A No-Class Operation

Something isn't right at Mays Middle School -- and it's not just because of that bomb threat

"I thought about helping [Bradley]," he elaborates. "But how can I justify that?" Phillips pauses, the hands he uses to accent every point fall back to the table in front of him, generating a quiet clink from the heavy gold bracelet on his wrist. "My heart goes out to him," he concludes.

As Schwiep continued his queries, more holes in the accusations against Bradley began to appear. In June assistant principal Carolyn Kaloostian came in for a deposition. She stuck with her story that the voice on the tape was Bradley's, even when Schwiep showed her the affidavits from the other school employees. Principal Kenneth Cooper skipped his deposition scheduled for later the same day. Two weeks later Schwiep asked him on the record if Kaloostian had told him about the affidavits and if he then called Assistant State Attorney Alex Fox to say he wasn't sure anymore whether the voice was Bradley or Phillips. Cooper acknowledged the conversation with Kaloostian but claimed he told Fox no such thing. Schwiep pulled out the deposition of Mays school resource officer Daryl Brown, in which Brown identified the voice on the tape as that of Phillips. Then he played the tape for Cooper, twice. "After listening to it, it could be either one of them," Cooper waffled. "[It] doesn't sound the way I heard it on the day of the tape."

In October 2000 the State Attorney's Office dropped the case against Charles Bradley. In January prosecutors and school police reopened the investigation into who made the bomb threat, with Walter Phillips at the top of the list. Joe Centorino at the SAO had no comment about whether anyone else is under investigation. Meanwhile Bradley is in the throes of a long-delayed administrative appeal to try to get reinstated as a teacher in the school district. He's more than a little bitter. "I had to go to court for a year to clear my name," he rants. "So far, it's cost me $6000 just in expenses. All this based on them hearing a tape once."

Former teacher Charles Bradley has fallen on hard financial times since the day he was falsely accused of calling in a bomb threat to his old school
Steve Satterwhite
Former teacher Charles Bradley has fallen on hard financial times since the day he was falsely accused of calling in a bomb threat to his old school
Principal Kenneth Cooper (right) and assistant principal Carolyn Kaloostian run a tight ship at Mays Middle. So why are so many employees jumping overboard?
Steve Satterwhite
Principal Kenneth Cooper (right) and assistant principal Carolyn Kaloostian run a tight ship at Mays Middle. So why are so many employees jumping overboard?

The dowdy collection of aging buildings painted white with blue trim that house Mays Middle Community School off South Dixie Highway in Goulds forms the border of what could be called a small fiefdom. There is a class system, critics claim, with certain privileges enjoyed by those who adapt easily to a feudal structure, and extra work and penalties for those who don't. Current and former employees say working conditions at the school vary, depending on the grace of Ken Cooper and Carolyn Kaloostian. It's a management style, they say, that operates on favors, blind loyalty, and fear -- by his own admission, perfect for someone like Walter Phillips. "The school fitted me," he reminisces. "For some reason Kaloostian and me hit it off. She'd ask me to do things. And she kicked back favors to me. I didn't care what was going on around me until it happened to me."

What Phillips contends was going on around him was a steady consolidation of control under the five-foot one-inch blond dynamo Kaloostian. He and others contacted for this story maintain that Kaloostian is the de facto head of the school. "She's involved in anything and everything," one former employee says. "Her goal is to be involved in everything so she can be principal." Phillips says Kaloostian asked him and other security monitors to keep an eye on certain teachers and report back to her. When classes went on field trips, Phillips asserts, she would tell the teachers to report any problems to the security monitors rather than one of the other assistant principals, to make sure everything that happened went through her before Cooper heard about it. In return, Phillips says, Kaloostian gave him special privileges and a sense of power over the teachers.

"Nobody could get in my way," he recalls proudly. "I was allowed to do what I wanted to do. Come in late, leave early, get overtime. I had it made there." Phillips's personnel records confirm he made roughly $3500 above his base salary of $11,910 during each of his last two years at the school.

If teachers complained about Phillips, he was protected by administration. He recalls when Cooper received a letter in 1997 pointing out that Phillips had a criminal history, including pleading no contest earlier that year to aggravated assault and carrying a concealed firearm. The State Attorney's Office withheld adjudication, put Phillips on six months reporting probation, and made him turn over his gun. The school district's Office of Professional Standards confirmed the information and gave Cooper administrative discretion to handle the matter. Cooper's response? "Mr. Phillips was reminded of the high esteem that Dade County school employees are held," reads a memo from Cooper placed in Phillips's file. "That's why you have to be part of the clique," Phillips says.

Osvaldo Rodriguez was not. Hired early last year as a computer specialist, he lasted only a few months before an argument with Kaloostian got him booted from the school, he claims. He now works at Howard A. Doolin Middle in Kendale Lakes, a job he likes. As far as Rodriguez is concerned, the problem started because he constantly was ordered to do things not in his job description, including running detentions, writing referrals, and calling parents. "I'm a computer guy," he complains. "I'm supposed to fix computers."

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