School Board to hear Paul Peacock's grievance appeal regarding demotion
The former district operations chief and current Wadsworth Elementary School principal also sent a notice to sue.
| 11:53 a.m. March 13, 2023
Palm Coast Observer
Wadsworth Elementary School Principal and former Flagler Schools Chief Operations Officer Paul Peacock is seeking $7,500 he said the school district owes him.
But more than that, he is looking to restore his reputation, which he says was damaged last year after he was blamed for signing off on a tentative agreement with district unions on the district's behalf without first getting the School Board’s assent.
A dispute over the tentative agreement led to what Peacock says was a termination from his position as a district negotiator and a demotion from his position as the district's operations chief.
Peacock filed a grievance last December with the district. He is appealing two previous decisions by the district and Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt judging that he is not owed a $7,500 stipend for serving as a negotiator.
The School Board will hear that appeal at its monthly business meeting on March 28. School Board Attorney Kristy Gavin has confirmed the appeal will be on the agenda. Peacock and Mittelstadt will each have 15 minutes to state their positions.
Peacock was removed as the district’s chief of operations and its chief negotiator with the unions and reassigned to Wadsworth as a principal on June 10. He had been a negotiator with the district since 2014. In a lengthy interview with the Observer on Friday, March 10, he said he filed his grievance after he did not receive his annual $7,500 stipend as a district negotiator.
Peacock said he has also sent the School Board a notice to sue. He said he would seek $200,000 in a lawsuit, “which is about the treatment, about being wrongfully terminated, being removed, demoted.”
He said the $200,000 includes $15,000 which he would have earned over the next two years as a negotiator with Flagler Schools, with the rest covering potential future earnings as a consultant. He said before his removal from the negotiating team, he had opportunities to consult as a negotiator with other school districts.
“The reason why it's $200,000 is there is a limitation,” he said. “The board's liability is $200,000 for a case. That's where it stops. There's a ceiling for that.”
After the Observer requested a response from Mittelstadt, the district issued a short statement that said, “In order to respect the process, the superintendent will not speak about an employee’s grievance against the district.”
In the interview, Peacock also spoke about being linked in media reports with School Board member Sally Hunt, who has been urging the board to begin discussions on Mittelstadt’s contract, which expires at the end of June.
Peacock said he reached out to the three new board members — Hunt, Christy Chong, and Will Furry — after they were elected and invited them to visit Wadsworth Elementary to see “the great things we’re doing.” Each board member has liaison schools. Hunt chose Wadsworth as one of the schools she represents.
Peacock said none of the board’s three newest members have told him how they may vote on Mittelstadt’s contract, but he added that he thinks Hunt is “getting the short end of the stick."
"She is literally trying to not vote on party lines, not just say, 'I'm a Democrat' or 'I'm a Republican,'" he said. "She wants to find out what's best for the kids and best for the community of Flagler County.”
When asked if he would apply for the superintendent’s job should the board decide not to renew Mittlestadt’s contract, Peacock said, “I haven't said that I don't want to be (superintendent). I feel like I have to contribute. I think (Assistant Superintendent) LaShakia Moore is much better qualified to be in that role.”
Peacock’s reassignment to Wadsworth and removal from the district negotiating team occurred after a tentative agreement, known as a TA, was reached with the unions last April to provide health insurance rebates to school employees.
Peacock said he was the lead negotiator with the support professionals' union and that Assistant Superintendent Bobby Bossardet was the lead negotiator with the teachers' union.
The rebates would total about $800,000 and come out of a $4.6 million reserve fund. Brown and Brown — which administers the health plan for the district — said the fund only needed to be about a quarter of that.
But the TA was rejected by the board in an executive session.
After union members filled the chambers at a May 17 board meeting to show their disapproval of what was perceived as the district reneging on an agreement, the board later approved the rebates.
Board members were upset that they were not informed about the agreement. Peacock said he was surprised when the board rejected it.
Our team presented this, like, ‘guys, this is a win-win. I went back and did what I could do to try to mitigate the damage, because we're going back in there with a ‘no’, so my words, by the scribe, were, I would like to start by apologizing. — PAUL PEACOCK
“Our team presented this, like, ‘Guys, this is a win-win,’” Peacock said. “I went back and did what I could do to try to mitigate the damage, because we're going back in there with a ‘no’, so my words, by the scribe, were, 'I would like to start by apologizing. The article we TA'd, it shouldn't have been TA'd without the board's approval. I was trying to work within the time constraints we had with an executive session today, and the board voted it down. I apologize. We are open to discussions to talk about the numbers.' But at that point the union was thoroughly upset.”
Weeks later, Peacock was reassigned.
I still can’t figure out what I partially did. The TA is a tentative agreement. It simply means we are confident in presenting this to our board as a recommendation that we move forward. — PAUL PEACOCK
“I still can’t figure out what I partially did,” he said. “The TA is a tentative agreement. It simply means we are confident in presenting this to our board as a recommendation that we move forward. Typically, you get a little more time before you might actually sign the TA with the CFO there. But there was a time crunch. And remember, we were coming out of COVID. We really wanted to try to do something for the teachers and the support staff, because we felt like we could show them some real appreciation for what they have contributed to.”
In preparing his grievance, he collected texts and emails from board members through a public records request. He showed the Observer emails board member Colleen Conklin forwarded to Mittelstadt and Peacock from upset union members.
Conklin sent an email to Peacock and Mittelstadt dated May 12, 2022, stating: “I never have been as frustrated over how bargaining has been handled. The TA should NEVER have been agreed upon and signed off on BEFORE being discussed with the Board.”
In texts that Peacock said were sent from Conklin to Mittelstadt on May 10 that he obtained through his records request, Conklin allegedly wrote that Peacock should not be involved in bargaining anymore.
“He’s an idiot. Our emails are blowing up and social media is a mess,” one text read. Another text said, “I think Paul is making everything worse.” And another called him a “nightmare.”
Peacock is seeking to disqualify Conklin from participating in the March 28 appeal because of her “inappropriate and hostile communication” in the emails and texts.
“I take offense that I'm an idiot, I take offense that I'm a nightmare,” he said in the Observer interview.
Responding to a request for comment, Conklin wrote in a text message to an Observer reporter that she would be happy to provide context to the messages Peacock shared after the board hears the grievance.
“Mr. Peacock is doing his best to have me abstain from voting on his grievance. Therefore, I am unable to provide you with a comment at this time,” she wrote.
When Peacock was reassigned to Wadsworth, he was also removed from the bargaining team. Peacock called the move a demotion.
“There’s no other way to look at it,” he said.
Regarding his grievance, Peacock said that when he inquired about not receiving his $7,500 stipend, which he previously received annually on Dec. 15, he was informed that he signed for that on Nov. 22, 2021.
“I said, so let me ask you this, ‘Are you violating state statute?’ Because you cannot pay, by statute, a person prior to them serving.”
He said his grievance is about setting the record straight, more than the $7,500.
Peacock said he is in the state's Deferred Retirement Option Program, with two years left before retirement, and he would like to remain at Wadsworth Elementary School.
Before he became the district’s chief of operations in June, 2021, Peacock was the principal at Indian Trails Middle School for eight years, where he had the district’s longest streak for an “A” school. He has also been an assistant principal at Flagler Palm Coast High School, Matanzas High School, Buddy Taylor Middle School and Indian Trails.
“My time at Wadsworth has been fantastic,” he said. “Maybe I'm just fit better for a school. There’s not that red tape. I can be involved with the kids.”
Managing Editor Jonathan Simmons contributed to the story.