Rick Smith plans to remain schools superintendent through 2019

Director of local education advocacy group says it's time for new leadership at Hamilton County Department of Education

Attorney Leah Gerbitz, right, speaks to Rick Smith during the meeting of the Hamilton County School Board on Monday, Mar. 7, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The board declined to take action, leaving Rick Smith in place as superintendent.

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith said he plans to remain the school system's leader through 2019, when his contract expires.

Smith told the Times Free Press on Tuesday afternoon, before meeting with a group of reporters, that he plans to remain at the helm.

"I plan on staying and won't ask the board to renegotiate a buyout," Smith said over the phone.

The Hamilton County Board of Education voted 5-4 Monday night against a proposed buyout agreement. School board members Steve Highlander, Donna Horn, Karitsa Mosley, Rhonda Thurman and Greg Martin voted against the buyout. Each of them said their constituents did not want Smith to be offered $269,000 to leave his job.

photo Rick Smith listens during the meeting of the Hamilton County School Board on Monday, Mar. 7, 2016, in Chattanooga, Tenn. The board declined to take action, leaving Smith in place as superintendent.
photo Executive director Elizabeth Crews and deputy director Lakweshia Ewing of UnifiEd speak about public education during a meeting held last August with the Chattanooga Times Free Press editorial board.

Elizabeth Crews, executive director of the local education advocacy group UnifiEd, said she is not content with their decision.

Crews said it is time for new leadership at the Hamilton County Department of Education, and Smith either needs to resign or the school board needs to remove him.

"From the decline in student performance to the failure to comply with state law in policies to protect students from hazing and bullying to the silence in response to the tragic assault of a Ooltewah High School student, the case for new leadership could not be more clear," Crews said.

She added that the community cannot afford a school system that fails students and their parents, and any promise of progress will be an empty one under current leadership.

Smith though told a group of reporters Tuesday that he is ready to look ahead. and that the Ooltewah situation has been a distraction to the school board, the school system and the community.

"I want this school system to get back to doing the business I think is important," Smith said. " I'm fully prepared to move forward and do my job."

He there was never a time he didn't want to be superintendent, but he never wants to be a barrier to the school system's progress.

Moving forward, Smith said he plans to still advocate for increased school funding, and said the problem with poverty in Hamilton County, as being reported in the Times Free Press, affects the school system. He said he views one of his primary roles as superintendent to advocate for schools.

"I'm not going to allow myself to change an awful lot about my value system and my belief system and what I think you have to do as superintendent," Smith said.

Smith also mentioned the possibility of opening a communications office, saying the idea of starting one was in the works before the Ooltewah situation.

"We've probably needed a communications office since we merged [school systems,]" he said.

Over the past couple of weeks, Smith said, he thinks the conversation in the community and among the media has become more about him and less about Ooltewah.

He said it is time for the school system to move forward, and he plans to work with the board to accomplish that goal.

"I don't want to relive the past," he said.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfree press.com or 423-757-6592. Follow on Twitter @kendi_and.

More Ooltewah rape case stories