Sohn: Dumb and dumber: the superintendent and the Hamilton County school board

Sohn: Dumb and dumber: the superintendent and the Hamilton County school board

February 20th, 2016 by Pam Sohn in Opinion Times

Staff photo by Tim Barber Hamilton County School Board member Joe Galloway, right, makes a positive statement Thursday night about Superintendent Rick Smith, second from left, as the board discusses a buyout for Smith. From left are, Dr. Jonathan Welch, Smith, Donna Horn, Dr. Greg Martin and Galloway.

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith.

Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith.

Photo by Maura Friedman /Times Free Press.

It's hard to say who's the most tone deaf: Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith or the school board members who are his bosses.

After two years of one horror story after another coming out of Hamilton County education — everything from rock bottom assessment scores to an alleged pool-cue hazing rape — our four-year superintendent tells the board he thinks it best that he step down and then asks for a buyout of his just-renegotiated contract (which totaled a cool $721,000 and benefits through July 2019).

And the board, instead of saying "Great, see you around," voted to negotiate with him over the buyout.

Readers, how about we resign from putting out a paper, but we ask you to keep paying us through the middle of 2019?

We didn't think you would be silly enough to buy that bum idea, so why in the world should any of us expect our elected Board of Education to take Smith up on his equally outrageous suggestion?

In January, Smith made a short public statement at a board meeting saying he made the decision to step down without pressure from the board. This from the man who waited 20 days before speaking publicly about the alleged rape of an Ooltewah High School basketball player by his teammates in Gatlinburg, Tenn.

This from the man who several months ago slickly turned the board's attention away from the state's announcement of our county's dismal and dropping TCAP scores by claiming the new TNReady tests would take much longer — six or seven weeks out of the school year. The tests actually add only two hours of testing time to the old TCAP testing schedule.

But Smith told his gullible bosses: " Really good teachers are going to look at this and say, 'I've lost 30 or 40 percent of my instructional time.' "

Perhaps he should have been a salesman rather than a schools superintendent. On Thursday night, the school board attorney said he and Smith compromised on a $269,000 buyout — about 35 percent of Smith's remaining contract. Smith would go on leave immediately but remain on the payroll until July 1. The board will vote on this March 7.

The nine-member board seems split on the question. For the most part, the former teachers on the board defend Smith and some don't even want him to leave. They argue that without the buyout, he will sue the board and perhaps win more money.

Board members with business backgrounds see differently. Greg Martin wants firing to remain an option on the table. Board member Rhonda Thurman also is for firing, noting that part of Smith's contract is to the keep the board informed and she believes he didn't do that.

But Karitsa Mosley — who has called herself the baby of board — made the most sense: Noting the board's "buyout" culture, she asked the board to instead become more business-minded to move our schools forward toward school reform to help all students.

"We need to regain the trust of our community. They don't trust us," she said.

And addressing the board's circle-the-wagons mentality, Mosley, a social worker, added: "Whatever this good old boy system is, I don't know. I'm 34 and not in it. It's supposed to be about the kids. But I'm worried. Is it really about the kids [right now]?"

We agree with Martin, Thurman and Mosley.

What message does it send to give yet another superintendent a buyout — especially this one and especially at this time?

If he sues, he'll be asking a jury made up of Hamilton County parents and grandparents — most of them thoroughly disgusted with the tawdry news out of our schools — to decide whether they want to pay him to do nothing. Roll the dice.

Or, board members, here's another option to ponder: Smith chose on his own to step down, so if he wants to leave, let him leave with whatever accrued money he is owed. If he doesn't because you tell him you'll hold on to our money, he might opt to stay (should you choose to let him) and you will still have a superintendent.

You would still be his bosses.

And we citizens of Hamilton County still will be yours.

More Ooltewah rape case stories

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