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Hamilton School Board seeks public input on Smith buyout proposal

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Rick Smith Rick Smith
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

UPDATE: Feb. 22

In response to several requests, here is a listing of email addresses for all Hamilton County School Board members.  They have requested public input on their upcoming decision on a proposed buyout of Superintendent Rick Smith's contract, which is scheduled for March 7.  The proposal for a $269,000 buyout was presented to the Board by Smith's attorney on February 18, and there must be a period of at least fifteen days for public notice.

 The vote is expected to be close, and if a majority decides not to approve the buyout, the issue could go to court. If so, the Board might be forced to pay Smith the remainder owed on his contract ($721,000 through June 2019) if they are unable to prove he has violated his contract.  

Although the Board members are listed below by districts, Hamilton County residents are welcome to contact any or all of them to express their opinions.

District 1, Rhonda Thurman:  thurman_rhonda@hcde.org

District 2, Jonathan Welch:   welch_jonathan@hcde.org

District 3, Greg Martin:          martin_greg@hcde.org

District 4, George Ricks:        ricks_george@hcde.org

District 5, Karitsa Mosley:      mosley_k@hcde.org

District 6, