Curtis finds steady ground

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

With a 6-2 vote Monday, the school board defeated plans for a special meeting on whether the director of schools should be terminated.

"From my perspective, the integrity of the board is at stake when the evaluation of the director is questionable at best and we do nothing," said board member Craig Michael, who made the motion.

When the roll call vote was taken, only Michael and Curt Denton voted to hold the special called meeting, and Dee Dee Owens abstained. All the rest of the six board members voted against going any further toward removing schools director Stan Curtis from his job.

Before the vote was taken, the board spent considerable time discussing the recently completed director's evaluation.

"We all approved this evaluation form, but after seeing it in use I have concerns with the grading scale," said board member Kristen Gold. "I truly believe we need to reconsider the scoring. It's a long way to get to excellent."

"The scoring process and all the questions were approved by the full board and signed off on by Curtis," Michael pointed out. "It's a little late to pick at something now. By the way, it's obviously not that hard to reach excellence because one board member marked 'excellent' for everything."

"It's important that the audience and the media understand the scale," said Gold, starting a long, confusing debate on Curtis' scores, which could have fallen between 15.5 and 80. The mid-point between those two numbers is 47.75, and only two board members' scores added up to more than that number.

"I wish we would have had more feedback," said Ann Tears, chairwoman of both the school board and the evaluation committee.

"Did the comments have any bearing on the scoring?" asked board member Mark Wilkerson.

"No," Michael replied.

"The comments were used to give reasons for the scores," said evaluation committee member Denton.

"The comments may have skewed it," said Wilkerson. "I thought the whole evaluation process was among ourselves: the Tennessee Code Annotated was recently changed to say evaluations can be held in private."

"It's way too early to discuss a buy out or call for dismissal of the director - way too early for this," said board member Randy Perryman.

"I respect that, Randy," Michael said.

Board member Todd Tietgens called for the roll call vote to end discussion of the motion for the special called meeting, but the evening was far from over.

Tears next brought out the letter that the evaluation committee prepared to send to Curtis.

"The committee needs to know if the board agrees with this," she said. "It's in his contract to give him this letter recommending changes that we want him to make."

"I refuse to sign," exclaimed Wilkerson. "I disagree with the letter: my communication with Curtis is always satisfactory."

"What I heard over the weekend was 'let the man do his job,'" said Tietgens.

"Same here," Wilkerson said. "My understanding was that this man was hired in from elsewhere to get away from the good old boy system. He's utilized his stature to make judgments based on merit and now the good old boy system is trying to crucify him."

Argument continued about what to include in the letter, and whether the specific instances of unsatisfactory performance needed to be mentioned.

Tietgens moved to approve the committee's letter with changes, with the proviso that the board have their attorney Chuck Cagle check the letter to see if it meets the requirements of Curtis' contract.

The motion was carried seven votes to one, with Michael voting 'no' and Tears abstaining.

Time is short, since Curtis' contract stipulates that by July 15 - today - he receive his evaluation, a written list of instances of unsatisfactory performance, and the letter recommending the changes he needs to make to improve that performance.