published Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Scales’ ouster was 5 years in the making

by Adam Crisp


New schools

Six new schools opened: Orchard Knob Elementary, Soddy Elementary, Hixson Middle, Signal Mountain Middle-High, East Hamilton Middle-High and East Ridge Elementary schools all replaced older buildings. There are plans to build a new Red Bank Middle School.

Student achievement

Hamilton County public school graduates in 2009 attended college at a rate of 72 percent.

The school system’s four-year, on-time graduation rate has increased from 70.9 percent in 2009 to 80.2 percent in 2010.


With the County Commission, the school system in 2007 lobbied the state for a new Basic Education Plan funding formula. Those negotiations yielded $10.8 million in additional funding for immediate needs.

The school system accepted $800,000 from Volkswagen Group of America for teacher training. The automaker announced a $5.8 million donation statewide.

Hamilton County received $10.9 million over four years in the Stimulus-funded Race to the Top program.

Staff development

Scales implemented a new administrator hiring process in 2006 that added the vetting of candidates by a community panel. That panel recommends top candidates to Scales for selection.

Scales offered jobs to every graduating senior who exits a Hamilton County school in the top 10 percent of his or her graduating class. Four women accepted the offer in 2011 and will be teaching in the 2012 school year.

Thirty-seven teachers were recognized in 2009 by the Benwood Foundation for significantly improving student performance. Teachers received cash gifts ranging from $5,000 to $10,000.

A principal leadership academy was formed to train potential administrators over a five-year period. The program is funded by the Public Education Foundation.

Source: Hamilton County Department of Education

Superintendent Jim Scales was flanked by his wife and his closest supporters when he announced recently that he is leaving the Hamilton County Department of Education, giving some appearance that the departure was his decision.

But Scales was calling it quits after less than five years on the job and a year before his contract was set to expire. He told a crowd of reporters that contract buyout talks — initiated by the school board — had been ongoing since February and that he would step down July 1.

In truth, his exit had been in the works nearly from the start of his tenure. Even in 2006 as the ink on his contract dried, forces were aligning to push the county’s top educator toward the door.

Scales went to work for a board that distrusted outsiders and was fractured between urban and suburban power bases. Scales’ predecessor, Jesse Register, the first superintendent after the former city schools merged with the county in 1997, long had resisted accumulated pressure from suburban board members and their allies on the Hamilton County Commission, but finally succumbed.

From the moment of the merger, some suburban board members and county commissioners favored an internal candidate, Deputy Superintendent Rick Smith, a holdover from the county school system.

“There is no reason for this buyout, and the reason that it has even happened is because certain board members, who for no legitimate reason, for their own personal agendas, wanted to see him gone,” said former board member Janice Boydston, who voted to hire Scales in 2006 and remains supportive.

Scales’ most vocal opponent, board member Rhonda Thurman, was the lone no vote to his hiring and opposed many of his proposals throughout his tenure. She said an outsider simply can’t do the superintendent’s job as well as someone who has worked here his entire career.

“He didn’t know the difference between Howard [School of Academics and Technology] and Hixson [High School] in the beginning, and that’s why we need someone local who won’t have that huge learning curve,” Thurman said after Scales announced his departure.

Some supporters see racism behind Scales’ exit.

“There are some board members who have not given him the support from Day 1,” said board member Jeffrey Wilson, who, like Scales, is black. “Quite candidly, there may have been some who were not as comfortable with an African-American male as superintendent.”

But Scales declined to discuss the matter directly.

“I’m a 67-year-old African-American male. I deal with race,” he said.

Clashes with the board

If Scales faced obstacles when he joined the school system, several missteps along the way didn’t help.

He had a handful of public run-ins with the board. In March 2008, some board members were unhappy with how he handled the suspension and transfer of a popular Hixson High School basketball coach accused of making a racist remark.

A 2008 contract extension when Scales was only two years into the job — and just a few months before a school board election — split the panel 5-4 along familiar lines.

Joe Conner, Debra Matthews, Chip Baker, Boydston and Wilson, all representing mostly or completely urban districts, voted for the extension.

Rural/suburban members Everett Fairchild, Kenny Smith, Chester Bankston and Thurman voted no.

