MAYFLOWER — The Mayflower School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to uphold the superintendent’s recommendation to fire high school principal Jeff Cagle, 47, of Conway.
Cagle, who requested the open hearing before the board, called it a “kangaroo court.”
His attorney, Randy Coleman of Little Rock, said after the meeting that he will file a lawsuit in Faulkner County Circuit Court to have Cagle reinstated.
Mayflower Superintendent John Gray suspended Cagle in May and recommended that his contract be terminated.
In Tuesday night’s meeting, Gray outlined the reasons, which included inappropriate comments about females.
Cagle was employed for the 2012-2013 school year, and his contract had been renewed for another year.
Gray said he wasn’t aware of any problems that Cagle had until May — after he gave Cagle a good evaluation in February, marking almost every category with “meets expectations.”
However, Gray said, concerns came to light that caused him to suspend Cagle and recommend his termination.
Gray said a former Mayflower High School counselor told Gray that he and Cagle were having a conversation in the hall when two “pretty girls” walked by, and that Cagle turned his head and watched them walk by, losing his train of thought.
Gray said the counselor was “unnerved” by the way Cagle looked at the students, telling Gray it was in a “perverted and highly improper manner.”
From the counselor’s perspective, Gray said, Cagle was “ogling at the students, and he (the counselor) said it made him very nervous for the safety of the students,” Gray said.
Gray also said he asked a high school secretary a general question about how things were going. She told him that Cagle had invited a female teacher, via a text message, to come to his apartment in Conway to have a steak. The teacher allegedly told the secretary that Cagle’s offer upset her, Gray said.
“You didn’t even bother to talk to the teacher?” Coleman asked Gray.
Gray said he talked to Cagle about it, and Cagle said he had invited the teacher.
The superintendent said Cagle said he could see how the teacher might think that was inappropriate.
“Is there a policy against Mr. Cagle asking another employee of this district over for dinner?” Coleman asked.
“No,” Gray said.
During a break in the hearing, Cagle told his attorney that he had an extra steak that his daughter didn’t want, and he invited the teacher, who lives in his apartment complex in Conway.
Cagle also scrolled through his phone messages and said he had many between him and the teacher, none of them personal except that one.
Gray said he wanted to investigate the allegations, and he reassigned Cagle on May 8 to work out of the superintendent’s office, but Coleman wrote a letter and told Gray the reassignment was against state statute. Gray said the district’s attorney, Bill Brazil of Conway, advised him to put Cagle back in the high school office.
The superintendent wrote a letter to Cagle on May 28 telling him that he was being recommended for termination.
Under questioning from Cagle’s attorney, Gray said he did not document the information given from the counselor, or about the teacher being invited to Cagle’s apartment.
Those reasons were not given specifically in the letter to Cagle, Gray said.
The three-page letter included “my expectations of the principal and how I expect staff members to conduct themselves,” Gray said.
Most of Gray’s information came from a survey of high school employees, he said.
Gray said he created a survey for high school employees that stated it was “on the competence and effectiveness of your high school principal, Mr. Jeff Cagle.”
The responses were anonymous, but staff members were asked to sign a sheet if they responded.
The superintendent said 31 responses were received. Of those, five were positive, and 26 “show lack of ability to lead staff and students,” he said.
Gray said 10 responses mentioned that Cagle made inappropriate comments regarding females.
One person wrote that Cagle told a teacher she was “single and sexy, and if she needed a boyfriend, he could find her one.”
During the hearing, Gray read the negative responses, which included that students called Cagle “creepy,” that he “ogled” girls, “looked over the bathroom stalls at the guys,” and that he “has been known several times to make racist comments about black students.”
Another comment was from someone who wrote that a student who liked Cagle said he “tickled her (the student) on the neck” as he walked by, and “she thought that was great.”
Also, Gray said, comments were made that suggested Cagle was not handling and implementing teacher-evaluation tests as required.
The survey showed that Cagle “didn’t adequately train and prepare our staff to implement Common Core standards,” Gray said.
One respondent wrote: “There is no leadership in this area.” Another comment: “We are not prepared.”
Cagle shook his head when that statement was read.
Gray said, based on the “overwhelming majority” of comments from employees and for the safety of the students and teachers, “I felt like I had no choice” except to suspend Cagle.
Coleman read the positive survey responses, which included one employee who wrote, “I feel Mr. Cagle had a good relationship with the community, students and teachers,” and one who wrote Cagle “believed in us as a staff and let us do our job.”
Another wrote, “I am concerned that we can reassign someone on rumors, with no documentation.”
“I feel, if given the chance, Mr. Cagle can get the job done. I like to deal with documented facts,” an employee wrote.
Laura Burris, former special-education supervisor and federal-programs coordinator for the district, testified as a character witness for Cagle.
She said he was “an honest person who takes great pride in his children and Christian beliefs.” She said he was responsive to needs of special-education students.
Coleman said after the meeting that he wasn’t surprised the board voted to uphold Gray’s recommendation to fire Cagle.
“Most of the time you have to go through circuit court because there, you have to actually prove something,” Coleman said. “It’s tragic that you can affect someone’s career based on innuendo, rumor and gossip.”
During the hearing, Coleman went line by line on Cagle’s performance evaluation from February, in which Gray gave Cagle positive scores.
Gray also wrote that Cagle was a “strong but reasonable leader who cares about those around him.”
During the executive session before the school board voted to approve Cagle’s firing, Cagle said he asked for the open hearing. “I don’t have anything to hide,’ he said. “I know my character — I know what I believe in.”
A native of Palestine, Cagle was fired in 2002 from the Palestine-Wheatley School District after allegedly performing a strip search on six students to find missing money, according to an Associated Press article.
He was principal of the district’s high school in Palestine but was filling in for the principal in Wheatley, the article states. He filed a lawsuit in St. Francis County Circuit Court against the school district for breach of contract. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2005, according to a spokesman for the circuit clerk’s office in Forrest City.
Cagle’s last administrative position before being hired in Mayflower was as Carlisle High School principal.
Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or firstname.lastname@example.org.