A Sumner County Schools employee whistleblower has made explosive allegations of multiple policy violations and the creation of a hostile work environment against the only candidate recommended by the Tennessee School Board Association (TSBA) for the district director position.
Dr. Scott Langford, the Sumner County Schools (SCS) Chief Academic Officer (CAO), was the sole candidate recommended as a finalist by the TSBA for the director position that will be open at the end of June.
Current SCS Director of Schools Del Phillips announced in June 2022 that he would be stepping down in June 2023 after being in the position since 2011. The School Board subsequently voted for Phillips to receive his full salary of $210,172 for another year, as he serves in a consulting position to the new director.
TSBA was retained by the school board in December at a cost of $6,500 to accept applications and, through a screening committee, review candidates’ qualifications to match them against the school board’s selection criteria and make recommendations to the board.
The application deadline was February 24 and TSBA Executive Director Dr. Tammy Grissom made a presentation regarding the search to the board at the March 7 study session. Grissom recommended only Langford after the review committee, consisting of herself and four others she declined to name “for obvious reasons,” had evaluated 16 candidates and eliminated five for not meeting the required credentials.
Langford, who was an assistant principal in 2014 when he was elected as a county commissioner, was promoted to principal that same year and then moved to the central office as assistant director of instruction in 2018. Shortly thereafter, Langford moved up again when the district’s beloved deputy director Dr. Jennifer Brown passed away in January 2019.
During his two terms on the county commission, Langford spent seven of eight years as the chairman of the 24-member legislative body. Under his leadership during his second term, Langford spearheaded a 17-percent property tax increase in 2019 after a 24 percent property tax increase was implemented just five years earlier.
Included in what the tax increase would fund was a $4,000 pay raise for teachers and certified staff, which included Langford and his wife, also a teacher in SCS. Langford used the Nation Builder platform to start an email campaign to county commissioners asking support for the tax increase that would put $8,000 more per year in his household, although he and others claimed no conflict of interest when they voted.
A major portion of the earlier property tax increase in 2014 also went toward schools, primarily for the issuance of bonds for building renovations and expansion throughout the county.
During the 2022 election cycle, during which Langford did not participate as a candidate, he was actively involved in a Facebook group called Sumner County Common Sense Conservatives. Offered apparently as a counter to the Sumner County Constitutional Conservatives group, Langford endorsed numerous candidates for the county commission and school board.
In the midst of the SCS director selection process, and perhaps with the appointment of Langford seeming inevitable, the whistleblower told newest school board member Josh Graham in an anonymous email from an address named speaktruthscs, “I feel compelled to email you with urgent concerns regarding the unstable, corrupt, and unethical leadership at the Sumner County Board of Education.”
Graham was only recently appointed to the Sumner County School Board by the county commission. Graham had already declared his 2022 candidacy for the District 9 board seat, when he was nearly redistricted out by the then county commission in October 2021. When school board races became partisan through the passage of a state law, Graham did not qualify for the Republican primary, and ran as a write-in during the general election losing to incumbent Patricia Brown. Brown passed away in January 2023, and the newly-elected commission appointed Graham to the position the following month.
In his role as Chief Academic Officer (CAO), Langford oversees a department of at least 20 and the majority of the whistleblower’s information relates to alleged violations of the school board policies in Section 5 of the Board Policy Manual regarding personnel.
Over about seven printed pages, the whistleblower, in a table format with three columns, identifies five specific school board policies that were violated, 5.101 Organizational Charts; 5.103 Job Descriptions/Specifications; 5.1031 Administrative and Supervisory Positions and Qualifications; 5.106 Application and Employment of School District Personnel; 5.1061 Employment of Administrative and Supervisory Personnel; 5.110 Compensation Guides and Contracts for Certified Personnel; 5.114 Personnel Records; and, 5.611 Employee Code of Ethics.
In the second column, the whistleblower includes the section of the named policy that has not been adhered two.
In the third column, the whistleblower provides evidence or support for each of the claimed violations. Of the eight sections of the policy manual cited, the whistleblower has particular concern over five violations indicated with yellow highlighting.
The issues stem from the organization of the Instruction department and the placement of individuals into certain positions, without the appropriate documentation, hiring practices, qualifications of the appointed individual, or, in some cases, board and budget approval.
The whistleblower states that in June 2022 a new salary schedule was created for instructional coordinators. Staff who previously held instructional supervisor positions were put into the new category and had their pay reduced.
While Langford’s rationale, according to the whistleblower, was that that those supervisors were mistakenly put on the wrong pay scale back in 2020, the instructional coordinator pay scale did not exist prior to the 2022-2023 school year.
In addition to the new pay scale not being board or budget approved, the newly applied instructional coordinator salaries will be frozen until their current salary aligns with the reduced salary schedule. The whistleblower says that, for some, the freeze represents a loss of $6,000 in pay increases over the next three to five years.
The whistleblower contends that only coordinators within the instruction department under Langford’s supervision were impacted by the change, which was verified with special education coordinators.
Indeed, the list of employees in Langford’s instruction department lists a number of coordinators, but only two supervisors. Meanwhile, the special education department lists no coordinators but several supervisors.
Meanwhile, the whistleblower points out that the coordinator job description and expectations continue to specify supervisory and evaluative responsibilities including hiring and terminating employees without being paid on the supervisory pay scale.
It wasn’t until many months later in December 2022 that the whistleblower says that pay scales were made available to the affected employees, and only after formal complaints had been filed.
The whistleblower told The Tennessee Star in a telephone conversation that Langford even put a person into a position that they are not qualified for, because they do not have the administrative license required by state law for the work being performed.
Instead of taking the right course in making sure the person had the right certification, they were hired before that, the whistleblower said. This is done, at least in part, for political reasons, with people who have influence and are very well liked, respected and connected in the community, the whistleblower told The Star.
The political nature of the instruction department under Langford “really took a turn for the worse,” the whistleblower told The Star. Rather than focusing on serving the community and students, it has turned into more of a popularity contest not for the district but putting their names on the map to promote their own careers.
The examples provided in the email, the whistleblower wrote to Graham, are but “a mere sampling of actions that have negatively impacted the department the CAO currently leads.”
“In the course of my time at [Sumner County Schools], I’ve been privy to critical information that demonstrates grievous acts of dishonesty, negligence, misconduct, interference, concealment, and intimidation within a toxic, hostile work environment,” stated the whistleblower.
Based on information in the email and documentation provided to The Star, at least some of the concerns have been taken to Langford and human resources without resolution and even resulting in retaliation.
“When employees follow established protocols to address matters at a supervisory level and through human resources, but are disregarded, they are left vulnerable to the continued destructive behaviors under Dr. Scott Langford’s (hereinafter referred to as CAO) leadership.”
“Please note,” wrote the whistleblower, “that current employees have been threatened by HR and CAO to not speak or have had their jobs held at stake if they do.”
“As you move forward in interviewing and selecting the right candidate,” the whistleblower cautioned, “I would highly encourage you to consider the long-term damage that his leadership as the Director of Schools would create in our district.”
As the whistleblower wrote in the email and relayed similarly to The Star, “After much consideration, a decision was made to speak out on behalf of many fearful voices to end the treacherous and fraudulent acts that are destroying the culture and stalling the progress of our district.”
Langford did not respond to The Tennessee Star’s request for comment regarding the whistleblower’s report of violations of five school board policies and that employees have been faced with threats regarding their employment if they speak out.
The Sumner County School Board will be conducting interviews with the seven remaining candidates for the director position, including Langford, between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Wednesday, March 29 and between noon and 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 30.
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