The new contract stirred controversy on the County Commission, which funds the school system. Commissioners considered sending a letter or passing a resolution that condemned the extension, but that proposal failed 5-4.

In April 2009, Smith and Thurman complained Scales wasn’t keeping them adequately informed about major happenings. The issue came up following a fight between students from Signal Mountain High School and private McCallie School. Board members didn’t like that they heard about the event in the local news before being briefed by school administrators.

In June 2010, school board members carved out of the budget raises Scales had recommended for five central office employees, and in his annual evaluation board members rated him only “at standard.” Thurman gave Scales an “unsatisfactory” rating while outgoing board member Chester Bankston didn’t participate.

Scales’ order in October 2010 to stop student-led prayer on school grounds before football games set the community aflame. Scales made the decision after the national group Freedom From Religion complained about prayer at Soddy-Daisy High School games.

Elections Change Dynamics

After county elections last year, the board seated in September did not include Boydston, who didn’t seek a new term. Joe Galloway took her place, joined by new members David Testerman and Mike Evatt.

And just like that, the balance of power shifted.

Galloway, Testerman and Evatt all were former longtime county school system employees, and Evatt and Testerman made Scales’ performance a campaign issue.

Signs of change were apparent when Fairchild was elected chairman, defeating Scales supporter Linda Mosley. She contended county commissioners were tinkering with the board’s leadership.

Fairchild immediately called a work session to discuss Scales’ contract.

Scales saw what was coming and even acknowledged in media reports that the new board could be bad for his tenure.

“The last board election was certainly a turning point,” Scales said in an interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press. “There were new members who, as board members tend to want to do, wanted their own person in the superintendent’s seat. Things started to unravel at that point.”

The only consistent sticking point in Scales’ evaluations was in the area of communication. Even supporters say Scales lacked in this area.

“At the end of the day, the challenges between Dr. Scales and the board appeared to be communication,” said former Chief Financial Officer Tommy Kranz, who was hired by Scales but left earlier this year for a private-sector job.

“Dr. Scales always did what he believed was right for students,” he said. “But unfortunately, that wasn’t always communicated the way that it needed to be.”

Scales says “communication” often is a term used when administrators and boards butt heads.

“When superintendents and board members come to the point where the decision is made that the superintendent needs to move on, this whole communication business always pops up as kind of a convenient reason,” Scales said.

Board member Wilson suggests that all the talk of communication really means that Scales didn’t politick in the right places, but he said that’s not really the superintendent’s job.

“I don’t know that he went out to seek the blessings from the County Commission, but in terms of communicating with the board, I think he did fine,” Wilson said.

Buyout Negotiations

Scales said buyout talks started in February. While those talks were going on behind the scenes, the board was already in heated budget talks. The county asked Scales to cut spending for the sixth year in a row.

This year, he was asked to trim $14.3 million, and board members asked him to find deep cuts in his central office staff.

Scales submitted roughly $700,000 in staff cuts, among them eliminating Rick Smith’s deputy superintendent job.

That was the final straw for Thurman.

“I don’t think that’s fair,” Thurman said. Rick Smith has “given his life blood to our county.”

And it may have been a calculated move to force the board’s hand, Thurman speculates.

“I think he proposed those cuts knowing it would create a firestorm,” she said. “I think he wanted out.”

Under Scales’ contract, the school system must pay his $202,000 annual salary for the balance of his term, along with unused vacation and sick days. Scales also is vested in the Tennessee teacher retirement system and will draw about $18,000 a year for life.

Board members are expected to vote on the buyout Thursday. Evatt, Fairchild, Galloway, Testerman and Thurman have indicated they will support the buyout. Baker, Mosley, Wilson and George Ricks said they want Scales to finish his contract.

Wilson said pushing Scales out a year early is going to cost the schools unnecessarily.

“They are asking him to leave, so they should pay the money,” Wilson said. “But he was a lame-duck superintendent. He was not going to get a new contract, so why push him out 13 months early at a cost of $200,000? It doesn’t make sense.”

And Baker said the early exit will mean a rush to find a new superintendent.

“We’ve got a deficit and now they can just willy-nilly find this money?” Baker said. “Our job now should be to find a new superintendent in the light of day and get the best candidate.”

