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URBANA — Preston Williams is once again in charge of the Urbana school district after its board voted Tuesday evening to place Superintendent Don Owen on paid administrative leave, effective immediately.
The board offered no comment as to why Owen had been placed on leave, nor did it say anything about its decision to put Assistant Superintendent Kathy Barbour on immediate leave as well.
However, in a statement released following the meeting, the board said, "There is never a good time to change administrators."
"However, once the BOE reached a consensus to not renew Dr. Owen's contract and informed him of the same, the Board believed it would benefit from bringing in temporary administration."
The other assistant superintendent, Samuel Byndom, had been placed on leave prior to Tuesday's meeting; he's been charged with felony eavesdropping for allegedly attempting to record a closed Oct. 28 board meeting at which his and Owen's employment were to be discussed.
The board statement also said, "Please understand that the Board's actions tonight are not a discharge from employment of either Dr. Owen or Ms. Barbour. Both Dr. Owen and Ms. Barbour have tenure rights in their employment with Urbana School District allowing them to remain employed as certified employees of the District in some capacity. However, their tenure rights do not allow them to remain employed as administrators beyond this school term."
After the meeting, Owen released a statement through Langacker Law, an Urbana-based law firm, expressing his dismay at the board's decision and maintaining his earlier contention that he was caught "off-guard" when he heard of the board's decision.
"The rapid change caught many off-guard, including Dr. Owen himself, who first learned of the proposed Urbana administration changes from social media after the District's statement was shared by the local news media," the release stated.
However, the board's statement noted that Owen was told in an executive session after the regular Nov. 20 meeting that there was not a consensus to renew his contract. And he retained legal representation after Thanksgiving.
In his statement, Owen's earlier claims that he had served with "honesty, integrity, fiscal responsibility and compassion" were underscored, and he noted the board had not directly listed what alleged wrongdoings were responsible for his ouster.
"Prior to the November 30th announcement, Dr. Owen had worked closely with the Board and enjoyed an amiable relationship with many of its members," the release said. "In October, the Board evaluated Dr. Owen and determined that he was fully meeting the Board's expectations. There has been no allegation of wrong-doing levelled against Dr. Owen, further serving to highlight the unusual nature of the Board's actions."
Prior to the vote, public comments ranged from support for Owen — and the shift toward the restorative practices disciplinary technique he'd overseen implementation of at Urbana Middle and High school — to support for the board making changes to its administrative staff.
Some speakers, including Linda Minor, said they hoped for more transparency from the board regarding the changes, as a formal explanation for what was going on had not been given prior to the board's votes. One wasn't given after, either.
"If our administration has not been acting with integrity, ethics and value, I fully support the change in administration," Minor said, adding that she wasn't sure the whole story had been revealed yet.