Martinsville superintendent retiring three years after OWI

Ron Furniss
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The Board of School Trustees has accepted the retirement of Martinsville Schools Superintendent Dr. Ron Furniss.

The retirement is effective Dec. 31, 2013.

Furniss's resignation letter acknowledged philosophical differences between himself and the school board concerning the direction of the district. Furniss thanked students, parents, faculty and staff, the Leadership Team, and school board members who "have made this experience so truly rewarding."

Furniss served the district for 14 years. He was suspended from his job for five days after a March 2010 arrest for driving drunk.

He began a sick leave in October after previously announcing his intent to retire in June 2014.

In a statement issued Friday, the board and Furniss agree that his retirement "was in the best interest of the district."

Furniss receive the balance of his contractual salary and fringe benefits through June 30, 2014.

The School Board will hire an interim superintendent to lead the district through the rest of the school year; the search for a permanent superintendent will begin immediately.

Original story from April 2010:

The five-day unpaid suspension is one of seven penalties handed down following Furniss' drunk driving arrest in March 2010.

"It's a difficult decision. These are your friends. These are people you work with," said Martinsville Assistant Superintendent of Business Randy Taylor.

On March 21, 2010, police stopped the superintendent for speeding while on his way home after visiting restaurants and clubs in Broad Ripple and Plainfield.

Police say Furniss then failed three field sobriety tests. His blood alcohol level was .16, twice the legal limit.

Two days after the arrest, in an interview with Eyewitness News, Dr. Furniss offered an apology.

"I've embarrassed myself and even worse, my family," Furniss said.

In addition to the five-day suspension, the school board also handed down additional discipline.

Dr. Furniss was ordered not to use a district vehicle for 60 days. He had to speak to students and youth organizations about his experience.

Furniss also had to enter an alcohol treatment program at his own expense, submit to random drug and alcohol testing, and his current contract was not rolled over.

"I think we have a good board. I think they acted appropriately, so I'm happy," said former school board member Dr. Randy Wells.

A group of people attended the meeting to show silent support for the superintendent, but some expressed disappointment in the board's decision, saying a superintendent, of all people, should be held to the highest of standards, especially as a role model for students.

"I question the decision and I question the integrity of the process here," parent Sean Sylvester told the board.

Donna Harmon read excerpts from Dr. Furniss' memos to staff to illustrate why she thinks the board's punishment isn't enough.

"We need a great person who will model how a person behaves and treats people," Harmon said. "And these are Dr. Furniss' own words, 'Once we start whittling away the policy,' in Dr. Furniss' own words, 'eventually you will no longer have a policy'."

But school leaders say despite his mistake, the superintendent deserved to keep his job.

"I think this kind of decision says that there has to be judgement, in other words, I don't think that one size fits all," said district attorney John Boren.

"We can get on with school. We can use this as a teaching example and we'll be stronger as a result," Taylor added.