Youth center director fired after superintendents call timeout
The board of directors of Furthering Youth Inc. voted 7-2 Thursday night to fire Debbie Heazlitt, the executive director of the Gerdon Youth Center, which immediately raised concerns about the administration of the Gerdon Alternative School and its funding.
The vote came just hours after the county’s three public school superintendents ‘ who make up the Interlocal Cooperative for the Alternative School ‘ met and specifically asked the FYI board to refrain from terminating Heazlitt during a ‘cooling off’ period of at least 30 days.
The motion to terminate Heazlitt initially appeared before the FYI board on Feb. 17. Improper notice delayed action on the motion during that meeting and again the following week.
Instead, the floor was opened to impassioned public debate each evening. Many comments were critical of Heazlitt and her decision to force the resignation of popular program director, Brent Lewis.
The Interlocal Cooperative met Thursday, in advance of the FYI meeting, to consider the recommendation by the Gerdon Alternative School Steering Committee that the school be removed from the GYC.
Heazlitt had already cleaned out her office in anticipation of the FYI board’s decision.
‘What we bargained for is no longer what we are getting,’ Gordon Ingle, the attorney for the Interlocal Cooperative, said to his board during the meeting in the Commissioners’ Room of the Harrison County Court House.
Ingle said the Interlocal Cooperative entered into an agreement with FYI based on the alternative school’s track record with Heazlitt at the helm.
‘Conditions appear to have changed from those under which the agreement was made,’ Ingle said.
The superintendents approved a resolution in line with Ingle’s recommendation. The resolution required that the FYI board not terminate Heazlitt or make any derogatory statements about the alternative school or the children who attend it. In exchange, the Interlocal Cooperative would delay consideration of removing the school.
It is rare that the cooperative acts contrary to a recommendation by the steering committee. In this case, the board members said they were reluctant to tamper with a proven program.
After spending more than three hours in its first-ever executive session, the FYI board began its public session last week with an announcement by president Lola Ratterman that there was a motion on the floor to terminate Heazlitt.
The motion passed 7-2 with Ratterman and Dennis Byrd opposed. Ratterman then resigned from FYI and left the meeting with Heazlitt and bookkeeper Cora Huffines.
David Dillman was elected the new president by a 6-1 vote with Byrd again voting in opposition.
A motion that FYI make a conciliatory gesture to the school superintendents passed unanimously.
The gesture included ‘an apology for any comments, including misquotes, attributed to individuals connected with Furthering Youth Inc.
‘While FYI cannot apologize on behalf of the public and other individuals not connected with FYI, it should be made known that FYI’s Board does apologize for the public spectacle that occurred during our recent meeting, and the Board will strive to not allow a repeat in the future,’ it read.
Also passed unanimously was a motion that Lewis, whose forced resignation by Heazlitt ignited the events of the past weeks, be allowed to participate in GYC programs as a volunteer if he chooses.
Unlike the previous two meetings, there was no town hall-style give-and-take debate at last week’s board meeting.
The Interlocal Cooperative met again yesterday to discuss FYI’s termination of Heazlitt.
President Neyland Clark said he was ‘extremely disappointed’ that FYI’s board did not honor the wishes of the cooperative.
‘Although apologies have been made, and are welcome, has the damage been done? Has the fruit already been spoiled?’ Monty Schneider asked.
‘I would suggest us thinking about this for a few weeks and exploring a few possibilities both long-term and short-term,’ Schneider said.
In the meantime, the superintendents said, they must know who is currently overseeing the school’s funds and who is acting as director, temporary or otherwise.