School board nixes widening search

Friday, February 1, 2008

Marshall County's Board of Education has resisted a telephone campaign urging them to consider more local applicants for director of schools.

"I had seven calls and six were clearly representing a special interest group -- one candidate who was not selected" as among the final five, board member Craig Michael said Wednesday.

Other board members also said they had been asked if the board would consider more local applicants for director of schools. One official noted that among the three so-called locals who were recommended by callers for interviews, one has worked for the system only eight months.

The board had earlier requested the Tennessee School Boards Association's assistance in identifying qualified applicants for the position. A total of 16 applications was received. Last week the board voted to accept the TSBA's recommendations for the top five candidates.

Declaring his respect for fellow board member Randy Perryman, who moved to add three names to the five semi-finalists, Michael said, "The people who were calling me were lobbying for a candidate. I think that's a problem."

The board eventually voted 5-2 against adding any new candidates to the search for a new director of schools. Voting to increase the field of candidates were Perryman and John McCullough, who seconded Perryman's motion.

Meanwhile the school board has a new chairman, elected during a special meeting Wednesday.

Jerry Campbell stepped down as chairman, explaining he has a new job and that he's missed recent meetings because of his new schedule. That's not fair to anyone, Campbell said in nominating Vice Chairman Tim Harrison to succeed him.

The board unanimously voted for Harrison and subsequently elected Ann Tears to be the new vice chair.

Then, after mentions of next year's school calendar being ready for review and reminders of a meeting about computers for schools on Monday, board member Randy Perryman explained why he thought three local names should be added to the search for a new director of schools.

In effect, Perryman was nominating Forrest School Principal Mike Bishop, Marshall County High School Principal Harold H. "Red" Roberts and Marshall County Elementary School Principal Patsey Yvette Thomas be added to the five candidates recommended by the Tennessee School Boards Association.

The TSBA nominated Franklin County Schools Assistant Superintendent Tammy Grizzard, Tullahoma High School Principal Michael Landis, Port Gibson (Miss.) High School Principal Banyard Spurgeon, Eagleville High School Principal Rhonda Holton and Hampshire Unit School Principal Stan Curtis of Maury County.

"The way it was handled was the best way we know how," Perryman said.

However, "leaving them (the three local candidates) off the list was a mistake. They've put in a lot of time in the county and have the right to be interviewed."

Tears replied, "That defeats the purpose of why we hired the TSBA."

The board could refrain from interviewing all five, the new vice chair said, adding that she opposed changing plans "in mid stream."

Board member Kristin Gold agreed with Tears that the board had agreed on a process: "We all had valid reasons to hire the TSBA to determine who meets the qualifications."Michael said, "Changing the process at this time troubles me."

The decisions to interview the TSBA nominees, and have two new board leaders came during a special called meeting Wednesday that included a private attorney-client meeting of the board.

The status of a complaint in Marshall County Chancery Court by the Marshall County Education Association against the Marshall County Board of Education was reported to the board during the executive session, according to Mike Jennings, the board's attorney.

A question regarding a preliminary injunction might be resolved Thursday in Chancery Court, Jennings said, but a hearing Monday or later next week might change the nature of the Thursday court date, Jennings said.

The board's attorney said there were to be no deliberations or votes during the attorney-client meeting. Rather, he was providing a status report to alert the board of a prospective change in the case that may require action during a public meeting.

Also Wednesday night, the board reviewed questions members plan to ask of the candidates for director of schools. Discussion indicated their reluctance to make the questions known to the general public.