The buyout will increase the schools’ budget deficit to $14.5 million, but County Commission Chairman Larry Henry said the panel isn’t likely to oblige a request to pay off Scales’ contract.

“Superintendent is a tough job. I think he’s done an average job,” said Henry, who served on the 2006 search committee that selected Scales.

“My genuine concern, however, is how are they going to pay for this buyout when they are already strapped for money. We can’t just hand them that $200,000 and say, ‘Here, buy out his contract.’ We’re in a tight budget year, too.”

“Good results,” says scales

In his final weeks on the job, Scales wants to talk about his accomplishments. He has a 12-page document that lists all the system’s achievements since he took over.

Bottom line, he said, the high school graduation rate increased by 10 percentage points on his watch, and more students here start college than the national average. On top of that, he cut the school system’s budget by more than $30 million and presented five balanced budgets during his tenure.

“We were always in the mode of reducing, reducing, reducing, and yet we still produced good results,” Scales said.

At 67, Scales said full-time superintendent work is probably not in his future, and he’s not sure he will stay in Chattanooga after leaving the school system.

“We came and we invested in this community, so we’ll be here until we decide where we’ll go and what we’ll do,” Scales said. “If we leave here, it will be to go back to the Dallas area to be close to our son and daughters.”

Scales’ 5,000-square-foot home in the upscale Mountain Shadows subdivision was listed for sale last week.

“After this, I will probably want to get some rest,” Scales said. “I probably won’t do anything for a while, and I probably won’t get started with that until about noon.”

about Adam Crisp...

Adam Crisp covers education issues for the Times Free Press. He joined the paper's staff in 2007 and initially covered crime, public safety, courts and general assignment topics. Prior to Chattanooga, Crisp was a crime reporter at the Savannah Morning News and has been a reporter and editor at community newspapers in southeast Georgia. In college, he led his student paper to a first-place general excellence award from the Georgia College Press Association. He earned ...

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SavartiTN said...

I'm not sure how real those graduation numbers are. I know a senior that graduated this year who had a 36 average in one math class and a 48 in another but she got a diploma. Can we trust numbers?

May 22, 2011 at 1:41 a.m.
fftspam said...

What is the per capita cost per student? There is a thing call demographics... Some years more kids are born, some years less. A child born today will enter the system in 5 or 6 years. Some years more kids are born, some years less. Why doesn't the school system get a fixed amount per student? .

May 22, 2011 at 2:46 a.m.
maryclemens said...

At Georgia State University, undergraduate tuition for this fall will be $3,641 per semester, a $106 increase from the previous fall, it is really high and that is the reason people like universities on the "High Speed Universities" list

May 22, 2011 at 3:28 a.m.
rosebud said...

What a sweet farewell bouquet for the failed superintendent from Harry Austin & the TFP. This story has Adam Crisp's byline, but obviously Harry provided the slant and the "background."

If Dr. Scales' main supporter is Janice Boydston, that speaks volumes. This is the Board member whose tenure is remembered for two things: shoplifting and her unyielding support of Reynolds, Register and Scales. They wined her, dined her, and paid her off, even sending her home with a sweet retirement bonus.

There's no mention of Scales' handpicked, overpaid choice for "communications" director, Danielle Clark, who has helped bring down the ship with her inept attempts at cover-ups (along with her husband's hilarious rants on

There's also no acknowledgment of the fact that the commissioners and school board members who, according to the TFP's spin are responsible for Scales' early exit, are ELECTED by the PEOPLE. There was a clear mandate for change, and the 2010 election was won by people who were clearly against Scales. Last time I checked, democracy works.

Scales leaves a school system with several terrible principals he refused to move or demote, horrible morale among teachers, and a thriving private/home school community. There's nowhere to go but up. Despite the revisionist history of the Times editorial page, Scales' exit comes not a moment too soon.

He should take his $300,000 buyout, the half-million he is asking for his home, and his stooges Ray Swoffard, Jeffery Wilson and George Ricks. Let 'em count the money, and let's replace them with actual educators.

May 22, 2011 at 8:15 a.m.
kdawg said...

