balance of the sentence to be on supervised probation. He was fined $610 and he will lose his license for a period of time. Greene was given jail credit from July 19 to August 11.

69 year old Eulain Edward Shelton pled guilty to attempted sale of a schedule II drug and was granted judicial diversion for a period of two years. His probation will be supervised by TDOC and he must pay a $2,000 fine.

28 year old Brandon Kidd pled guilty to attempt to deliver and received a two year sentence on supervised probation by TDOC probation. He was fined $2,000. If all fines and costs are paid, the second year of his probation will be unsupervised. Both Shelton and Kidd were charged in separate cases as a result of a 2013 undercover drug investigation by the sheriff's department.

Local Student Attends National Leadership Forum

August 12, 2014
Lydia D. Trail

A senior at DCHS, 16 year old Lydia D. Trail, attended Harding University's 58th annual National Leadership Forum in Searcy, Arkansas on June 1-6. Lydia was sponsored by DeKalb County Farm Bureau as a delegate to the Forum, which is presented by Harding University's American Studies Institute.

Area Farm Bureaus and civic clubs selected the delegates, who were instructed in the values and qualities of leadership and learned how our country has developed its leaders.

Young people attending the Forum were taught about comparative economic systems and ways to defend our society and its freedoms. They heard presentations by such leaders as Dean Sikes, Spirit of American Foundation, who addressed "Discover Your Destiny", John Foppe, motivational speaker who spoke on "Life is an Attitude", Andrew Baker spoke on "Social Media for Social Good", and Pat Socia, who encouraged the delegates to be leaders in sexual morality.

More than 220 young people from five states attended this year's National Leadership Forum. Harding University, with an enrollment of over 7,000, is the largest private university in Arkansas. Trail is the daughter of Heidi Trail and the granddaughter of George and Linda Tripp of Liberty.

Sheriff's Department Makes Arrests for Assaults and DUI

August 12, 2014
by: 
Dwayne Page
 Johnny Lynn Devault
Michael Dwight Foutch
Ariane Ruth Lorance

The DeKalb County Sheriff's Department has made arrests in two assault cases and a DUI within the last week.

Sheriff Patrick Ray reports that 31 year old Johnny Lynn Devault of Talpha Drive, Dowelltown is charged with aggravated assault. His bond is $5,000 and he will be in court August 14. He was arrested on Wednesday, August 6. Sheriff Ray said that on Friday, July 4 an officer was called to Devault's residence in response to a physical altercation in progress. Upon arrival, the deputy spoke with a woman who said she had been assaulted by her boyfriend, Devault. He allegedly strangled the woman, grabbing her by the throat and the back of the neck, and squeezing her face. The assault resulted in the woman having physical marks on parts of her body. After the assault, Devault left the scene prior to the officer's arrival.

42 year old Michael Dwight Foutch of College Street, Liberty is charged domestic assault. His bond is $2,500 and he will be in court August 14. Sheriff Ray said that on Saturday, August 9 a deputy was dispatched to the emergency room of DeKalb Community Hospital in response to an assault which occurred at a local residence. After the assault, the victim was taken to the hospital. Upon arrival, the complainant reported that during an argument Foutch slapped him in the face, punched him, and then placed him in a choke hold. The victim was treated at the hospital for a busted lip, scratches to his neck and back, and injuries to his wrist.

35 year old Ariane Ruth Lorance of Nashville Highway, Dowelltown is charged with driving under the influence and driving on a suspended license. She was further issued citations for Roadways Laned for Traffic, Violation of the Implied Consent Law, Violation of the Financial Responsibility Law (No Insurance), Violation of the Open Container Law, and Simple Possession of a Schedule III drug. Her bond is $3,000 and she will be in court September 4. Sheriff Ray said that on Sunday, August 10 a deputy was behind a red Ford Ranger traveling west on Nashville Highway and observed the vehicle cross over the white line multiple times, go off the right side of the highway, and then come back across the road and over the yellow lines into the opposite lane of traffic. The officer pulled over the truck and spoke with the driver, Lorance. She had a strong odor of an alcoholic beverage on her person and she was unsteady on her feet. Lorance submitted to but performed poorly on field sobriety tasks. Her license was found to be suspended for failing to satisfy a citation in Davidson County. Inside the vehicle was an open container of beer and suboxone strips.

