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School official to fight for job

by John G. Miller

MANAGING EDITOR

Just three months after being a finalist for the top job in the Harrison County school system, veteran administrator Sharon Brisbin finds herself on the verge of losing her job.

Brisbin, who has worked in education for 32 years, was suspended with pay from her job as the local school board's supervisor of personnel on Aug. 23. She was suspended by then Superintendent Pamela Sumpter-Cain. In a letter from the school board's attorney, Brisbin said she was informed that she had been charged with insubordination and willful neglect of duty.

Ironically, the suspension came just two days before Cain left to take a job with the West Virginia Department of Education. However, new Superintendent Carl Friebel has not reinstated Brisbin, who has filed a grievance.

The Harrison County Board of Education is expected to address the matter at a hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 12. Brisbin said she has not been notified of a hearing date.

While Brisbin admits that her relationship with Cain had been strained since Cain first came on board in July, she said the suspension caught her totally off guard.

"I can't explain what the problem was," Brisbin said. "When she first took over, she just refused to meet with me to discuss personnel matters. She seemed to have a preconceived agenda that didn't include me."

When Cain finally met with Brisbin in mid July, it wasn't to discuss personnel matters.

"She and (Assistant Superintendent Bill Ashcraft) met with me and basically told me that they were taking over my department," Brisbin said.

Her suspension came little more than a month later.

"It's taking me time to bounce back and even realize what's going on," Brisbin said. "I've had an exemplary record ... not one mark against me ... not even one unsatisfactory comment on an evaluation. I don't understand what they are trying to do."

Friebel said that he couldn't comment on a personnel matter, but that the situation was under review and he was hoping to find an "amicable solution."

"Obviously, there are two sides to every story," Friebel said. "But to protect the rights of employees, we can't comment on personnel matters."

Brisbin has worked in Harrison County for 19 years. From 1981-84, she served as personnel director, then returned to the classroom and has also served as principal or assistant principal on the elementary, middle school and high school level.

She returned to supervise the personnel department in October, 1999.

Brisbin's suspension came at the personnel department's busiest time, when many jobs were being bid on by current and potential employees. Because of the rift in the department, Brisbin believes some of the personnel matters may have been handled illegally.

"The school system has 1,500 employees," Brisbin said. "During the summer, many teachers and staff are bidding on jobs at different schools. All the research on seniority, credentials ... is done by the personnel department during that time so that recommendations can be made to the Superintendent."

Brisbin said she believes she is being blamed for the county's overstaffing problem. At one point, Harrison County was 25 professional positions and 34 service jobs over the state guidelines based on enrollment.

Brisbin said she was working to reduce the positions through attrition, but was told in July by Cain that the county was no longer overstaffed.

Brisbin said she has complete records of her job actions and stands ready to defend her performance.

Cain, who is to begin her new job on Tuesday, was not available for comment. No phone number was listed for her in either Clarksburg or Charleston.

Friebel and Ashcraft both said that the county is still overstaffed, but that the total number of extra jobs has been reduced. They believe the board will have a clearer picture when this year's enrollment is finalized.

Managing Editor John G. Miller can be reached at 626-1473.

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