Race, ethics claims made against Cobb County School District
by Hannah Morgan, Jon Gillooly, and Leo Hohmann
February 05, 2014 04:00 AM | 29419 views | 79 79 comments | 61 61 recommendations | email to a friend | print
download Full text of finlayson’s email to Dr. Hinojosa
Mary Finlayson
Mary Finlayson
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Michael Shanahan
Michael Shanahan
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Angela Huff
Angela Huff
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MARIETTA — A former criminal investigator for Cobb County Schools said she was fired after she tried to probe two of Superintendent Michael Hinojosa’s top deputies she believed were involved in questionable practices, including the use of a teacher to help prepare doctoral dissertations for administrators.

Mary Finlayson served as chief investigator but was fired in May 2013 because, according to her lawyer, she blew the whistle on “deeply troubling and likely illegal conduct.”

Finlayson said Michael Shanahan, the school district’s human resources director, shut down an active investigation into allegations that a teacher was being pulled out of class in 2011 to work on doctoral dissertations for her school principal and also for assistant superintendent Angela Huff.

Huff obtained her doctorate degree and was promoted to Hinojosa’s chief of staff in 2012.

Finlayson also objected to Shanahan’s veto of a hiring panel’s recommendation to hire a white man who was deemed to be the most qualified for an open investigator position. Shanahan allegedly ordered her to find a black woman for the job instead.

“I believe I was terminated in retaliation for complaining about illegal, discriminatory and unethical practices by Dr. Michael Shanahan,” Finlayson wrote in an Aug. 19, 2013, letter to Hinojosa obtained by MDJ through an open records request. “I had done nothing wrong.”

‘Whistle-blower’ says she was victim of cover-up

Finlayson, a former Cobb Police investigator, joined the school district’s investigation team in January 2006 and eventually was promoted to lead investigator for the district. But her position was terminated on May 9, 2013.

Shanahan cited budget constraints as the reason for terminating Finlayson.

When she was fired, Finlayson said she had 27 minutes to leave the central-office building in which she worked for more than seven years, and was escorted out the door by staff without being able to say goodbye to her co-workers.

“Our office had never treated an employee with such disrespect and cruelty,” Finlayson wrote to Hinojosa in the Aug. 19 letter.

In that same letter, Finlayson accuses Shanahan of covering up inappropriate hiring practices carried out under his supervision.

In February 2012, the district advertised an open position for an investigator and Finlayson said more than 100 applications were submitted.

After Finlayson was involved with interviewing “a variety” of candidates, she said a panel of five professionals unanimously recommended that Shanahan hire Chris Dowd, who is white.

“Dr. Shanahan then told me that he wanted me to find a black female to interview for that position. He stated he wanted diversity in the office. I told him that we are not allowed to ask for an applicant’s race on our application and that we were not supposed to select a candidate using their race as a selection criteria.”

But Shanahan, she said, told her he was not going to approve the recommended hire.

“The following business day, he called me to his office and gave me the name of what he said was a black female that had applied for the position and directed me to bring her in for an interview,” Finlayson wrote.

She believed Shanahan had wrongfully collected information on the applicant’s race from Equal Employment Opportunity questionnaires included in the applications.

“It is illegal under federal law for a covered employer to discriminate against an employee (or applicant) in the hiring processes,” said Kelly Beard, an Atlanta attorney hired by Finlayson. “In short, if the county were to disregard its standard hiring processes in order to hire or promote a lesser qualified white candidate to the detriment of a better-qualified black candidate, that would be illegal under Title VII and 42 USC sec. 1981. The same rule applies in the reverse.”

The black female candidate’s references did not come through, but Finlayson said in the letter she was told by Shanahan to schedule an interview with the applicant.

Finlayson protested to Shanahan, and then went to his boss, Alice Stouder, to report her concerns.

“She stated she would not allow that to happen and would take care of it,” Finlayson wrote. “Shanahan was angry with me for reporting this activity to his boss, and his decision to terminate my employment without cause was due to my complaint.”

Finlayson said she was discouraged by Shanahan from reporting any improper hiring practices to the Georgia Professional Standards Commission.

John Adams, with Educators First, an organization representing teachers, said he was deeply troubled by Finlayson’s letter. Adams served as chief investigator for Cobb Schools before Finlayson.

“I never saw this practice and I would not have allowed it if I had been there as well. If her allegations are true, this is extremely troubling from a human resources perspective,” Adams said. “What she has alleged would be a violation of board policy of EEO and would likely be a violation of federal law as well.”

Teacher pulled out of class to help principal

One month later, in March 2012, Finlayson started reviewing email exchanges between language-arts teacher Katrina Cordell at Lindley Middle School and the school’s principal, Sandra Ervin. The district opened an investigation and found that not only Ervin but her boss, then area assistant superintendent Angela Huff, had used Cordell to help with their dissertations.

One month later, in April 2012, Hinojosa asked the school board to promote Huff from an assistant superintendent to his chief of staff.

Hinojosa did not respond to questions Tuesday about when he learned of the investigation. He announced at Monday night’s school board meeting his intentions to retire, a month after asking the school board to rehire his central-office staff, including Shanahan and Huff.

School district spokesman Jay Dillon said “some of the accusations in Finlayson’s letter are not accurate.”

Dillon said Cordell did not do any of the actual writing of the dissertations. Rather, the work focused on helping produce PowerPoint presentations involved in defending the dissertations before faculty at the University of Southern Mississippi.

Emails obtained by the MDJ indicate the teacher had been taking time out of the classroom to work on Huff’s dissertation and accompanying PowerPoint presentation.

The district paid substitute teachers to fill in while the two educators worked on the dissertation at Lindley Middle School, according to Finlayson.

Finlayson approached Shanahan, the HR director, with her concerns.

“I went to Dr. Shanahan and informed him of what I had found and advised we would need to conduct further interviews and review more computer records to complete that investigation,” Finlayson wrote in her Aug. 19 letter to Hinojosa.

“The following week he told me that I was not to pursue the matter any further, that no investigation would be conducted. …He did not pursue this investigation and covered it up after directing me not to pursue the matter any further.”

The MDJ reported in August 2012 that the school board had accepted a sudden resignation from Ervin.

“This teacher should have been in a classroom teaching,” Finlayson wrote, referring to Cordell.

Huff received a doctorate of philosophy in 2011 from the University of Southern Mississippi’s Department of Educational Leadership, according to the university’s website.

Chief of Staff Huff responds to investigator

A document stamped “response from Dr. Huff” was delivered to the MDJ in a sealed box of open records regarding Finlayson’s investigation.

In the response to Finlayson’s inquiries, Huff admitted her daytime emails with Cordell were inappropriate.

“I realize that my email exchanges should not have occurred during the school day,” Huff said in her written response.

Huff wrote that Cordell offered to help her with the PowerPoint presentation for her degree.

“I didn’t ask her,” Huff told the investigators.

In a March 19, 2011, email to Cordell, Huff writes, “Katrina, in speaking with Sandra last week, we discussed the possibility of Wednesday, March 23rd as being a day I could come to Lindley and discuss my power point with you. Is that day fine with you and is the time of 8:30 fine with you?” Huff asks, ending the email with her signature: “Angela Huff, Area 6 Assistant Superintendent, Cobb County School District.”

In an April 1, 2011, email to Cordell at 3:43 p.m., Huff writes: “Katrina, I’ve placed each of the lists from my proposal in a Word document. I think Dr. Greer wanted me to put them in table format and organize them by: Principal no control, Behaviors principals can control, Evaluating the principal and outcomes. She wanted a table with identifiers at the top with researchers to the left, etc. Thanks for agreeing to help me with this part and create the table. Have a great Spring Break next week.”

Cordell responded in an April 12, 2011, email at 3:07 p.m.: “Mrs. Huff … this was difficult … but anything for you! You are great and thank you for allowing me to help.”

Still waiting on Hinojosa

Finlayson said she never received a response to her Aug. 19 letter to Hinojosa. He did, however, email her letter to his senior staff the evening he received it with the comment, “Please read.”

Finlayson has retained a lawyer, but has not filed a lawsuit against the school district. She has filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and sent a letter to the Board of Education from her attorney.

Lindley Middle School’s website lists Cordell as a teacher in the school’s gifted students program specializing in English language arts.

