Behind-the-scenes conversations among Reynoldsburg Board of Education members and Superintendent Tina Thomas-Manning show infighting and tension, even as they have tiptoed around airing their disputes in public.

Behind-the-scenes conversations among Reynoldsburg Board of Education members and Superintendent Tina Thomas-Manning show infighting and tension, even as they have tiptoed around airing their disputes in public.

In response to a records request for correspondence among board members about Thomas-Manning, The Columbus Dispatch received 30 emails. Included was an account of a board member asking Thomas-Manning to resign, and the superintendent in turn protesting that board members are micromanaging and being unprofessional.

On March 21, Thomas-Manning emailed board members to say that first-term member Debbie Dunlap met with her privately and urged her to quit, halfway through her three-year contract.

"Debbie shared that she does not feel that 'true healing' can take place in the district until there is a change in leadership in my position," Thomas-Manning wrote to board members, including Dunlap. "Debbie stated that she was meeting w/me as one board member, not representing the board, but representing many others in the community ..."

Thomas-Manning left at lunchtime that day ("I am very upset and do not want to alarm my staff") and took off the rest of the week.

"I pride myself on being a highly professional leader and I do not want to lose my composure on my job," she wrote to board President Joe Begeny the next day. "Debbie's overall disposition, attitude and unprofessionalism yesterday really just caught me completely off guard. I need to rest."

Reached over the weekend, Dunlap said she doesn't believe her actions have been disrespectful or unprofessional.

"Coming into this position, I viewed my role as a partner in our children's education and I still do," she said. "When I was elected last November, people told me they wanted trust and transparency in this district -- a goal I knew others in the district also shared."

She said staff and students in the district are looking for school board representatives "who represent, who are responsive to them and who communicate openly and respectfully.

"I pride myself in my composure, my respectful manner and my professionalism -- I think others would agree," she said. "I hope that we can all share our views in a respectful manner because the system just wouldn't work if we were not communicating respectfully and honestly."

About a week after her time off, Thomas-Manning emailed the board to say that two community members had stopped by during her office hours to "antagonize me to resign my position as superintendent."

"As my employer, I am seeking your assistance in protecting my legal right to execute my responsibilities without harassment," she wrote. "I no longer feel safe to hold my evening office hours or my public coffee chats, as I feel that I have unfortunately become a target for a faction in this community that refuses to afford me the right to do my job without added pressure and threats."

As the board discussed how to address overcrowding at one of the high school academies, Dunlap emailed the others to say she had set up a meeting with Dan Hoffman, Reynoldsburg's retired assistant superintendent, to ask his advice.

"Is she serious? Joe, this district is being run by too many people," Thomas-Manning wrote to Begeny in response. "Debbie has completely overstepped her boundaries. ... Neither Elaine (Tornero) or you would ever behave this way as a board member in the past and you have to reel this in before it's way too late.

"Perhaps in my absence, Debbie can assume the role of superintendent. She obviously doesn't know how to be a board member. Disappointing and disrespectful."

Begeny said that a few days later, Thomas-Manning encouraged Hoffman to share his expertise with Dunlap.

Dunlap said it was suggested to her that Hoffman speak to the board about overcrowding at the academies because he was one of the framers of the current high school academy structure and could speak about the intention behind the academies and the original struggles during their inception.

In early April, Thomas-Manning applied to become state superintendent, to replace Richard Ross, who retired at the end of 2015.

Begeny emailed Tornero, the longest-serving board member, about how to find a replacement if Thomas-Manning were to leave. But on May 11, the State Board of Education announced it had chosen Paolo DeMaria, an education consultant and former education department official.

The next day, May 12, Begeny again emailed Tornero about an encounter with Thomas-Manning that evening.

"The conversation went from bad to worse ... it has become clear that the views of the majority of the board and the Superintendent are too different and will continue to be strained even more as we move forward," Begeny wrote. "I am not sure there are options left to rebuild this relationship. Whether you believe me or not, I wanted to continue this relationship ... I just don't think it can."

Thomas-Manning declined to comment on the situation.

Begeny said the relationship is still being maintained, with a goal of the board and administration being on the same page to serve the students.

"As a school board, we shouldn't always have to be in the news," he said. "I just want to get beyond any and all of the drama, whether it's perceived or real."

ThisWeek reporter Pamela Willis contributed to this story.

sgilchrist@dispatch.com

@shangilchrist