American Red Cross Battle of the Badges Begins

August 12, 2014

The American Red Cross Battle of the Badges is coming to Smithville. Where local law enforcement will “battle” it out with local firefighters and EMS to see who can recruit the most people in their community to donate blood.

The Battle of the Badges blood drive is a friendly competition to encourage community members to join local heroes and perform a heroic duty of their own. All presenting donors at the blood drive will get to cast their vote to help decide the winner of this year’s competition.

“EMS, fire and law enforcement know first-hand how important it is to have blood readily available during emergencies,” said Tim Ryerson, CEO of River Valley & Tennessee Valley Regional Blood Services. “This is their chance to join forces and partner with the Red Cross to encourage the community to take on the civic responsibility of blood donation.”

Join the Battle of the Badges and donate September 9 from 1:30 pm – 6:30 pm at Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Your votes are needed to help determine the winner of this year’s battle; so, mark your calendar! The winner of the battle will earn bragging rights.

Schedule an appointment to donate at the Battle of the Badges blood drive today. Visit redcrossblood.org and enter sponsor code Smithville19 or call 1-800-RED CROSS (1-800-733-2767).

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Reports of Sex and Drug Offenders Having Worked for GCA Services Group Raises Concerns

August 11, 2014
by: 
Dwayne Page
W.J. (Dub) Evins, III

As the DeKalb County Board of Education ponders whether or not to outsource its school custodial work to GCA Services Group, reports of sex and drug offenders having worked for GCA in other counties has given rise to some concerns.

The school board does not have the contract issue on Thursday night's agenda for the regular monthly meeting at 7:00 p.m. but a workshop is set for Thursday night at 6:00 p.m. to discuss GCA Services and other matters.

Fifth district school board member W.J. (Dub) Evins, III told WJLE he already had reservations about the local school system contracting with GCA but the revelations about some of their past employees deeply troubles him. " My initial concern was my perception that we were not properly thinking of our employees and rushing into an issue that needed time to evaluate. After enabling ourselves more time, there appears to be too many issues with GCA that have emerged and appear to be quite serious and troubling," said Evins.

Published reports available on the Internet reveal several incidents in recent months and years where custodians who worked for GCA Services at the time had run afoul with the law or had criminal records.

In January, a janitor who worked for GCA Services Group at a Williamson County elementary school was arrested for allegedly hiding in the ceiling and peeping on young girls in the bathroom. 48 year old Victor Alvarado was found at Scales Elementary School hiding in the crawlspace above the ceiling in the girl's restroom. Investigators reportedly also found misplaced ceiling tiles in other female restrooms throughout the building, including a faculty restroom. Alvarado was charged with observation without consent. He received a six-count indictment from the Williamson County grand jury in March.

After Alvarado's arrest, GCA released a statement to the Nashville media reading, "All proper background checks were conducted and documentation was in place. Upon learning of the incident at Scales Elementary, GCA Education Services immediately terminated Mr. Alvarado. GCA is fully supporting law enforcement and school officials to resolve this matter."

Four years ago, Danny J. Hawkins, 20 years old at the time, was indicted by a Putnam County Grand Jury after being accused of having sex with a 15-year-old girl but apparently not on school property. After being indicted, officials said he was taken into custody without incident at Northeast Elementary School in Cookeville, where he had been employed by GCA Services Group, the contractor who does janitorial work there.

In January 2011, a woman suspected of being in the country illegally and working as a janitor for GCA Services at a Maury County middle school was extradited to Texas after she was charged with being a fugitive from justice. According to a WKRN news report at the time, the woman was facing a probation violation in Texas stemming from a felony drug arrest.

A janitor at Cookeville High School was arrested in March 2009 for allegedly selling drugs to an undercover police officer but apparently not on school property. Putnam County authorities said Walter Savage sold crack cocaine to the undercover officer. Savage was employed by GCA Services, hired to clean the schools in the county.

In a phone interview with WJLE Monday, Craig Colquitt, Senior Sales Director for GCA said the company conducts thorough background checks on new employees and gives due process to any custodian accused of improper conduct. "Our first approach in hiring is to do a background check and fingerprinting before they are employed. Our company has a long list, that is actually more aggressive than the school system's, on who we will and won't hire. Anything can change after somebody is hired. People are people. But before they walk in the door employed for us we'll know if they are wanted or shouldn't be in the building period. If there is an offense (by an employee) they are immediately removed from the building and then we go through the process. It's pretty thorough. What we find won't be hearsay. It's not guilty until proven innocent but we go through the steps to not only protect their rights but also the rights of the public education system," Colquitt told WJLE.

