Rick Smith gets highest evaluation to date as leader of Hamilton County schools

Staff File Photo by Angela Lewis Foster/ The Chattanooga Times Free PressSuperintendent Rick Smith asks a question during a school board meeting.
Staff File Photo by Angela Lewis Foster/ The Chattanooga Times Free PressSuperintendent Rick Smith asks a question during a school board meeting.

Superintendent Rick Smith did not convince Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger or the County Commission to give his school district an additional $34 million. But on Thursday night, the school board commended Smith's work, giving him the highest evaluation score he has received in his four years at the helm.

Previous scores

2012: 3.672013: 3.742014: 3.982015: 4.02

Board Member's average evaluation score

District 1: Rhonda Thurman, 3.52 District 2: Jonathan Welch, 3.36 District 3: Greg Martin, 3.24 District 4: George Ricks, 4.3 District 5: Karitsa Mosley, 3.5 District 6: Joe Galloway, 4.68 District 7: Donna Horn, 4.54 District 8: David Testerman, 4.66 District 9: Steve Highlander, 4.26

"I want to commend you for the job you've been doing," George Ricks, chairman of the school board said at the meeting. "[Smith] has scored higher each year and results continue to indicate that he performs well above average."

Each year, all nine school board members fill out a 50-question evaluation of the superintendent, ranking him on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being "significantly below expectation" and 5 indicating "significantly above expectation." Smith received an average score this year of 4.02, "above expectation."

Smith told the board, "I'm pleased I've scored better each of the four years I've served as superintendent that is something that I think personally is important for me, because it is good to see that you think I'm being effective."

The past several months have been unconventional for the superintendent, as he crisscrossed the county touting a $34 million budget increase. He proposed raising the school district's budget to $379 million, saying the additional revenue collected through a property tax increase would set Chattanooga on course to be the "smartest city in the South."

Smith pitched his vision, saying the additional funding would allow him to bring art and foreign language classes to elementary grades, enable him to increase teachers' pay and benefits by 5 percent and purchase needed educational technology and infrastructure support, among a list of other improvements.

Starting in March, the superintendent shared his proposal with 33 different groups, hoping to persuade those in attendance to buy into his vision and support the revenue increase. He did not harp on the 40-cent property tax increase, which would have raised the annual tax bill on a $150,000 home by $150, and instead pitched what he called the city's "moral obligation" to offer every student in Hamilton County the best possible public education.

Smith presented the proposed budget last month to the County Commission, which controls the school district's purse strings, and was drilled with questions for nearly 90 minutes. Commissioners were not in favor of raising taxes, and several were not convinced that the additional funds would provide the return they were looking for - improved test scores.

Coppinger sent a letter to Smith days after this meeting telling him he would need to submit a budget without increased revenue.

Despite this loss, several school board members chose to write comments along with their numerical evaluation of Smith, several specifically addressing his efforts to increase funding for the school system.

Board member Donna Horn wrote in her evaluation that Smith was "[a] crusader for making [Hamilton County schools] best in the South," and said Smith's "vision [was] made very clear [in the] last few months."

Smith's evaluation scores ranged from a low of 3.44 for his ability to encourage staff to be innovative in problem-solving to a high of 4.56 for maintaining energy to meet the responsibilities of his position and for devoting effective time to his job.

Board member Jonathan Welch commented that Smith does not always keep the board informed, stating that he "too often" hears news through the media before hearing it from Smith. Horn wrote a similar comment.

Though the overall evaluation scores are high, the numbers make no promises regarding Smith's future. Smith's current contract is set to expire in July 2017, and the board will vote within the next couple months on extending the contract - guaranteeing the superintendent more time at the helm.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592.

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