For Some, Questionable Start for Watauga Schools Supt. David Kafitz Culminates with Mellow Mushroom Incident

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By Jesse Wood

Jan. 24, 2013. From some points of view, it’s been an inauspicious start for Supt. David Kafitz, who was hired nearly eight months ago, and from a public-relations standpoint, his first year at the helm of Watauga County Schools so far reached a tipping point after a regrettable incident at the Mellow Mushroom in downtown Boone.

According to Chase Luddeke, general manager of the pizzeria, Kafitz made quite a scene in the restaurant recently after apparently not being satisfied with his discount from the Pioneer Band Card. 

“Such a scene in fact, a guest at a neighboring table felt the necessity to apologize on your behalf,” wrote Luddeke, after much deliberation, in a blistering letter addressed to Kafitz and sent to multiple people associated with the school system. (Scroll down to read entire letter.)

Dr. David Kafitz

Dr. David Kafitz

But it wasn’t the haggling of the discount, per se, that offended Luddeke, it was the following statement that Luddeke claims Kafitz said that left a negative and foreboding impression on the general manager:

“As the superintendent of Watauga County Schools, I will make sure that Mellow Mushroom is not allowed to participate in the Pioneer Card next year.”

“It is solely that statement that presents my problem. You flouted your position with pomp, arrogance, and without considering the potential consequences of your posturing. Needless to say I was taken aback,” Luddeke wrote. “So much in fact I thought surely you were not really the superintendent, but just an angry guest contriving this story as an attempt at intimidating a waitress and a restaurant manager into more discounts. Unfortunately this was not the case.”

In an email on Wednesday, Kafitz didn’t dispute anything Luddeke wrote, although he did offer a brief statement: “All is positive in the relationship and moving forward. This is settled.”

Luddeke concurred, “He came in [on Monday], was super cordial and apologetic … We cleared the air. We settled it and are trying to move forward.”

The incident, which happened during the holiday break, became well known at about 3:30 p.m. on Monday afternoon once the letter was published on the Internet and portions read on the radio. About an hour later, Kafitz was rushing to see Luddeke for damage control.

“This kind of thing we’ve got to get under control,” said School Board Member Barbara Kinsey on Tuesday. She met with both Kafitz and Luddeke on Monday. (High Country Press attempted to contact other school board members but was unsuccessful for the most part as of Wednesday. Henries didn’t have much to say on the matter other than it was unfortunate and that Kafitz apologized.)

Kinsey is the board member who read a lengthy statement at a school board meeting on Jan. 14. It was a statement that left much to be read between the lines, and it was one written before she found out about the incident at Mellow Mushroom.

It was also a letter that didn’t hold back punches, but her letter didn’t call out anybody in particular – only “administrators.” Kinsey’s statement that night at the school board meeting delved into “perceived problems” in the school system, issues that teachers, parents and other constituents relayed to the school board candidates through rumors, emails, letters, telephone conversations and face-to-face dialogue during the election campaign.

She talked about teachers afraid to speak their opinions because they feared for their jobs. She talked about teachers who were told that if they didn’t like certain policies or teaching techniques implemented by the new administration then they should look for a new job. She talked about administrators who felt that “mountain folk” were beneath them. (Read her entire letter here.)

Speaking on Tuesday, Kinsey said, “We heard snippets back in September and October. Well, [we thought] it’s just new personnel, and teacher’s need to get used it, but by the time the election arrived it’d gotten to the boiling point, and we were just inundated with calls and personal testimonies.”

Since Kafitz has arrived, multiple new positions have been created, including several administrative positions, which has caused some to call the school system “administration top-heavy.” His wife, for example, filled one new position – school psychologist at $47,750. (In his role as superintendent, Kafitz makes well over $100,000.)

Last August, Associate Superintendent Scarlet Davis resigned with more than $16,700 of severance pay. This happened three years into a four-year contract with less than two weeks before the start of the new school year. 

Fellow colleagues of Davis’ were shocked at her resignation, and one wrote that Kafitz was “cleaning house” in an email to High Country Press.

“Most of us are confused as to why [Davis] left. She was hard working, personable and cared about children,” this WCS’ teacher wrote on condition of anonymity.

Kafitz was asked about the reason for Davis’ resignation at the time, and he stated that under N.C. General Statutes he didn’t have to discuss the situation regarding personnel. But after being pressed continually, he said, “I’ll just be honest with you, you guys are digging around in something that will hurt somebody for no reason.”

As for what’s taken place in his eight-month start and the feedback she’s received from teachers in the schools, Kinsey said, “It’s becoming rather alarming.”  

