POLL: Did the school board make the right decision?
Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith will remain at the helm.
The school board voted 5-4 Monday night against a proposed buyout agreement, meaning Smith will continue leading the school system despite receiving widespread criticism from the public and school board members after the rape of an Ooltewah High School freshman, allegedly by three of his basketball teammates, on Dec. 22.
School board members' opinions of Smith's leadership varied Monday night, but regardless, he will remain superintendent, and the board agreed the school system must move forward.
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.
Martin's motion to fire Smith for cause did not receive a second.
The school board will no longer interview interim superintendents Thursday as previously planned.
Two of the school board members who voted in favor of the buyout — David Testerman and Joe Galloway — said they did not think Smith should stop leading the district.
Before the vote, Galloway said Monday night that Smith deserves the money for his years of service. After the vote, Galloway was emotional as he talked about the work Smith has done and how he didn't deserve to be "raked over the coals," adding how he thinks people in education support Smith.
Galloway said, moving forward, "If [Smith] is going to be our superintendent we need to get behind him."
School board member George Ricks also voted for the buyout, and labeled the past couple months a "family argument."
"Since I couldn't buy you out, I'm ready to work with you," Ricks said. " the water is boiling now but it will cool down."
The five school board members who voted against the buyout were vocal that in the future Smith needs to do a better job communicating.
Horn said, "I have found communication has been very weak at times."
She added that after the incident at Ooltewah, most of the information the school board received about the case was from the media, not Smith.
Martin echoed her comments, saying the Ooltewah incident was "not the first time I've been left in the dark."
"This has to change," he added.
Thurman looked directly at Smith, who sat in the front row of the audience, leaving his seat at the dais open, and said if the board is ever kept in the dark again they will have cause to fire him.
"Everybody is on notice," she said.
School board Chairman Jonathan Welch, who voted in favor of the buyout, added he does not think Smith gave the board legitimate numbers last fall on standardized test scores, leading the board to believe the scores were better than what the Chattanooga 2.0 report presented months later.
After the vote, the school board's attorney, Scott Bennett, said unless additional action is taken, Smith will remain superintendent for the next three-and-a-half years, according to his contract.
Bennett recommended the board consider adapting a new evaluation for the superintendent. He called the current evaluation "vanilla," and said the board could work to develop one that is more aligned with its goals.
Smith did not comment after the meeting, but walked back toward his office with a slight smile on his face.
Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow on twitter @kendi_and.