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Manchester schools mulling idea to hire director without public input

Posted on Thursday, October 11, 2012 at 4:23 pm

By John Coffelt, staff writer

Manchester City Schools Board held a special work session early Tuesday to discuss options for filling the position of Director of Schools.

Chairman of the Board Susan Wood began by asking Board Attorney Mark Williams if the board was required to conduct a search.

“We have a party interested in this position. I personally think that we don’t need to do a search because of this candidate,” Wood said.

Other board members expressed some concern with filling the position without a search.

Board member Lisa Gregory said, “I know we have an interested party, but I know that we have other people who are interested as well.”

Board member Mike Lewis agreed.

“We gain cutting out a lot of the hassle if we talk to someone who has expressed interest, but at the same time, I do know we lose some appearance of transparency,” he said.

“If we approach one person, we eliminate anyone else from applying.”

Board member Susan Parsley expressed concerns about the mudslinging that surfaced during past director searches.

“I attended the last one; it was bad.”

Gregory said that a search would provide the public, parents and teachers a chance to be heard.

Former Directors, then Superintendents Dr. Keith Brewer and Dr. Billy Pack were appointed without a search.

Williams advised the board that policy does not mandate a search.

“You certainly have the authority to deal with the Director of Schools [position]. If you have a qualified candidate that the board is interested in, you have the authority to go to that person and see if [he or she] is interested.”

Williams said that essentially the position could be filled with a motion, a second and a passing vote during a formal meeting.

“Ultimately, it’s the board’s authority to appoint a Director of Schools… whether there’s a search or not.”

According to board policy, if a search is to conducted, “Prior to conducting a search to fill the position, the Board shall initially develop a job description, a timeline, a process for accepting and reviewing applications, selection procedures.”

Policy also says that the board may, but is not obligated, to “invite the community, including board employees, to participate in the process of selecting director of schools by suggesting selection criteria, participating in sessions with and asking questions of the candidates and by attending board interviews with the candidates.”

The Board will attempt to select a director by unanimous vote, but a two-thirds vote of the membership of the board shall be required for the appointment of a director of schools.

A search may be conducted by the board or an outside consultant.

Williams indicated that the fees that the Tennessee School Boards Association are $8,000-$13,000 to perform a search.

The identity of the “interested party” was not disclosed.

The qualifications dictated by policy for the director position are that “he or she has a professional educator’s license, a masters degree in education with preference for a doctorate degree, three years of successful experience in school administration and whatever other qualifications as the board deems desirable.”

At the school board’s regular October meeting, the board will decide whether to distribute a survey asking for community input about the position.

During the work session, the board sought advice on the buyout of Director of Schools Dr. Prater Powell’s contract that will end June 30. Powell earlier announced this would be his last year.

“There have been a lot of comments about buying Dr. Powell’s [contract] out on Dec. 31,” Wood told the other members of the board.

Williams advised the board that what he is hearing from the members is not for a specific action item, but a request for advice about proper procedure.

“You have a contract through June 30. The contract provides that you can provide [a 60-day] notice, but you still have to pay through the end of the contract.”

“I like the idea of a transition plan, especially in the springtime because that’s when all the plans are made for the future,” said Lewis.

The members expressed concern about paying two Directors for six months.

“What would the benefit, if any, that we would get of a transition period worth the expense of paying two directors of schools for six months?” Gregory asked.

“We can afford just about anything we want,” Wood said. “We could make some sort of arrangement.

Gregory also cautioned that the board should be careful not to tarnish the years of service that Powell has provided the system.

“I’m not interested doing anything that will embarrass him or make look like something has happened that hasn’t happened. I think that would make us look bad,” she said.

Wood said that the “interested party” would be “available to come on and help us Jan. 1.”