And as for the recent Mellow Mushroom event, Kinsey said the incident hasn’t put his job in jeopardy.

“We are not to that point yet,” Kinsey said. “Hopefully, we won’t get to that point.” 


Luddeke’s Letter: 

Dr. Kafitz,

My name is Chase Luddeke, and I am the General Manager of my family’s business, the Mellow Mushroom in downtown Boone. The reason I am writing this letter is that I wanted to relay my disappointment with our first and only interaction.

After much deliberation, I have decided to bring this to your attention, as well as the attention of your colleagues, and those whom you will be serving as the newly appointed superintendent of the Watauga County School System. My intention is to offer the vantage point of the many local businesses that proudly support the school system that is now your charge. By doing so, I can hopefully prevent any further offense or discouragement from you during your patronage to these businesses.

During your visit to our restaurant over the holiday break, you presented a Pioneer Band Card at the conclusion of your meal. The server discounted the meal exactly as she had been instructed, and as is specifically noted on the card. When the discount was applied you began making a scene, dissatisfied that the discount was not enough. Such a scene in fact, a guest at a neighboring table felt the necessity to apologize on your behalf. After you were unnecessarily short with the waitress, she notified me that there was a problem. I looked over the discount, and noted it was the same exact discount I have applied, without issue, hundreds of times to Pioneer cardholder’s checks. Typically the response from the cardholder is one that is gracious, both for the discount, and for our continued support of fundraising programs throughout Watauga County Schools. After all, the purpose of the card is to support our schools, not to haggle the participating businesses.

I arrived at the table with the full intention of explaining how the discount is applied, based upon the language on the card. Once again, I have been applying the discount the same way since the first day of our involvement in the program, and not once have I received a single complaint, or any notification of wrong doing. You were not willing to listen to what I had to say, and even less willing to maturely discuss the matter. Instead you offered a childish, and ill-conceived response that brought the situation no closer to any type of resolution. It was this statement that left such a negative and foreboding impression on me about the newest Superintendent of our county’s schools.

“As the superintendent of Watauga County Schools, I will make sure that Mellow Mushroom is not allowed to participate in the Pioneer Card next year.”

Put the whole issue of the discount aside. It is solely that statement that presents my problem. You flouted your position with pomp, arrogance, and without considering the potential consequences of your posturing. Needless to say I was taken aback. So much in fact I thought surely you were not really the superintendent, but just an angry guest contriving this story as an attempt at intimidating a waitress and a restaurant manager into more discounts. Unfortunately this was not the case. After further investigation I was able to confirm that you are in fact the Superintendent, and that you are quickly building a reputation throughout the county for the type of behavior that I had just experienced. Since Mellow Mushroom opened its doors in 1996 we have consistently been involved in supporting Watauga County Schools. We are a family owned and operated business that takes pride in being a part of our community. We have volunteered countless amounts of time, energy, and donations to any and every school, and school program, that has ever made the request. In fact, as I type this letter, there is a thank you note from Mabel School sitting on my desk, politely thanking Mellow Mushroom for donating to their Fall Festival. From gift certificates, anonymous donations, ads in the yearbook, second grade field trips, speeches to the advertising and marketing classes, the annual DECA fundraiser, and the donation of hundreds upon hundreds of pizzas, we have always done our best to give back to the school system that provided so much for our family. 

The story of the Mellow Mushroom is in no way unique. There are hundreds of businesses across the county that would do anything possible to help play their part in supporting our schools. My concern, Dr. Kafitz, is that either you do not realize, or appreciate, the value of this support. What you have threatened is in fact the very antithesis of what you have been hired to do. Your threat to exclude Mellow Mushroom from school sponsored fundraising events, takes opportunities and potential funding away from our schools. Your self-serving behavior sacrifices the well being of our school system for the personal gratification you received from being condescending to the staff of a local restaurant.

Going forward, I implore you to please re-evaluate your decision to exclude Mellow Mushroom from further fundraising programs. I am confident that you are very out of place in speaking on the behalf of the students and faculty that these programs support. I trust that you will realize that the alienation of our local businesses to satisfy your ego, is not the type of behavior Watauga County schools deserve. I also hope, for the betterment of our schools, that your attitude towards the position of superintendent evolves to be more deliberate in thought, and constructive in action. Finally, no matter what your stance, we here at Mellow Mushroom will always do our best to stand up and support our county’s schools. Thank you for your time.

Keep it Mellow.

Chase Luddeke
mm blowing rock n.c.
mm boone n.c.

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