Representatives of GCA Services Group have made a proposal to contract with the DeKalb County School system to provide system wide custodial services for $400,000 for the first year with annual renewal options for at least up to five years, a move that is intended to save the district money.

Evins told WJLE he has doubts about the cost savings to the school system in the long run by contracting with GCA. "The financial savings is something I have not been able to justify. If it costs us $400,000, it will also cost GCA the same, unless they cut wages or positions. That is simple math," he said.

During last month's regular meeting of the school board, Sixth District member Doug Stephens asked how GCA could save the school system money. "What you presented is very impressive but how can we either be so bad or you so good that you can save us $50,000 a year," he asked?

"Purchasing power. All equipment, training and consumables are provided by us and we're getting our equipment and consumables at a much lower rate than you can. All those costs to you, we'll absorb including insurance, benefits, and workman's comp," said Josh Helton, Senior Regional Manager. We keep our workman's comp costs down with proper training, equipment, education, and supplies they (custodians) need, " added Adam Miles, Sales Director.

Part of the savings on equipment is coming from the fact that we're buying the equipment full price but we're negotiating that. We're getting a better price than you do. You'll buy it at full cash price. We'll depreciate that over five years. If we don't maintain the contract for five years we're out. So it behooves us to keep it for five years because we've bought new equipment and depreciated it over that period of time. That's part of the savings. With 36,000 employees, we can negotiate on any kind of supply with our buying power," said Colquitt.

According to GCA officials, all current custodial staff working for the school system, recommended by the principals would be hired by GCA and be subject to the same background checks as new employees. However according to a WKRN news report in 2011 the Maury County School Board voted to outsource school cleaning to GCA in May of that year, a move which resulted in nearly 70 custodians, many of whom had worked for the school system for decades, losing their jobs with the district. When asked about that WKRN report, Colquitt suggested it was misleading. "The way they stated that, it tells me the reporter didn't understand that the employees were no longer employed by the district but became employees of GCA", Colquitt told WJLE.

During the July school board meeting, Director of Schools Mark Willoughby said he had contacted several school systems where GCA works and all had given him a good report. "I have not found anybody that had anything negative to say. The quality of work they do that I have heard about and looked at is extremely good," he said.

Director Willoughby told WJLE Monday that while the final decision to contract with GCA rests with the school board members, it was his decision to present this proposal to them. "After checking with three other school systems in this area and learning they (GCA) did a good service for them and also realizing we had a chance to save $60,000 which would help us with our always tight budget, I decided to bring this proposal to the board's attention," said Willoughby.

"As for the issue of past GCA employees, I can say that GCA does conduct background checks on people before hiring them. While I don't condone having criminal types around our children, I do believe GCA does everything it can to prevent that. But like any organization of GCA's size, there are bound to be a few bad apples. I do commend GCA for taking appropriate actions to deal with those issues when they arose. Further, I hope this would not be a concern here because GCA has agreed to hire all our existing staff recommended by principals at the same rate of pay," said Director Willoughby.

Meanwhile on another issue, questions have arisen as to why GCA equipment has already been in the school system when no contract with the company has yet been approved to provide services. " We were looking to replace two pieces of our own equipment that had broken down, a square scrubber and a squeegee machine. Instead of purchasing new equipment to replace them I asked GCA to let us borrow two pieces of their equipment pending approval of the proposed contract, thinking that should the board contract with GCA, we would not have to buy any new equipment and GCA would provide all the equipment themselves," Director Willoughby told WJLE.

According to its website, GCA Services Group, Inc. is a leading national provider of quality facility services, including janitorial/custodial services, contamination control for cleanroom manufacturing, facilities operations and maintenance, grounds management, in-sourced production staffing and labor management, diversified staffing, and more.

With over 36,000 employees in 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, GCA serves a variety of sectors, including K-12 schools, higher education, manufacturing, corporate office buildings, and others. GCA’s management team is recognized as one of the strongest and most experienced in the industry.

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