Merle Jones

In this June 20, 2020 file photo, Centerville head coach Merle Jones is pictured after winning his 800th game as a high school head softball coach.

CENTERVILLE — The Centerville High School softball coach will keep his job after a split vote by the school board on Monday.

The Centerville Community School Board voted 4-3 against a recommendation by Superintendent Tom Rubel to immediately terminate Merle Jones as head softball coach. The recommendation was made after a closed session to review Jones' employment.

Board members Brooke Johnson, Marty Braster and Bob Thomas supported terminating Jones. Kevin Wiskus, Mike Moore, Mike Thomas and Kris Shondel voted against termination.

A statement from a lawyer at the Ahlers & Cooney firm, which represents the district, did not go into the reasons for the recommendation to terminate. Jones will coach the upcoming softball season, the attorney said.

It's not the first time Jones has faced termination at an Iowa school district.

Jones was allowed to resign from Keokuk Community School District after the 2018 softball season. That board was set to terminate Jones as well, but he resigned in June 2018 with the understanding he would still coach that season's team.

Public records provided by the Keokuk Community School District to the Daily Iowegian in 2019 said unprofessional and unethical conduct were among the reasons district officials sought his firing. At the time, Jones was also the district's middle school physical education teacher.

Documents from the district said Jones faced termination for allegations of falsifying leave requests, inattention to duty, unprofessional conduct, unethical conduct, failure to fulfill requirements of the position and prior disciplinary matters.

A letter from the Keokuk district's attorney, provided to the Iowegian in 2019, said the incidents took place during the 2016-17 and 2017-18 school years, but the district became aware of the incidents after a general complaint.

Jones has a public reprimand in his file with the Iowa Board of Educational Examiners from 1994. The state board then ruled that a student from Moravia Junior-Senior High School was telling the truth when they alleged Jones had pushed their head against a gymnasium wall during a basketball practice.

State records say Jones was terminated by the Moravia school district that year, but a superintendent at the time told the school board that the termination wasn't related to the 1994 reprimand.

Jones was inducted into the Iowa High School Coaching Hall of Fame in 2012. He guided Keokuk to the state tournament in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Jones has coached his teams to more than 800 wins in his career.

Kyle Ocker is the editor of the Ottumwa Courier and the Oskaloosa Herald. He can be reached at kocker@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_Ocker.

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