Superintendent buyout at center of contest for Bradley County school board District 4 seat

CLEVELAND, Tenn.- Voters will see a rematch between Dianna Calfee and Troy Weathers for the Bradley County District 4 Board of Education seat in the Aug. 2 election.

To Weathers, who held the post for 16 years until Calfee unseated him in 2014, the February 2015 contract buyout of then-superintendent Johnny McDaniel looks like bad financial management. Calfee was one of five board members who voted to buy out McDaniel's contract.

"To me, that's not very bright," Weathers said, adding the board could have chosen to simply not renew McDaniel's contract when it ended in June 2016. "In the business world, that would get someone fired."

At the time of the board's buyout decision, it was estimated it could potentially cost Bradley County Schools up to $200,000 to pay for McDaniel's salary and benefits for the remaining 16 months of his contract.

However, the agreement also called for an early end to the county's obligations if he obtained "comparable employment" before June 2016. The Lawrence County Board of Education offered McDaniel its superintendent post in December 2015.

If the superintendent's action merited his outright removal, the school board should have fired him and not agreed to a buyout, Weathers said.

He said it was wrong to remove McDaniel because of the service he had given Bradley County Schools.

"The buyout was one of the hardest decisions - maybe the hardest decision - I've made in four years on the school board," Calfee said. "I'm a fiscal conservative and to do a buyout was not my top priority."

Her vote to remove McDaniel through his contract's buyout clause was based on advice from the school board's attorney, she said.

"If we fired him, it would just tear the school district down," she said. "We decided to accept the loss and move forward, for the sake of the school board and the sake of Mr. McDaniel."

At the time of the buyout vote, Calfee cited several reasons for her position, including a lack of collaboration between the superintendent and the school board and money wasted on employment lawsuits and settlements.

Three other board members who voted for the buyout - Nicholas Lillios, Charlie Rose and Chris Turner - lost their re-election bids in 2016.

Calfee and Weathers both said they have a passion for students and teachers.

Contact Paul Leach at paul.leach.press@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_3.