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Serena superintendent reminded not to be 'inebriated' at work events

A Serena-based school district’s superintendent was chastised earlier this month by the school board president and vice president for “drinking shots along with other alcoholic beverages” at a work conference and texting district employees.

A complaint was filed Oct. 30 to the board against Unit 2 Superintendent Spencer Byrd, according to a Nov. 21 memorandum provided to Byrd from Board President Renee Thompson and Vice President Joe Cantlin. The memorandum, which was redacted in a number of spots, was acquired by The Times through a Freedom of Information Act request.

According to the memorandum, the board completed its investigation and concluded there was insufficient evidence to find Byrd in violation of the initial complaint, which appeared to involve text messages at a work conference, according to the memorandum.

For example, the board was concerned about the amount of drinking that occurred at the conference.

“As the leader of our administrative team, you set an example of appropriate behavior,” Thompson and Cantlin wrote in the memo. “Drinking shots along with other alcoholic beverages at a work conference with employees of the District is not appropriate and can needlessly expose the District to liability and claims like the instant one.

“Therefore, you are officially reminded that you shall never be inebriated at any District event or activity, or any professional conference.”

It is not clear from the memo where the conference occurred, or what the text messages said, but The Times has appealed some of the redactions in the memo and requested the text messages.

Neither Thompson nor Byrd returned a message for comment.

The Times received information Byrd had been out of the office the week of Nov. 4, but returned Nov. 11. The board’s attorney Todd Hayden, of Robbins Schwartz, said following the Nov. 21 board meeting he couldn’t comment on why Byrd was absent. Hayden said it was “a sensitive topic.” Byrd also said then he would not comment on it.

The records request confirms there was an investigation into Byrd’s behavior, and if he didn’t correct actions noted in the memo, he may be disciplined or fired.

The memo says the board assigned Hayden to the investigation and Hayden met with Byrd on Nov. 8 to discuss the complaint with him and to provide him an opportunity to respond.

“We are concerned about the professionalism that was exhibited during social activities connected to the conference and these issues warrant further reflection and correction by you going forward,” Thompson and Cantlin wrote in the memo.

The memo also reminded Byrd alcoholic beverages are ineligible for expense reimbursement.

The memo stated information was inconclusive as to what text messages he may have sent during the conference, but it reminded him he “should not be texting other District employees except in a professional and courteous manner.”

“Again, as superintendent, you set the tone for our employees’ interactions and you must recognize the weight your comments may carry with other employees, particularly those whom you supervise,” the board officials wrote.

The memo said Byrd is expected to maintain a high degree of professionalism in his communications with district officials and employees, to “refrain from improper personal messaging, and maintain an awareness of how others may perceive your actions.”

The memo concluded Byrd should not take any action against anyone that is retaliatory based on the complaint, and that any retaliatory action may result in discipline.

The investigation of the complaint lodged against Byrd came prior to the board confirming Nov. 21 that Serena Middle School Principal Aaron Rios was put on paid administrative leave pending an investigation of an incident that took place Nov. 15 at the school. Rios was led out of the school by a La Salle County Sheriff’s Office deputy. He was not handcuffed or charged.

There is no evidence the two items are related.

According to documents received in a records request, Rios told Sheridan Police Chief Chuck Bergeron “we need to get him arrested,” referring to whom Bergeron said was Byrd.

Bergeron said he laughed and Rios said, “I’m gonna take him out. … I’m serious, too.”

Bergeron said the comment was a threat to Byrd and passed it along to Byrd and Hoffmann, advising them to contact sheriff’s deputies. Following the incident, Byrd had requested an order of protection against Rios, but Byrd dropped the request after a hearing date had been set on the matter.

The Times request for documents in regard to the board’s investigation of Rios were denied based on the investigation still being pending, and privacy exemptions, among other reasons. Further documents into the board’s investigation of Byrd were denied as well for privacy exemptions.

When asked at the Nov. 21 board meeting why the board, which has schools in Serena, Harding and Sheridan, would be able to comment on one administrator’s leave and not another, Hayden said the board commented on Rios’ situation “to clarify to parents what’s going on.” About 50 parents, staff and students attended that board meeting seeking clarity on Rios’ leave.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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