CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misattributed a quote to board member Brad Hayes instead of John Agnew. Updated Friday, March 15, 2019, at 5:18 p.m.
Chattooga County Schools Superintendent Jimmy Lenderman told the board of education in an email today that he is stepping down.
"Recently, I have seen a caustic relationship develop between the board of education members and the community," he wrote. "In addition, some have come to me and stated that it could be interpreted that they are bullies. Again, I wish I could stay but I do not want to be associated with this deteriorating culture."
Lenderman's decision comes a day after school board member John Turner walked out during a work session and announced he would quit. Both have been upset since mid-January, when the district's four other members voted to return schools to Mondays. Since 2010, the school district has only held classes four days a week.
Lenderman, who has been superintendent since 2011, argued that the schedule saves the district money on utilities, bus fuel and non-certified employees. He can use this money to maintain a larger staff and make other important purchases. He also said the program allows children to go to the doctor without missing class and boosts morale.
Lenderman did not immediately return a call seeking comment this afternoon. During an interview with the Times Free Press in January, a week after the board voted to re-open on Mondays, he said he was thinking about quitting.
"I'm about done with this," he said at the time. "I'm not going to work in a hostile work environment, and that's about what they've done."
He added to a reporter: "You know, you're just expediting my retirement."
In November, Republicans Sam Ballard, Brad Hayes and Julia Houston knocked off incumbents. They campaigned on opening schools back up on Mondays, arguing that students will perform better if they attend class five days a week.
Houston said in particular she wants to see 3rd grade reading levels rise. In 2018, 51 percent of Lyerly Elementary School 3rd graders read at or above grade level. About 48 percent of Menlo Elementary School 3rd graders hit that mark, as did 36 percent of Leroy Massey Elementary School 3rd graders.
Lenderman has argued that students are actually in the classroom longer in the four-day-a-week schedule because the school hours more than offset the missed day. But Houston said longer instruction time is inefficient. Younger students cannot focus for extended periods.
Schools run for 150 days under Chattooga County's current calendar, as opposed to the standard 180-day schedule.
"They're mentally tired," she said. "They're children. You can only learn so much new material every day. They need opportunities to learn and grow and practice. They're getting 150 of those opportunities instead of 180 days. Yes, I think that makes a difference. In two years, it's 60 less days. In three years, it's 90 less days."
During their first meeting on Jan. 17, the board voted 4-1 to return to a five-day-a-week schedule this fall. Turner voted no.
Since then, meetings have been filled with parents, teachers, other employees and community member. Opponents have argued the move will cost the district too much money and hurt morale.
Before Thursday's meeting, Turner put an item on the agenda asking the board to vote on whether to introduce a survey asking residents whether they should go to a five-day-a-week schedule. The other board members removed this item from the agenda at the beginning of the meeting.
"I assume we're just going to go ahead with the five-day week without any other discussion on it," Turner said.
"Mr. Turner, that's how it works," board chair John Agnew said. "We already voted on it."
"I can see right now that there is no need for me being on this board," Turner said. "I would tender my resignation come Monday. Thank you."
He then grabbed a folder, stood up and walked out to some applause. Turner did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
"He chose to do it in the middle of a board meeting, in a very dramatic fashion," Houston said today.
She added: "I don't understand why all these parents aren't acting more mature and putting their children's best interest at heart. They're causing instability and angst."