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Hodge responds to Riley’s comments about school system

Superintendent Kelli Hodge has responded to Valley Mayor Leonard Riley’s comments about the state of the Chambers County School District during a Valley City Council meeting earlier this month.

Riley ranted about the lack of discipline in the school system, the state of the system’s finances and the months-long situation with Dr. Frankie Bell, whose contract was not renewed as a principal on Wednesday night.

Hodge responded via a 716-word press release on Friday, going point for point and comparing her time as superintendent to Riley’s. Riley was superintendent from 1991 through 2011.

“In all fairness, I felt it was my responsibility to reply by simply comparing the facts of his prior administration as school superintendent to where we stand today,” Hodge said.

Hodge started with Riley’s claims of serious discipline problems at both W.F. Burns and Valley High School. 

“There are fights almost every day,” Riley said at the council meeting. “Our schools are being neglected, more money needs to be spent on them, and discipline needs to be gotten under control. I apologize for this rant, but I think things have gotten to the point where I needed to speak up.”

Hodge said there are less fights today, on average, than when Riley was superintendent.

“Discipline has always been a challenge in these particular grade levels. However, during the 2010-2011 school year, when Mr. Riley was superintendent, Valley High School alone had 28 documented cases of fighting, followed by 24 cases the succeeding year,” Hodge said. “During the past four years, we have averaged a total of 18 documented fight cases and never more than 19 in a single year at Valley High, the largest campus in our district. Therefore, comparing apples to apples, we have clearly seen a decline in the frequency of more serious disciplinary issues at our middle and high schools. Furthermore, we have hired additional School Resource Officers, nurses, and an attendance officer.”

Hodge also wrote about Riley’s claim that schools at the northern end of the county receive more funding than Valley-based schools.

“Having served in the role of superintendent himself, Mr. Riley knows better than most people how federal funding for individual schools is impacted by student enrollment, the free and reduced lunch percentage at each school, the percentage of low-income students and those considered at risk,” Hodge said. “It is not a local administrative decision as Mr. Riley has implied.”

Hodge said there is “virtually no difference” in the way per-pupil spending is allocated between now and when Riley was superintendent.

“As long as our current demographic data stays the same, schools located in the city of Valley will always rank lowest in per-pupil spending because, again, these funds are disbursed according to specific federal requirements,” Hodge said. “I might add, however, that schools in Valley are presently receiving more funding today than they did when Mr. Riley was superintendent.”

Riley also spoke about Bell, saying that situation should’ve been alleviated before March. Bell was originally put on administrative leave in October. Hodge did not address the Bell comments in her press release, but she and the board did decide not to renew Bell’s contract as principal Wednesday night.

Riley also alleged that two girls were dismissed off a softball team because they didn’t meet their fundraising goal. Hodge said that was not true.

“I am, in no way, insinuating that our school system is above the need for improvement. It is what I strive for on a daily basis, and will continue to do so as long as I hold this office,” Hodge said. “It is a challenge like none I have ever faced before, but one that I take very seriously with the best interests of our students being my primary concern. Mayor Riley’s intentional distortion of the facts does none of us any good. It only sows more seeds of contentious division in our community during a time when we should be pooling our resources toward a common goal in a factual and concise manner.”