Comments
(79)
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Directed
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February 12, 2014
I fully agree with the comments of and of "Maint" and "No Respect" and would like to further add to their comments. Cobb County Tax Payers or at least the MJD, should inquire as to why Cobb County Schools has so many "Supervisors" that are not even qualified to "supervise" their departments and why they need two Assistant Executive Directors of Maint. CCSD is very top heavy with management, all controlled by the DICTATOR at the top. From a business and taxpayer stand point why would you want your employee's on the roads in CCSD vehicles during the inclement weather that we have recently had? This is a HUGE liability for the taxpayers of Cobb County and is completely unnecessary. If the supervisors would do their jobs and use their vehicles like they stated they would, this HUGE liability could be avoided. IF CCSD would develop an effective and realistic emergency response plan and actually perform proper prior planning, they might actually start to earn their salaries and justify their positions and not just sit around like trained monkey's watching the workers clock in and out everyday. WAKE UP CCSD management and start respecting your employee's and start actually being concerned for their safety.
No Respect
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February 11, 2014
Supervisors are given CCSD vehicles at the taxpayer's expense, drive them home daily, whether or not they are on call or not. Taxpayers pay for them to drive back and forth from home to work each and every day. If something comes up after hours or on the weekend, most every time they don't go out and take care of the call, they call in the "worker" to take care of it on overtime. Since the supervisor is on a salary basis, it just makes more since they attempt to fix the problem especially since they are GIVEN a vehicle to ride back and forth to work and at that a vehicle which can maneuver in the snow and inclement weather. Why do ALL of them drive these vehicles home each and every day? I'm sure it's inflated to the higher ups that they do catch such calls, but in reality, they DON'T. CCSD is not a profit organization where you can justify such behavior with taxpayer money. The respect given to employees need to improve or more things will eventually come out and all the taxpayers will be able to see the dirty laundry.
Ethical One
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February 08, 2014
It is amazing to see so many people surprised at all that has been going on and has come to light from this article. CCSD has not been the most ethical in their employment practices for quite some time now.

The principal, Sandra Ervin, who is named in this article has been reported for so many ethics violations, only to have them swept under the rug. Surprisingly, the only thing that has come to light is the fact that she used the Gifted teacher to write her dissertation.

CCSD has covered up the foolishness of this particular principal for six years or so and now that she has "retired," she has for all intents and purposes, gotten off scot-free.

A time has to come where were demand educational leaders to follow their ELCC standards, particularly the standard that relates to behaving "fairly, ethically, and with integrity." If we continue to let this pass, people like Sandra Ervin and countless other ethic-less "leaders" will be allowed to flounder funds and mishandled their most valuable resource, their human capital.
concerned person
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February 07, 2014
talking about investigation how about how job hiring practices are being done young men comming off the street 2yrs. most and being moved ahead off employees that have been here for 10 yrs. being look over for job because he did not dress part.or not being at same pay scale as other in the same field but doing same work and be held accountable if something goes wrong..one department being treated different than other department of cobb county as when weather comes in..having a dictator mind set people need to be able to have a voice and not worry about being threaten about your job..
Maint
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February 10, 2014
This is GOT to be directed toward maintenance. Treated differently and most of all treated with no respect from their supervisors. If they were so smart why then can't they do the jobs they are supervising?
anonymous
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February 07, 2014
Good luck Ms. Finlayson waiting for the EEOC, I've been waiting three years to hear from them about my discrimination lawsuit! It's a bitch ain't it Mary...there are so many people who have been let go because of this sort of crap. Glad to see it's all coming to a head. My lawyer has your story and the recent news about Hinojosa and all the lies and coverups at the county. Praying to see people fall and lose their jobs including the new Area 6 Super!!! She has caused alot of suffering for people at her former school. They were all happy to see her leave.
anonymous
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February 14, 2014
There is no area 6.... which area superintendent are you referring to??? I know it's not Dr. Tracie Doe (Area 5 super), because that description of how the people at her former school felt about her is highly inaccurate, and I'm curious where you are getting your "information"
SawAlot
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February 07, 2014
Yes, quotas are met in hiting practices with the school district. I worked here and a secretary to the Asst Supt of Special Student Services called me over to her desk on afternoon some years back and said she was to update the org chart for the department but she couldn't understand part of it and would I help. Having had corporate experience I was quick to see that beside each name was an abbreviation. Example: Supervisors 2 WM, 2 BF 13 WF, etc. When I told her what it meant she called HR who told her to destroy the document and they would send another for corrections, which of course did not have such information. In telling one of the Directors, she laughed and said they had always thought she was "white" but before she left the district to work elsewhere she called to let them know she was in fact Hispanic and they needed to correct her info. An HR secretary said "she didn't look hispanic" Well, her middle/maiden name was so I guess their quota was off. If you look over a period of time in that department alone, they have not gone below a certain number of black females, and I would say that they should much fewer white males than any other department. As far as claims about taking time away from work, it was also common practice for the folks to be absent from their jobs not taking leave to get to classes and also work on papers while on the job. I know secretaries had been asked to type for them, not tell people when they were "working at home" and several who took classes together would gather at one location during the work day to work on projects together. Also, they are paid for a minimum of 8 hours per day but many work the same hours as their classified employees and refuse to pay their secretaries overtime of award comp time. The Budjet Supervisor personally told me he didn't think it was fair. Not sure how someone that educated could not understand the difference in a managerial salaried position versus a classified worker whose salary was based on a 7.5 hour day. You'd think they would actually read their contract.
Critical
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February 06, 2014
Due to the inherit white male supremacist ideals this country was founded upon, laws to protect non-white, non-male citizens were created.

