Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Search for new director begins

The Unicoi County Board of Education is set to meet in a work session on Friday, Feb. 20, at 6 p.m. to begin its search for the next director of schools.
Last month, the board voted 3-3 on the renewal of the contract for Director of Schools Denise Brown. The tie vote was essentially a vote not to renew Brown’s contract. She will remain as the director until June 30, unless the board opts to buy her out of the contract.
During the board’s work session held on Thursday, Feb. 12, one board member expressed her desire to buy out Brown’s contract that evening.
“I would like to address an issue,” board member Lisa White said. “I would like to get on the agenda tonight to buy out the director of schools contract. I would also like for the Board of Education to enter into discussion to select an interim for the director of schools. And I would like to immediately post the director of schools position in the media for 10 days and at our March meeting be ready to elect a director of schools.”
Ruth Gaines, who was appointed last month by the Unicoi County Commission to fill the vacancy created on the Board of Education by the death of Dwight Bennett, responded to White’s suggestion by saying she believed the board should have a work session before putting the buyout to a vote and beginning the process of hiring a new director. Gaines also said that the Tennessee School Board Association advised her that “a good, sound search” for a new director could take up to a year.
“I feel like we need to have a work session where we do nothing but sit down and decide whether or not the superintendent should a have master’s degree a doctorate – the minimum requirements,” Gaines said.
Gaines also said she believed the new director of schools should have experience in the classroom, as well as administrative experience. Gaines said she would like for Brown to remain the director until June 30.
“I feel like she has done a good job,” Gaines said.
White asked Brown how she felt about the buyout.
“Denise, what do you want?” White asked.
“I work at the pleasure of the board,” Brown said. “There have been times I was ready to leave. I could leave right now. I think you would really be hurting finding someone who understands the budget and operations. You all are getting ready to go through some major things. I’m fine either way.”
Chairwoman Cathy Thomas told the board she would agree with Brown remaining the system’s director until June 30.
Turning to Brown, Thomas then said: “I don’t mean this in a bad way. For me, if I knew I was going out, it would be hard for me to do the job with the same heart as I would have done it if I was staying. If you can be here and do the job, I think it’s great and better for the school system.”
Brown then said she felt the board “would be better off” to buy her out.
“With the controversy on this board right now, I think you would be better off to buy me out, put you an interim in and start your search,” Brown said.
White then said she believed Tommy Clouse, the school system’s transportation supervisor, should be named interim until the board hires a new director. White cited Clouse’s experience having previously served as an interim director.
Gaines then asked Clouse, who was in attendance at Thursday’s work session, how he felt about serving as interim.
“You need to decide what you’re going to do about Mrs. Brown first,” Clouse said.
Board member Garland “Bubba” Evely then said he believed the board needed to have a work session before voting.
“I’m not going to sit here and in a 30 minutes meeting and make this kind of decision,” Evely said. “I don’t think that’s wise. This is one of the most important decisions we face. … We haven’t had a meeting. We haven’t discussed it. We haven’t sat down and discussed criteria for our search. We need to move the process ahead and get something done, but to just jump into something is beyond comprehension to me. …”
The board then set the work session for Feb. 20 at the school board office in downtown Erwin.
• • •
This discussion came after a lengthy debate between board members regarding the money spent by some board members on travel to conferences and classes. While reviewing the agenda for the regularly scheduled meeting that followed Thursday’s work session, Brown told the board it was approaching the $15,000 budgeted for travel and education in this fiscal year.
Addressing White, Gaines then said her fellow board member had spent “over $4,000” on travel and education.
“Lisa, I don’t mean to pick on you, I really don’t, but you’ve spent over $4,000,” Gaines said, “and everybody else is at $2,000 or below. I think that’s out of line. I truly think that’s out of line.”
Gaines brought up an estimated $508 in funds White would use to attend an employment law class next month in Nashville. This trip was on Thursday’s agenda for the regular board meeting for approval. Gaines said White had attended the class on two previous occasions.
White responded by saying the Tennessee School Board Association informed her that she could take the class multiple times because the information shared at the class changes.
“To take this class three times when we are so low on money, I have a problem with that as a board member and as a taxpayer,” Gaines said.
White then asked Gaines what led to Gaines’ investigation of travel and education expenditures.
“Have you been talking about this with anybody?” White asked.
