School board approves contract for teachers, selects firms to interview for superintendent search

Two national firms and one based in Tennessee will be considered by the Hamilton County Board of Education to assist in its search for the district's next superintendent.

Out of the five firms that applied, the board voted Thursday night to invite Coleman Lew and Associates Inc., McPherson & Jacobson LLC, and the Tennessee School Boards Association to interview. School board Chairman Jonathan Welch said he hopes the interviews will be conducted in the coming weeks.

There was no conversation about the firms, but school board members George Ricks and David Testerman cast votes only for TSBA, unlike the other board members, who each voted for three firms.

TSBA is the cheapest of the groups that applied for the job, and Ricks stated at the last board meeting his concerns over how expensive superintendent searches can be. Proposals ranged from about $30,000 to $60,000, with a couple thousand dollars of extra expenses.

In 2001, TSBA helped Shelby County find a superintendent, but since then it has not conducted a search for any of the state's four large urban school systems in Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis or Hamilton County. The other two firms are more pricey, but their proposals detail more experience with large and national searches.

The school board also voted 7-1 to approve a contract for teachers, which hasn't been in place since the summer of 2014. School board member Greg Martin was the sole vote against it, and school board member Donna Horn was absent from the meeting due to a death in the family.

For 18 months, a team of 13 people, a mix of teachers and managers, worked collaboratively to develop the contract which runs through the summer of July 2019.

Martin asked several questions about the provision in the contract that covers 40 percent of retired teachers' insurance costs if they've worked in the district for 10 years. According to the contract, retired teachers between the age of 55 and 65, when they become eligible for Medicare, would qualify for this provision.

Several school officials clarified that approving the contract would not result in any change, because the district already operates under the same policy.

Dan Liner, president of the Hamilton County Education Association, thanked the board in advance of the vote, and expressed his excitement about its expected approval.

After the meeting, Lance Myhan, a Hamilton County teacher and member of the conferencing team, called the contract "a win for all parties involved."

Before Thursday night's public meeting, the board met in an executive session, closed to the public and media, with its attorney, Scott Bennett, to discuss legal concerns. Local attorney Courtney Bullard was also in the closed door meeting, as she was hired by the board in March to conduct an investigation into Ooltewah High School, after the rape of a freshman basketball player, allegedly by three of his teammates.

None of her investigation has been released to the public.

The tumultuous months following the rape and the district's lack of communication is one of the reasons former Superintendent Rick Smith stepped down from the position in March. Five school board members voted in April to name Kirk Kelly the district's interim superintendent.

Contact staff writer Kendi A. Rainwater at 423-757-6592 or krainwater@timesfreepress.com. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.