FIRST ON 3: School Board weighs options on Scales - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

FIRST ON 3: School Board weighs options on Scales

By David Carroll

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)- The August general election may prove to have strong repercussions for Hamilton County schools.

Three newly elected Board members are showing signs of being more vocal and independent than their predecessors, which could cloud the future of Superintendent Dr. Jim Scales.

Dr. Scales is under contract through June 2012.  However, a majority of the nine Board members have now voiced their concerns publicly about morale problems in the school district, and several say the problem starts at the top.

[Read Dr. Scales' contract]

New District 8 Board member David Testerman has asked that a motion to select new officers be added to Thursday's Board agenda.  He says he's doing so to "be completely open and transparent, unlike the recent vote on Board members' retirement benefits." Testerman and others have criticized the last-minute decision by the previous Board to award themselves a lump-sum payment based on their years of service.

Here is a portion of the memo from Testerman to his fellow Board members, dated September 1:

"I move the Board elect Everett Fairchild as chairman and Jeffrey Wilson as Vice Chairman.....there is a feeling among several Board members that the School Board has developed a credibility gap with the general public as of late.  We hope that by a very public selection of officers, we can begin the process of restoration of credibility with the public.

I can think of no more public notice of my intentions than sending out this motion as part of the regular board packet.

Rumors are abounding that the politicking for the board chairmanship position has been going on for several weeks before the recent election of some on the board.  Many times in the past, "procedure" has thwarted the good intentions of those elected to serve their constituents.  I firmly believe that elected officials taking action in public with ample advance notice should trump procedures, opinions and shenanigans.  Transparency is a good thing."

The memo is signed by Testerman and District 1 Board member Rhonda Thurman (two Board members are allowed to place items on the Board agenda).

When asked if she and Testerman had violated the Sunshine Law by talking about potential Board officers, Thurman laughed and said, "Certainly not.  David was not even sworn in on the Board when this subject came up.  It's downright hilarious that anyone would talk about Sunshine Law after the way some other Board members engineered their retirement payoffs without some of us knowing anything about it.  To David's credit, he isn't trying to sneak anything past anyone.  Unlike the retirement issue, this is upfront and in the open, and no one is putting in front of anybody at the last minute."

Fairchild declined to comment on the chairperson selection process, saying "there is always talk" about it in advance of the meeting, but he isn't openly campaigning for the position.  District 7 Board member Linda Mosley has expressed interest in the chairmanship, and served as vice chair during the past school year.  If she is nominated on Thursday, the vote is likely to be a close one between Mosley and Fairchild.

Mosley is considered to be an ally of Dr. Scales, having sided with him on recent controversial issues, such as the Board retirement benefit and Normal Park rezoning, both of which narrowly passed.  Meanwhile Fairchild said during his recent re-election campaign that he would not be in favor of renewing Dr. Scales' contract.

Testerman has also been a vocal critic of Dr. Scales, saying "I was elected to serve the public, and the public continues to express dissatisfaction with how the school system is run.  I hear about it everywhere I go.  You can't ignore the will of the people."

If Testerman, Thurman and Fairchild are joined by newly elected Board members Mike Evatt (District 9) and Joe Galloway (District 6), Dr. Scales' recent thin majority of support on the School Board may be a thing of the past.  Mosley, along with Board members Chip Baker (District 2), George Ricks (District 4) and Jeffrey Wilson (District 5) have usually been in Dr. Scales' corner, along with Janice Boydston (who did not run for another term in District 6).

Some Hamilton County Commissioners have been increasingly vocal of their dissatisfaction with Dr. Scales, admitting that talks of a contract buyout have surfaced, although not in open meetings.  District 1 Commissioner Fred Skillern says he speaks frequently with his district's Board member (Thurman).  He said, "Of course I talk to her.  That's what we're supposed to do.  I talk to her several times a week.  We keep each other informed.  And I believe many other Commissioners and Board members do the same thing, if they're doing their jobs."

Thurman says there's been no "back-room deal making" among Board members and Commissioners concerning Scales' future.  "If anything happens, it will be out in the open," she says.  "Many of us would like to see a change sooner than later, and when there is a change, the public will win because we can put a stop to the secrecy and stalling that's been going on."

Eyewitness News contacted Dr. Scales recently, and asked if he planned to seek any extensions to his current contract, or a new contract to go beyond 2012.  He said it was too early to speculate, and that he was focused on doing what was best for the children of Hamilton County.

Thursday's Board meeting will be at the Central Office on Bonny Oaks Drive, starting at 5:30 p.m.

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