“My husband,” Gaines responded. “… What brought it on is the sheet with the accounting. I went home and I said, ‘Look at this. (White) spent X amount of money above and beyond. … That is what set me on my path. …”
White also said she took the classes to educate herself in order to better represent the 2nd District.
“I am currently taking every opportunity to educate myself about school board policies on the local, state and federal levels …” White said. “Every training session I have attended has been approved by the Board of Education. My only defense is this: That I am going to do my best to become a well-informed school board member concerning state and federal policies.
“The only way to do this, in my opinion, is to attend these workshops,” White continued. “I have never spent one dime of our system’s money unless it was approved by the Board of Education because I wouldn’t have been able to get the money unless I asked for it. … I take my role as a school board member very seriously.”
White then went on to question conferences Brown had attended and the use of funds to pay Chuck Cagle, the board’s attorney, to attend the board’s January meeting when they voted on Brown’s contract.
In response, Brown said the conferences, such as the Tennessee Organization of School Superintendents legislative session in Nashville, were included in her contract and that she does not need board approval to attend such conferences. Regarding the attorney’s fees for attending last month’s meeting, Brown said the system has money in its budget to pay those fees.
White then said her travel and education expenses “had never been an issue” until Thursday’s meeting.
As the discussion continued, board members decided to fund their travel and educational expenses themselves so the board does not spend more than the $15,000 budgeted for education and travel.
During the regularly scheduled meeting held after Thursday’s work session, the board gave White approval to attend the employment law conference in Nashville next month if she paid the costs of the trip herself.
The board also gave its approval for member Steve Willis to attend the board and superintendent relations meeting in Johnson City on June 8. The cost of this is $100, which Willis said he would pay himself.
The board also approved sending four of its members – Tyler Engle, Gaines, Thomas and White – to the Tennessee School Board Association’s Day on the Hill without providing mileage and food costs to the members. The cost of this was approximately $237.40 per member. This included registration and hotel costs.
• • •
According to a spreadsheet of travel and education expenses used or to be used by board members this fiscal year distributed during Thursday’s work session, White had used $4,017.32 of the $15,000 budgeted for travel and education.
Funds from this budget spent or budgeted to be spent by other board members were: $1,995.40 by the late Dwight Bennett; $1,862.64 by Thomas; $1,196.20 by Evely; $1,622.78 by Willis; $2,600.82 by Engle; and $237.40 by Gaines.
The total funds included on the spreadsheet were $13,492.56, $1,507.44 short of the $15,000 budgeted.
On Monday, White and Thomas said the $4,017.32 reportedly used for travel and educational expenses by White is not quite accurate because that total includes conferences or classes White had yet to attend – and had since last week’s meeting decided not to attend.
Cut from the $4,017.32, according to White and Thomas, was $1,132.40. Of this amount $895 was to be used for White’s trip to the National School Board Association meeting. The remaining $237.40 was cut because White no longer planned to attended the Tennessee School Board Association’s Day on the Hill and stay in a hotel. The fee for the Day on the Hill was $60 and the hotel cost was $177.40.
Thomas said Monday that no board members attended the Day on the Hill, which was set for that day, because of the inclement weather. In addition to White, Thomas, Engle and Gaines were scheduled to attend at a cost of $237.40 each. This amount has been cut from the totals included on the spreadsheet distributed at Thursday’s work session.
Thomas said the board had approved White up to $4,000 for travel and classes. Thomas said the board approved White’s trip to the National School Board Association because the event was being held in Nashville.
“The board felt it was appropriate to have a representative attend the conference because it was so close,” Thomas said.
White said during Thursday’s work session that she will not be attending the National School Board Association conference.
• • •
During the regularly scheduled meeting held after Thursday’s work session, the board voted to approve the 2015-2016 school calendar.
According to the calendar, teacher in-service is scheduled to be held Aug. 3-6, with the first day of school set for Aug. 10.
Fall break is scheduled for Sept. 28 through Oct. 2. Christmas break will be held Dec. 21 through Jan. 1. Spring break is set for March 24-25, 2016. The last day of the 2015-2016 school year is scheduled for May 24.
• • •
The board also approved the 2015 Unicoi County High School varsity and junior varsity schedules during Thursday’s meeting. According to the schedule, the Blue Devil varsity team will open the season on the road at South Greene on Aug. 21. The team will play its home opener on Aug. 28 against Sullivan East.