Anyone that would consider Rhonda Thurman a "actual educator" is delusional. Plain and simple Ms. Thurman is a hairdresser. Hairdressing is a fine occupation but since when does this qualify one to judge the competency of a man of Dr. Scales experience in the educational field?

May 22, 2011 at 8:33 a.m.
rosebud said...

No one said Ms. Thurman is an educator. But at least she's honest, and works for her money. You won't see her moving away from Chattanooga, laughing all the way to the bank with money she didn't earn.

May 22, 2011 at 8:40 a.m.
crow1033 said...

@Rosebud..... why don't you send your buddy Rhonda a check for $300,000... that should cover the buyout, save Rick Smith's job and save the taxpayers!

May 22, 2011 at 8:42 a.m.
rosebud said...

If Scales had actually done a good job, he would have the support of the public; and the officials they elect. Ms. Thurman is simply carrying out the wishes of those who elect her, over and over. Same goes for Fairchild, Evatt, Testerman and Galloway. The voters have spoken. Thank goodness!

These elected officials did not select the incompetent superintendent. They are correcting the mistake of the ones who did: including the dishonorable Ms. Boydston, who unlike Ms. Thurman, has been known to take money (and Walmart items) she did not earn or pay for.

May 22, 2011 at 8:49 a.m.
Oz said...

"Scales implemented a new administrator hiring process in 2006 that added the vetting of candidates by a community panel. That panel recommends top candidates to Scales for selection."

That is an accomplishment? A leader should be able to identify leadership potential without the help of a community panel. He should be relying on people inside his organization instead of those on the outside looking in.

May 22, 2011 at 9:12 a.m.

The man tried and failed thanks to the tunnel vision of the board. It's that simple. They are not open to constructive change that is so badly needed within our school system and no matter how hard they try to deny it, the white ones are racists.

That pesky hairdresser knows nothing about educating our youth, heck none of the board is worth a flip.

May 22, 2011 at 1:06 p.m.
eastridge8 said...

I agree with rosebud. Scales was a disaster as was Register and Reynolds. Rhonda is at least willing to take the time and energy to learn and investigate what the school system needs to be a success and using COMMON SENSE. Who else is standing up for Hamilton County school students? Rhonda is asking for results from the supendindent and holding his feet to the fire. He can't handle the truth or close scrutiny. I suspect that's what is the REAL issue here. We are asking for ACCOUNTABILITY and not getting it and now we want him gone. Hopefully, we can find/hire someone who WILL be accountable.

And HigherLevelThinker...for you to make the statement that..."the white ones are racists"...says VOLUMES about YOU.

May 22, 2011 at 2:01 p.m.
brokentoe said...

They want someone local as superintendent. They will stop at nothing until they get what they want. Anyone hired from out the area will not be acceptable. Hamilton Cty school system operates on a click system of buddies, friends, family, neighbors and favorites. Because of that they will sabotage anyone not considered a member of their click.

May 22, 2011 at 3:51 p.m.

Provincialism comes at a high price - one that has been (and will be) felt for decades. The success of democracy depends on an educated electorate. When provincials legislate politicized (low) standards for education, democracy is broken. Keep the crackpots honest. Hire from outside.

May 22, 2011 at 5:17 p.m. can a high school graduate ask anything of a man with a doctorate. People consistently poke fun at the board and her name always comes up as being that pesky woman who does hair for a living. I ask you, what does she know about education?

Furthermore one would need to be both deaf/blind not to realize they hated Dr. Scales from the start. How dare an educated cultured black man attempt to make needed changes within our school system. They fought the man until he had enough. And the same thing will happen with the next Super. The problems stem and start with the board.

May 22, 2011 at 5:38 p.m.
chet123 said...

Hamilton county School Board...Please take a deep breath....have some fortitude about yourself...even if you have to do battle on what is embaressing to have a person with a high school degree to frame your agenda....hamilton county do not need a replacement from soddy-daisy....Rhonda Thurman have her political agenda......whoever the replacement is ..he/she should not be from this area....there will be complete havoc....we do not need someone who is bias or impartial..nor do we need a good ole boy system....nor do we need someone who is influence by their personal belief or church members,,,,,,,,the replacement should outside chattanooga...aleast a 100miles away with impressive credentials

May 22, 2011 at 7:06 p.m.
rosebud said...

