The inside story on the county school board’s pick for superintendent — if the throwback members could have their way — was always to change the school board policy’s rules and install Rick Smith in the job. After plotting to coerce Dr. Jim Scales to relinquish the last year of his four-year contract, they’re finally poised to get their way.
They’re halfway there already. Evading the Sunshine Law by using the school board’s attorney as an intermediary, they first secretly negotiated the Scales buy-out for a sum approaching $300,000. Never mind a tattered budget with a $14 million deficit.
Their second power play came in a subsequent board meeting, when they rammed through the appointment of Smith as the “interim” superintendent.
If the pro-Smith faction approves a sneaky exception into the board’s codified policy rules tonight — and members can with the 5-4 majority they finally picked up in last fall’s school board elections — they’ll have the legal power to put Smith in the superintendent’s seat permanently. All they’ll need is a 15-day public notice for a rubber-stamp vote.
An agenda memo circulated to the school board two weeks ago by board members Mike Evatt and Joe Galloway tells the tale. It proposes to dump key provisions in the current school board policy that require the school board to use a formal national search and public selection process to name a new superintendent. And it further allows the board — supposedly in the interest of efficient operation of the school system — “to appoint a new director of schools upon 15 days public notice.”
This a travesty. The current policy clearly states a “preference for a doctorate degree” to qualify as a candidate. It also bars selecting an interim superintendent for the job. The criteria were written into the policy rules for a good reason: to elevate the school system in a turnover of superintendents. Smith wouldn’t qualify on either point.
The only way that Evatt, Galloway and their co-conspirators — Rhonda Thurman, Everett Fairchild, David Testerman — can put Smith in the school system’s top slot is to dumb down the job standards and ditch the sensible rule to look broadly for the best possible candidate. To the throwbacks’ minds, it seems, Hamilton County just isn’t worth the effort to seek a candidate with stellar qualifications and a fine track record.
That’s a slap in the face to public schools and their students. The issue is not about Smith per se; it’s about the county’s educational future.
Smith obviously has some attributes and some advocates. The problem is, his supporters seem less interested in supporting a forward-looking system than in rebuilding the sort of parochial, political kowtowing that used to characterize the old county school system.
The county’s school system, and this community, face major academic and systemic challenges. Global economic competitiveness increasingly demands sharply higher educational and workforce standards. Yet the unrelenting squeeze on school funding at the state and county levels is fueling an errant path toward mediocrity. And it’s compounded by the open antipathy of the school board’s and county government’s throwbacks to efforts to build up academic achievement and technology skills in urban as well as suburban schools.
This county can’t afford a backward-looking, bifurcated school system. A bifurcated board is bad enough.