Rick Smith on fast track to be named Hamilton County Schools superintendent

photo Rick Smith may be named permanent superintendent.

Hamilton County school board members will vote tonight on whether to change policy and pave the way for longtime education administrator Rick Smith to be named permanent superintendent.

Last month, board members voted to make Smith interim superintendent after buying out the contract of Superintendent Jim Scales. Smith, who served as deputy superintendent until Scales' departure, took over the top job temporarily effective June 10.

Tonight, board members Mike Evatt and Joe Galloway will present an amendment to the board's policy to allow for a speedy 15-day notice in advance of naming a new superintendent. They also propose deleting a provision that encourages, but does not require, a unanimous vote on hiring a new superintendent.

As it stands now, board policy calls for a more lengthy selection process with public involvement and interviews and including the freedom for the board to hire an outside search firm. The policy does not cite a specific time frame.

Board policies also encourage the interim candidate to not be named as a permanent superintendent, and it states that a doctoral degree is preferred, but there is no explicit requirement.

Smith, though he has 30 years of education experience, holds only a master's degree.

"I'm ready to move on," said Evatt. "We need to move on with our school system and get this behind us."

In May, the board voted 6-3 to offer Scales roughly $300,000 in salary and benefits to leave a year before his contract was set to expire.

In 2006, when Scales was hired, Smith was briefly a candidate for the job, but withdrew his name.

"I think we should do a national search," said board member Linda Mosley, a Scales supporter. "We need to search everywhere, Hamilton County included, to find the best person."

The Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce favors a national search, and last month its President and CEO Tom Edd Wilson wrote a letter to board members, asking them to cast a wide net as they looked for a new leader.

Mosley said she hears the same sentiment from the business community.

"We live in a world that is changing daily," said Mosley, an executive at Regions Bank. "We need a progressive leader who is going to be a step ahead."

Evatt says a national search - the same kind that resulted in Scales' selection in 2006 - is too expensive and flies in the face of what he thinks the public wants.

"Everywhere I go, people ask when we're going to get a local superintendent," Evatt said. "Before, it took months and cost at least $60,000, and there's just no need for that. We have good, local people here."

Contact staff writer Adam Crisp at acrisp@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6323. Follow him online: www.facebook.com/crispreporter and www.twitter.com/adam_crisp.