Dear "HigherLevelThinker": Dr. Scales "an educated, cultured" man? Obviously you've never heard him speak.

May 22, 2011 at 7:34 p.m.
Oz said...

Is that why Danielle Clark had a job?

May 22, 2011 at 8:30 p.m.
JCsuperhero said...

Once and for all, Dr Scales performance was terrible. If anyone would take the time to look at the TN dept of Education State report card. ACT scores declined steadily, system TCAP scores declined too, as far as graduation rates, maybe better, but I doubt it. We spend one the highest per pupil rates in the the State yet our test scores are below average. Maybe Thurman is a dumb hairdresser but she can still understand when test scores keep getting smaller.

To the Racism crap. Why does the NAACP have a US Office of civil rights complaint against the Scales system. Why didn't Wilson and Ricks raise cane about the rigged Lottery at Magnet Schools when real evidence that whites were winning 2 to 1 to black kids was presented to them.

That fact is, our system is corrupt! We have 5 brave Board members that stood up to stop the bleeding.

May 22, 2011 at 8:32 p.m.
rosebud said...

If the TFP's theory, that he's being canned because he's a black man is correct....does that mean the reason he was hired in the first place was because: he's a black man? I mean, hiring and firing: it works both ways, right?

May 22, 2011 at 9:16 p.m.

It's so obvious on this thread who is colored. You take up for a person from Texas who is stupid to our needs. He can't make it here and you take up for him. Maybe you colored folk need to go with him and take care of him, or live off his chatta millions.

May 22, 2011 at 10:33 p.m.
crow1033 said...

Nice to see racism is alive and well in Hamilton County... I would love to know which commenters actually have children in the school system... I bet I can guess! Those of you who may not realize that Gov. Bredesen raised the standards for state testing in Tennessee to be more competitive with other states. In typical Tennessee fashion, lawmakers previously lowered standards to make our scores look better.... didn't fool anyone! Subsequently, when you raise standards test scores drop until the system can catch students up! (Let's make sure that we don't reward teachers for that!) Dr. Scales did not single handedly ruin the school system. It was ruined thirty years ago when the 'good ole boy' network decided that education was not important in Hamilton County... the most important thing is not raising taxes in the lowest tax paying area in the country so that uneducated old people can 'keep their property'! That's how we run government here! Don't think about the future... worry about the here and now! Maybe companies like Volkswagen and Amazon can come here and get their hair 'did' since that is about the level of expectation of elected officials! Awesome job, voters! Soddy must be proud! Just look at THEIR schools!

May 23, 2011 at 8:39 a.m.
inquiringmind said...

Miz Thurman is just our own little under-educated Miz Palin, with maybe as much grey matter as Palin, maybe not. As long as the electorate thinks she is hot stuff we will have bad schools. Mr. Scales is not the problem, the attitude and motivation to excel starts at home folks, not in the class room.

May 23, 2011 at 8:51 a.m.
chet123 said...

JCSUPERHERO....I hate to burst you bubble...but do you know how stupid you sound....maybe you need to take your "GOMER PYLES BUTT" to major college graduations in this country...not your little school but the big time college and see the ethnicity of your top academic Students in engineering and medical ..your Magna cum laudes..they are asia and mid-east(muslim)..a very high percentage for a small group..not southern baptist students before you beat your chest with pride and jump on inner city black kids(low income)'re not at the top of the hill..America is lagging behind industrialize counties check the fact, BOZO...also....student in some of the third world country are gaining on America in Science and medicine(you dumb butt rejects evolution..beleive the earth been here for 5000yrs)

May 23, 2011 at 10:36 a.m.
chet123 said...

JCSUPERHERO(some old geezer)...see you didnt exist before yesterday....usually that an indication you are in disguise...LOL LOL i would be ashame to reveal who i am too with such a stupid comment LOL LOL...

May 23, 2011 at 10:42 a.m.
chet123 said...

Rosebud...see you trying to inject race....Jesse Register was a White and Rhonda Thurman...what to control the Hamiton County School System........Get Ready for a fight

July 4, 2011 at 11 a.m.
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