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The Hamilton County Board of Education hosted its first meeting Thursday with its three newly elected members.

School board member Greg Martin gave a quick welcome to new members Tiffanie Robinson, Kathy Lennon and Joe Wingate as the board began a discussion about how it plans to interview three superintendent search firms on Tuesday.

Months ago, the board decided to interview Coleman Lew and Associates Inc., McPherson & Jacobson LLC, and the Tennessee School Boards Association for the job of helping select the district's next leader.

Board members expect to first interview the TSBA, which had the least expensive bid.

The other two firms' bids are higher, but their proposals detail more experience with large and national searches. Proposals ranged from about $30,000 to $60,000.

Scott Bennett, the board's attorney, suggested board members each submit questions to him by noon Monday that they want to ask the firms, saying he will make sure no questions are duplicated and then he will put them in categories and send them back to the board for review.

Maybe seeing all the questions will stimulate ideas and help trigger other questions, Bennett suggested.

Temporary board chairwoman Rhonda Thurman said Bennett's suggestion on submitting questions was helpful.

But board member Joe Galloway said he probably wouldn't submit any questions. He said his questions will come after hearing each firm's presentation. And he's not concerned about duplicating questions, because if he hears someone ask the question he'll just know not to ask it, he said.

The school board expects to spend no more than an hour interviewing each firm. Each firm will have up to about 20 minutes for a presentation, leaving 40 minutes for board members to ask questions.

Newly elected District 4 school board member Robinson added that she wants school board members to ask their own questions during the interviews.

Bennett agreed, saying the way that a question is asked could convey meaning and influence how it is answered.

He said the submitted questions will only be a guide, but the board members have total autonomy about what they want to ask and how they ask it.

"Fundamentally you talk about five things [when asking questions of the firms]," Bennett said. "What are you going to do? How are you going to do it? What's it going to cost? How long is it going to take, and what if something goes wrong?"

Newly elected board members Lennon and Wingate represent District 2 and District 7, respectively.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.

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