The school labor union says the district has become a ‘toxic work environment,’ while the Board of Education says it’s been speaking with district employees about their concerns since February.
By Matt Skoufalos | March 17, 2022
Citing a list of grievances from a “lack of trust and transparency” to a “significant decline in our climate and culture,” the Audubon Education Association (AEA) delivered a public vote of no confidence in Superintendent of Schools Andy Davis at the March 16 district school board meeting.
Speaking on behalf of the 200-member union, which represents teachers, staff, aides, and other workers throughout the district, AEA President Eric Miller, assistant principal at the junior-senior high school, said concerns with Davis’ leadership style had emerged even prior to the chaos of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
In remarks delivered Wednesday, Miller said staff within the district and the AEA executive committee had met with each other and with Davis to try to settle their concerns for the past year-plus.
After they felt they weren’t making headway, the committee also consulted with representatives from the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) before putting the question to its members, Miller said. The vote of no confidence was approved by 79 percent of the AEA voting membership.
In a statement provided to NJ Pen, Miller said that the union had “lost our collective faith in [Davis’] ability to lead our school district.
“His divisive words and counter-productive actions have created a toxic work environment in our schools, which we fear, if not addressed, could have a detrimental impact on the student learning environment,” Miller said.
“The students who attend our schools deserve the very best educational environment; an environment conducive to learning and academic growth that we, as AEA members, are proud to stand up for. Unfortunately, Dr. Davis has consistently proven he’s unable to lead our school district effectively.
“We thank the Board of Education for meeting with our Executive Committee last night, and are hopeful that they will hear our concerns and act in the best interest of Audubon and its children.”
In a statement, the Board of Education (BOE) said its members have been in talks with the union and with Davis about their concerns since February, when AEA first reported the results of its no-confidence vote to them.
“The Board invited the Association to speak with us so that we could listen to their concerns,” the statement read. “In the meantime, we started to have conversations with Dr. Davis about the vote as it related to the overall governance of our district.”
New Jersey labor laws prohibit public employers from discussing their employees’ performance in public, but the board may adjourn to a closed session to have such conversations, which it did Wednesday.
“At our March 16 meeting, the Board met with the Association in an Executive Session, and while we cannot comment on any specifics as they relate to district personnel, the Board takes their concerns very seriously, and will address their concerns with the Superintendent accordingly,” the BOE wrote.
For his part, Davis said he was “blindsided” by the AEA vote.
“I have met with the Board and the Audubon Education Association leadership, and will reflect on the items presented,” the superintendent said in an e-mail Thursday.
The no-confidence vote is a largely symbolic gesture: both the AEA and Davis, who was initially hired in 2018, are in the first year of respective three-year contracts with the district.
Miller provided NJ Pen with his remarks as delivered to the BOE Wednesday, which are reproduced here in full.
I stand before you along with my fellow Executive Committee members and representative members of the AEA, all of whom are interested in and passionate about education.
I am speaking tonight about a recent Vote of No Confidence the Association took regarding our superintendent, Dr. Andrew Davis.
We began this journey well over a year ago as our members shared with their respective building VPs their concerns for the state of our district. We frequently met as an Executive Committee to discuss the ongoing concerns from our members and how to best address each concern individually. We maintained constant communication with Dr. Davis, often meeting with him as a team.
We were cautious in our deliberations, but stayed steadfast in our goal to keep the lines of communication open with the Superintendent. We had Superintendent Liaison meetings, which included the Executive Committee and building VPs, and we had smaller meetings where we addressed specific building concerns. At times, we would meet with just members of the Executive Committee and the Superintendent.
To that end, we emphatically believe we represented our members while also trying to maintain the utmost level of professionalism in dealing with the Superintendent.
Before making the decision to proceed with the Vote of No Confidence, we met as an Executive Committee with NJEA, where we discussed in great detail the process and procedure, and, most importantly, sought their guidance. We met with our Rep Council and included NJEA so they could ask questions as well.
I assure you, as an Executive Committee, we asked questions, and we debated. Please know that we did not come to this decision easily. We met repeatedly, often for hours, discussing the pros and cons and ramifications of such an action.
After numerous consultations and meetings, we determined we needed to act in the best interest of our members and proceed with the Vote of No Confidence.
We will now read our statement publicly.
The Audubon Public School District has been a district of pride and excellence; one where decisions were made on a collaborative basis, and with the best interest of our students, staff, and community in mind.
The Audubon School District has also been a district that has experienced great vision from our leaders, who had created an environment where teachers and staff members were given the respect and support needed to achieve their goals. Our district climate was truly that of a family.
Over the past several school years—even prior to the pandemic—we have had concerns regarding Dr. Davis’ leadership, specifically:
- Lack of trust and transparency
- Inability to communicate effectively and in a timely manner
- Significant decline in our climate and culture
- Unwillingness to listen to staff and effectively address issues as they relate to climate and culture
- Insufficient follow-through on district- and building-level initiatives and promises to staff
- Poor decision-making
- Lack of collaboration in planning and decision-making
- Ineffective supervision of school and district administration
- Inability to retain experienced staff
Membership also believes that Dr. Davis has created an environment that makes many staff fearful of retribution. As a result, many staff members are afraid to speak out about their concerns in our schools and the district.
For these reasons stated, the Association conducted a vote of “No Confidence” in Dr. Andrew Davis.
We are publicly informing the Board of Education that 79 percnt of the voting members of the Association voted No Confidence in the Superintendent.
—Audubon Education Association Executive President Eric Miller
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