Due to white privilege that has been infused and "normed" by our society, these issues of so-called "reverse discrimination" are given a stage. The problem is not so-much the hiring of someone deemed less qualified, the problem is the entrenched (structural and cultural) white (male) privilege that has become so common place that is never examined for what it is, institutional racism. Solve that and issues like this will go away.
Now I Get It!
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February 06, 2014
So, until "institutional racism" is eradicated, it's perfectly fine to hire unqualified minorities. Thanks for clearing that up for me.

Hinojosa is unqualified. He's a criminal. Those are facts, and facts are stubborn things.

You would rather have an unqualified black teacher teaching black kids than you would have a qualified white teacher teaching those same kids. Well, you're getting what you want, the kids be damned.

By the way, we have an African-American president. That "institutional racism" really did a number on him.

Critical2
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February 06, 2014
The problem is we've gotten away from hiring the best candidates for the job. We're more interested in being "politically correct" in having x female teachers, x male teachers, x asian teachers, x black teachers, x white teachers, x hispanic teachers...the list goes on.

A neighbor of mine is a former CCSD school admin. He said it is widely known that whites need not apply for AP jobs in certain areas due to an unwritten "diversity mandate" that aims to put black candidates in as many admin positions as possible. That's just plain wrong in my book. I'm black and want the best teachers and principals running my children's school. I don't care what color they are.

JDCorley
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February 06, 2014
What does one expect from the group preaching diversity and tolerance? A lack of real diversity through their policies of diversity. Apparently only minority groups can be considered for hiring and promotion. Disagreement with this attitude, in favor of following the law, will not be tolerated.

We may not have the NEA as a formal group in Georgia, but the NEA is in Georgia nonetheless.
Gary T
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February 06, 2014
Wow. Can't wait to see how this shakes out. If all the higher ups are doing this and calling the shots, who can investigate and make changes?
Just Sayin'....
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February 05, 2014
It was bound to happen that someone of this caliber does not understand that she failed at her job and was fired apparently for good cause, regardless of what she is trotting out now as the excuse. She conducted a witch hunt and took innocent people down playing the political correctness game. Then it bit her. Now she claims she was fired for her investigations into upper management at the school district. Oh my goodness, reverse discrimination in government??? Really??? Is this something you just discovered??? Mary, you must ask yourself, if you yourself didn't get some opportunities along the way because there was a need for a female on the roster. It could very well be that you have knocked some more qualified and deserving people out of a job that they were better suited for, simply because HR needed numbers.

Mary, this happens all the time and it is an unfortunate fact of our life in these times of political correctness. Just take a look at our own county government as of late. White males need not apply when a director's slot opens up on Mr. Hankerson's staff.

I hate discrimination on any basis, but worse than that, I hate it when someone is assumed guilty until proven otherwise. I hate it when the reputation of an upstanding educator is ruined for life because of hearsay, innuendo, and plain old bad judgment on the part of someone who should be in control of an unbiased process.

