The embattled principal at South Olive Elementary is retiring, putting an end to a drawn-out saga at the A-rated school between him and a school board member.
Hank Smith, who has been principal of the high-profile West Palm Beach school for seven years, will retire effective July 31, according to a school district form he filled out Monday.
“We wish him the best,” said Jason Shockley, director of communications for the Palm Beach County School District.
Smith did not return repeated calls for comment.
For several months, South Olive Elementary has been the focus of a highly publicized dispute between Smith and school board member Jenny Prior Brown, whose children attend the school.
Smith in December shocked parents by threatening to retire unless the district stopped Brown from overstepping her authority. Smith and another school parent filed ethics complaints with the Florida Commission on Ethics claiming Brown abused her power by interfering in the day-to-day operations of South Olive and harassing Smith. Those complaints were dismissed in March.
Meanwhile, the school district investigated allegations against Smith made by Brown and other parents about his handling of the school. That report, made public last month, stated that Smith “damaged the environment of the school” by publicly airing his grievances with Brown, but did not find evidence to support several other allegations about his governance of the school — including that he improperly allowed out-of-boundary gifted students to attend it.
Smith was given a verbal reprimand with written notation.
After the ethics commission dismissed the complaint against Brown, she sought to recoup about $15,000 in attorney’s fees and other costs she incurred defending herself against the claims.
The ethic commission on Friday dismissed Brown’s petitions to have her fees repaid by Smith and South Olive parent April Milner, saying Brown “failed to sufficiently allege that the complaints were filed with a malicious intent to injure her reputation and contained false allegations material to a violation of the Code of Ethics.”
Brown said she will now instead ask the school district to reimburse her for the fees.
“I was just trying to save the taxpayers from having to pay to defend against a frivolous ethics complaint,” Brown said of first trying to recoup her costs from Smith and Milner.
She said she’s already received some preliminary advice from the board’s general counsel that her fees would likely be reimbursed by the district.
Parents, teachers and faculty all hope that next school year will be a much quieter one for South Olive.
This year, some teachers and parents complained about a divided, negative atmosphere at the school. However, results from this year’s School Effectiveness Questionnaire still showed high marks from teachers and staff, with 84.3 percent of respondents rating the school climate as positive. About 57 percent of the school’s staff responded to the survey.