Jim Scales is out, Rick Smith is in.
Hamilton County Board of Education members on Thursday night voted to buy out schools Superintendent Jim Scales’ contract and to install Deputy Superintendent Rick Smith as interim superintendent.
Scales will exit the office June 10, the same day Smith takes over.
The buyout ends Scales’ five-year tenure as the county’s top educator. Even Scales, when asked Thursday, told board members that his exit is necessary to move the system forward.
“We’re at the point where this has to happen,” said Scales, seated next to his personal attorney with his wife behind him. “We have agreed to the terms. We want to do it.”
Board members agreed in a 6-3 vote. Mike Evatt, Everett Fairchild, Joe Galloway, Linda Mosley, David Testerman and Rhonda Thurman voted for the buyout. Chip Baker, Jeffrey Wilson and George Ricks voted against the measure.
The board voted to fund the buyout with about, $300,000 in funds left over when the county didn’t run school buses for nine days during harsh winter storms. The buyout terms will give Scales his full year’s pay, reimbursement for vacation and sick time as well as health insurance for the rest of the year. He will also be reimbursed for legal fees associated with the buyout negotiation. The entire package could cost between $285,000 and $300,000.
The vote to install Smith came just a half hour later with a 5-4 vote. Mosley voted against Smith’s appointment, but the vote-split was otherwise the same as the buyout.
Smith said he plans to meet with all nine board members over the next two weeks, and he hopes he can mend fences on the fractured board.
“I have not talked to any of the nine board members in any formal capacity about goals and aspirations, because I didn’t feel that would be appropriate,” he said. “I hope I can settle down some relationships, both inside and outside the school system.”
Smith has more than 25 years experience in Hamilton County. He has been a school principal and worked for 15 years at the central office. He was an administrator before the county school system’s merger with Chattanooga city schools in 1997.
He applied for the superintendent’s position in 2006 but withdrew his name from consideration before the board voted to hire Scales. There’s been widespread speculation that Smith will be named as a permanent successor to Scales. Scales was hired to succeed Jesse Register, who left a North Carolina school system to serve as the first superintendent of the merged Chattanooga and Hamilton County school system.
If school board members want Smith to have the superintendent job permanently, they will have to vote to change a policy that bars interim candidates from serving on a permanent basis. A motion to do that Thursday night was tabled.
Smith inherits a $14.3 million projected budget shortfall and a board-imposed June 15 deadline to present a budget. Those cuts follow nearly $30 million in cuts over Scales’ tenure.
“I appreciate the job [Scales] has done,” said board member Galloway. “It’s been quite an impossible task. He told me without the support of the board, financial or otherwise, he couldn’t move forward. He’s had cuts to his budget all five years.”
Now board members need to decide how they’ll select a permanent replacement. There appears to be the will to just appoint Smith without a search. Board policy, however, requires a search with citizen input.
The Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce on Thursday wrote to the school board urging a national search for Scales’ replacement. Board policy only requires community participation in the interviewing process, but Tom Edd Wilson, Chamber president and CEO, said a national search would ensure the most innovative candidate.
“A national candidate would bring a fresh perspective,” Wilson wrote. “By aggressively soliciting applications from a wide range of potential leaders, we can ensure a rich talent pool.”
Thurman, however, said she opposes allowing a panel to select finalists for consideration. She said that same sort of panel recommended Scales.
“I don’t have anything against Texas, California or the people from North Carolina,” Thurman said. “I just like Chattanooga. ... There are people in this community that are very capable of doing this job.”
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 ...