I know Mary
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February 06, 2014
Just Sayin, aren't you doing the same thing to Mrs. Finlayson that you claim you hate ie:assuming her guilty before she has been found guilty? Now, I know Mary Finlayson but I don't know if she is guilty or not guilty but I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt until the evidence shows that she is guilty of what she has been accused of.

Mary and I have had differences in the past however I still am not going to judge her without any facts or evidence.
concerned parent
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February 05, 2014
Hayes Elm. is certainly an example of racism in Cobb school system. I got my daughter out of there after a horrible school year last year and the exit of so many great teachers but I am convinced nobody in the county office or school cares about the children.
Poor Education
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February 07, 2014
I know an asst. principal who came from Hayes Elem. and believe me she's as crooked as they come
Watcher...
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February 05, 2014
CCSD will never soar until they hire the very best Candidate available, for every position.

Affirmative Action is so costly and "old school."

Malcolm Little
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February 06, 2014
It amazes me that with everything discussed in the article the major talking point by a lot of the readers commenting is race. Hinojosa is Hispanic, Finlayson and Shanahan are caucasian. Where is the reverse discrimination? Nevermind there is apparent blatant abuse of power at play here and potential corruption on all sides. Post racial America huh? Yeah, right.
CCSD-Admin
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February 05, 2014
I do not care what Ms. Finlayson says. She was mean, demeaning and downright rude. She immediately, in her investigation, always felt the person was guilty. As a male teacher, I for one was investigated under a claim (that later proved to be false); however, when Ms. Finlayson came to interview me, she was in my face, raising her voice, and extremely accusatory. Even my principal was upset and made Ms. Finlayson leave her office. I filed a formal complaint with CCSD the GaPSC and PAGE. To me, she is being vindictive. I am certain there are many more people who would tell you the same story: Ms. Finlayson never did her job with integrity as she always assumed the district employee was guilty. I never once receive an official apology from her or her office when the parent and student making the allegation came forward acknowledging that the accusations were false. I almost lost my career over Ms. Finlayson's hatred and torturous attitude.
so true
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February 06, 2014
I agree with you 100%. I too, was treated with such disrespect and a hateful attitude. Treated as if everything the principal said was true, even tho I had tons of proof that I had done my job. Even tho the principal was known for terminating long time employees because she no longer deemed them acceptable - got treated like I was a common criminal. For her to say her office never treated anyone with the disrespect she was shown is laughable. I have friends who were treated the same hateful way by Finlayson. And she has the nerve to whine and cry about it. Get over it witch - you got what you deserved. Karma baby.
Surprise, surprise
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February 07, 2014
You almost lost your job? And do you think "they" care!! They all are arrogant and so self absorbed with their power... I too had the opportunity to be treated the same way...does anyone want to file a Class Action Suit against the County...just saying, Coke Cola has it happen daily and most people win their cases because of the stupidity in upper management...
I Don't Doubt it
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February 10, 2014
I don't doubt Finlayson's vindictive behavior, believe me, but if there are truly violations going on with Huff and others in Administration (Varner's principal could certainly join the violations club), I'm all for weeding them out. What ever happened to those in leadership clearing the path for their employees to do their job instead of becoming or creating obstacles?
whoareyou123
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February 05, 2014
I think the key phrase in this entire article is "SOME of the accusations in Finlaysons are not accurate." Which translates to, many of them are. Common Jay...the whole Chris Dowd hiring issue is entirely true. The cover ups are true. Regardless of what people may or may not think of Ms. Finlayson many of the issues stated in the article are the truth. I hope the whole thing gets blown sky high.
it is a shame
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February 05, 2014
someone should investigate this mess.It is a culture of lies and corruption.they preach policies and rules that they do not follow.it takes the courage of everyone to rise and tell.
MAY-RETTA SURVIVOR
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February 05, 2014
Expecting preference, when they can't get what they want by earning it, seems to be a way of life for blacks.

I hope this woman sues the pants off everyone involved.
Oh no
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February 11, 2014
Mayretta survivor, your comments are not helpful towards anybody.

