Spotsylvania School Board fires Superintendent Taylor

by | Mar 12, 2024 | ALLFFP, Schools & Education, Spotsylvania

A Spotsylvania County school official whose tenure was steeped in controversy from the onset was fired Tuesday night. 

The Spotsylvania County School Board voted 5-0 during a special meeting to terminate the contract of Superintendent Mark Taylor with cause. Taylor was hired in September 2022 with no background in education and a close relationship with former School Board Chair Kirk Twigg. 

The board met in closed session to consult with legal counsel before the vote. The board also voted to allow Taylor a hearing to appeal the decision within a timeframe discussed during closed session. Virginia law states that a division superintendent may appeal to the appropriate circuit court any school board decision to fine, suspend or remove them from office and should be entitled to an appeal of whether there was sufficient cause to do so.

Spotsylvania School Board Chair Lorita Daniels, Vice Chair Nicole Cole, and board members Megan Jackson, Carol Medawar and Belen Rodas voted to fire Taylor, with Daniels saying “We just needed to move this district forward.”

Berkeley District representative April Gillespie and Lisa Phelps of the Lee Hill District were absent from the meeting. 

Kelly Guempel has served as interim superintendent since Taylor was placed on administrative leave in January. 

Tuesday’s meeting opened on a tense note as Daniels introduced legal counsel and made a motion to terminate’s Taylor contract before the agenda had been adopted. However, she then stated that she would abstain from voting because she believes more cause for the termination can be explored.

“I do agree with terminating the contract of the superintendent,” Daniels said before entering closed session. “What I do not agree with are some of the issues or causes that have been identified because I believe we can do more. We can be intentional.”

Daniels said she would like for the board to reach a consensus on causes for Taylor’s dismissal because “it would help us get to the satisfactory contract termination or negotiation. That is why I’m abstaining from this vote.”

However, Daniels apparently changed her mind about abstaining during the closed session, saying, “I felt better about how we were moving forward with cause.”

Daniels and other board members declined to specify the cause for Taylor’s dismissal, citing that it is a personnel matter.

Cole said that she “vehemently” disagreed with the way Daniels conducted the start of the meeting and noted that chairpersons typically don’t make motions. Jackson, Medawar and Rodas disagreed as well, but only requested that Daniels communicate with them the next time she wants to make comments before the agenda is adopted.

An emotional Daniels said that was not the first time a board chair spoke out before the adoption of an agenda. Daniels later accused unnamed board members of bullying her, alleging that she has communications that demonstrate the alleged behavior.

Taylor’s dismissal was expected once a new majority took over the school board following the November election, with Jackson defeating Twigg in the Livingston District and Medawar knocking off David Ross for the Courtland District seat vacated by Taylor supporter Rabih Abuismail.  

Rodas also defeated Jordan Lynch in the Chancellor District after former representative Dawn Shelley — one of Taylor’s biggest detractors — decided not to run for reelection. 

Taylor’s hiring was challenged from the start. He was working as the county administrator in Greene County, earning $135,000 per year, when he was selected to lead the Spotsylvania school division for a $110,000 raise — and $30,000 more than his predecessor Scott Baker was earning.  

Taylor signed a contract with a base salary of $245,000 per year, which included a stipulation that if he was fired without cause, he would receive three years and eight months of pay. 

School board members, who were then in the minority, spoke out against Taylor’s hiring at a Virginia Board of Education meeting in an effort to prevent the board from granting Taylor a superintendent’s license.  

In addition to Taylor’s lack of experience in education, detractors were concerned about social media posts of his that they considered racist, homophobic, denigrating to public education and espousing a lack of seriousness when dealing with school shootings. 

The BOE, however, granted Taylor a license with only two members voting against him. BOE members who voted in favor of Taylor insisted that superintendent hirings are local decisions.

They granted Taylor a license based on Option IV of the Virginia Code licensure regulations, which allows for licensure of a candidate without education experience if they have a master’s degree or equivalent, three years of senior leadership experience and a recommendation from a Virginia school board. 

Cole filed a lawsuit appealing the BOE’s decision, but it was dismissed. Taylor’s tenure began Nov. 1, 2022, less than two months after the BOE granted his license. 

It did not take long for more controversy to ensue. 

He helped establish a questionnaire on a school portal called ParentVue asking if parents approve of their children having access to sexually explicit content in school libraries. Some parents complained when Taylor had 30 books that he considered to contain sexually explicit material removed from school libraries. 

On Oct. 16, 2023, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia sent a letter to the school division regarding a memo circulated by Taylor that indicated officials were banning books from libraries. In a letter to the school board, the ACLU accused Taylor of misinterpreting Virginia law and violating First Amendment rights. 

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