School board votes to buy out Superintendent Rick Smith's contract

School board votes to buy out Superintendent Rick Smith's contract

Board member yells at woman in audience during tense meeting

January 21st, 2016 by Kendi A. Rainwater in Local Regional News

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith enters a school board meeting room before a short public meeting in Chattanooga, Tenn., Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016. Tennessee's Ooltewah High School has called off the rest of its basketball season after three of its players were arrested on charges of raping a teammate in an apparent hazing incident. Smith said he was taking this "very unusual step" with the high school "so that the criminal justice system can work the way we expect." (Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDITCREDIT

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Photo by The Associated Press/Times Free Press.

The Hamilton County Board of Education has voted to pursue a separation agreement with Superintendent Rick Smith.

The board will buy out Smith's contract, the group decided during a heated board meeting in which David Testerman yelled and became red in the face. 

Testerman, Greg Martin and Rhonda Thurman voted against pursuing a separation agreement. The rest voted in favor. 

"We have to move forward as a community and a district," said Smith, who made the proposal himself. 

Smith's decision to leave his position through a buyout was made amid what has transformed into a national scandal over the rape of an Ooltewah student by his teammates, as well as subsequent questions over whether coaches and school administrators took the legal steps required to report the sexual assault to the proper authorities.

District Attorney Neal Pinkston has charged two coaches and Ooltewah's athletic director with failing to report abuse. 

In court today, Lee Davis, representing Allard Nayadley, argued that if his client is being charged so should others school and district administrators.

"If [Nayadley] is sitting here then there should be three more benches [for other administrators,]" Davis said.

At tonight's meeting, school board member George Ricks called Smith's move to separate from the school system "an honorable thing."

"You're the leader of the whole situation, and you have to take the fire, and I think it's an honorable thing," he said. "I'm ashamed we had to go through something like this to wake the community."

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger issued a statement regarding the separation request by Smith, calling tdaoy a "difficult day for education in Hamilton County."

Coppinger reassured residents education will remain on the forefront of the county's responsibilities. 

"There is no more important issues, whether your are a parent, a business leader or an elected official, than the education of our young people," the statement read. "Today we need to unit, to put aside our differences and work together for our common goal, which is the success of our children."

Jim Coppinger also commended Smith for his work within the county. 

This is a breaking news update.

PREVIOUS STORY FOLLOWS:

Hamilton County schools Superintendent Rick Smith plans to ask the school board tonight to buy out the remainder of his contract, according to a source close to the discussions.

Smith has been at the helm of the school district for four years.

He has been under pressure since the beginning of the year for his handling of the Dec. 22 assault of an Ooltewah High School basketball freshman by his teammates.  

Smith has been harshly criticized for his lack of public response to the attack, which happened during the team's trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn.

Smith also been criticized for allowing the team to play four additional basketball games after the assault before he canceled their season. 

Smith is under contract through July of 2019, at nearly $200,000 a year plus benefits. 

Board members have discussed whether Smith could be fired with cause due to the handling of this situation. Others have mentioned they do not want to see him leave. 

Smith has been a part of the school system for more than three decades serving as a principal, coach, and in several administrative roles. 

Document: Rick Smith's employment contract

This is a copy of the employment contract between Superintendent Rick Smith and the Hamilton County Board of Education.

View Document

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