I will patiently tell you how things work in 2014: we do NOT lump people into a pot because of their skin color. I realize it must be difficult, especially since we don't have to put our names, to bring your old values into the modern world, but it is time to try. You must do the right thing even when your name is not on it. Certainly you know black people who are high achievers and do not fit your stereotype. Think hard. There...that's not so difficult, is it? A concerned conservative.
nxt up
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February 05, 2014
Maybe leaders in cobb have been trained to only hire and promote african americans. It looks that way from the top down according to this story. Maybe they can look at campbell high school because that principal only hires people who fit a certain demographic. If you aren't one of them, you don't get a job. And if you work there, they make you miserable so you will leave (like I did) and replace you with a bad teacher who looks a certain way.
Momcomment
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February 12, 2014
We all thought that Rivera was bad. But Iris is worse. We were also all told in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, that with all the new higher end subdivisions being built that the schools would improve. For example Paces Ferry Park. $320-350k in 1997- 1998 then Phase two was $400k plus. We were in Teasley. in 2000 it was great. 17 students in a class, 350 students, predominately middle class, upper middle class white, Asian a small minority population. Less than 25% free lunch. That is the key low free lunch. people could count on sending their kids k-5 before having to go P rival. The promise from Smyrna was to clean up the area to improve. Campbell middle and High school so our children could go to public schools.

then Weiland goes to Cobb school board and gets hIs property on Atlanta Rd moved from brown to Teasley. Teasley looses long established middle/ upper middle class homes to King springs ( Julia Roberts mothers house) , even one new subdivision that open on ridge Road. What does Teasley get two of the nastiest low rent section 8 apartment complex ( filled with Atlanta housing projects residents, and illegals) 3 bus loads would be dropped off daily with no one waiting at bus stopp daily at each complex. This was on the West side Atlanta rd and north of Ridge. Only put in to get to Weiland subdivision to gain less than 10 kids, but allow his houses to sell. the school doubled in size, lost its character, learning conditions dropped. became minority majority overnight. no volunteers. The people who had been volunteering got feed up because these knew people would not volunteer or even send in $1 donation for a black teacher gift let alone a white teacher. no supplies nothing. many of us pulled our kids out in middle of third grade or by 4th. We already knew we could not send our kids to be in the 1% at Campbell middle.

Iris is the most incompetant administrator ever. I wrote numerous letters that she could not even speak or write English correctly. Then he criteria for hiring is did they belong to the Pink and green Soriety. Well in that Soriety does not have open enrollment and clearly states on its website that it's endeavor is for black women, or the women who are the descendants of slaves. if the principal only hires her Soriety sisters! and the Soriety has closed selection. Clearly states they are only for black women or women who are the descendant of slaves. Then that is discrimination. .

I demanded my child go to dual enrollment her senior year. She only took two classes at Campbell her senior year. I was not dealing with this incompetence. They also are violating the directives on dual enrollment, my child was it. only because I crammed the forms in her face. She still got to take credit for my daughter who was a MDJ student athlete, two sport ) 3.83 and two varsity letters. yes, Iris you did have to have a couple of white cheerleaders. She also refused to suspend black cheerleaders from the team who were failing all their classes as required by GHSTA. It must have pissed her off that the top students were Asian and white. At graduation the black parents were making fun of her poor English as well.
RidiculousPromotions
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February 05, 2014
It would not surprise me if all of this is true. I work with an administrator whom I cannot believe was able to be hired as an administrator. Simple computer schools are too difficult for this said administrator. Putting together a simple sentence is difficult for this administrator. Yet, this administrator is collecting a pretty nice paycheck.... S A D
anonymous
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February 05, 2014
If the dissertation and hiring issues are true, should these people be in leadership positions today? Give it a good, honest investigation, if that is possible, and if it is true these individuals should go immediately to send a message. I have friends that work in the school district and I have heard other stories of management by intimidation and trust those sources totally. Someone needs to start interviewing staff and make sure they can talk without fear of retaliation. I have heard of one director in the central office that has attacked people that ended with the District paying thousands of dollars to keep it out of the courts and news. It needs to stop to move forward
Watch out
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February 05, 2014
Several principals and assistant principals went through that program together with the Lindley principal. Wonder if they got help too?
Floodgates
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February 05, 2014
Perhaps Mrs. Hungerford and Mrs. Huff would like to share with all of us about the REOPENING of the Area 1 Assistant Superintendent's position & how certain principal's were called and asked to apply to cover up the real objective and how Susan Galante was treated during the process. It is all going to come out.
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