Shelby Academy alumni seek injunction against school’s board

Published 7:51 pm Wednesday, March 30, 2011

By BRAD GASKINS / Staff Writer

COLUMBIANA – Four members of the Shelby Academy Alumni Association have filed a request for an injunction against the school’s board of trustees.

The complaint, filed March 24 in Shelby County Circuit Court, alleges the board did not have the authority to sell the school.

The complaint lists the board and its four members – Connie Jones, Martha Ann Eisenburg, Faye Baxley and Gloria Haygood – as defendants, along with a St. Clair County-based bank.

The board sold Shelby Academy’s 34-acre property, which includes a school building with 16 classrooms, a science lab, library, gym and athletic fields, to the Shelby County Board of Education for $1.3 million.

The Shelby County Board of Education, which is not listed as a defendant, plans to convert the property into a Calera middle school.

The complaint filed by the alumni seeks to keep the Shelby Academy Board from distributing any funds received from the sale of the school, refusing to prove their eligibility to serve on the board and refusing to provide a complete accounting of all funds received by Shelby Academy since “their illegitimate appointment to the board of trustees.”

The four alumni members – Kristina Knowles, Clifton Garrett, John Wingard and Cindy Wingard – are represented by Jenna Besole of Lloyd, Gray, Whitehead and Monroe, a Birmingham-based law firm.

Beginning October 21, 2004, Shelby Academy’s bylaws required the board of trustees to consist of 15 members, according to the complaint. For the board to have the authority to execute any contract or deed, bylaws require a quorum vote by the board, the complaint stated.

Therefore, the complaint continues, no property can be sold unless it is voted on by at least eight board members.

In June 2010, Baxley resigned from the board, leaving Eisenburg, Jones and Haygood, the complaint alleged. The board on June 4, 2010 appointed five members to fill vacancies, including Baxley.

“Although the alumni association has asked for the identifications of the other four members, the board of trustees has refused to provide them,” the complaint reads. “Therefore, the other four members are nameless.”

In the board’s “next and perhaps only act” the bylaws were amended to require four board members, the complaint alleged.

Those “phantom four members resigned and disappeared” after voting to amend the bylaws, the complaint alleged, leaving only Baxley, Eisenburg, Jones and Haygood, who proceeded ahead with plans to sell the school.

“Several bids were received,” the complaint read. “However, upon information and belief, only one was truly considered.”

During the selling process, the complaint alleged that the four board members “met at their private homes – to avoid the scrutiny of the press.”

The alumni told the board December 30, 2010 that the board did not have the authority to authorize the sell, according to the complaint.

According to the complaint, the board then auctioned items belonging to the school.

“No accounting for the proceeds of the auction has been provided despite repeated requests,” the complaint read.

The sale of Shelby Academy to the Shelby County Board of Education closed March 10, 2011.

Covenant Bank, based in St. Clair County, held the mortgage on the school, which is paid off, the complaint stated. The board continued to pay bills but “did not pay teachers their entire salaries,” the complaint read, alleging that teachers still have not been paid.

Shelby Academy shut down before the fall 2009 semester, citing financial trouble. Repeated attempts were made to raise enough money to re-open the school.

The case was assigned to Circuit Judge Hub Harrington. The Circuit Court Clerk’s office said March 30 that no date has been set.

Due to Harrington’s medical condition – he’s recovering from being struck by a car in January – it was not immediately clear if Harrington would hear the case or if it would be assigned to another circuit judge.

Two phone messages left for Jones, president of Shelby Academy’s board, had not been returned by Wednesday night.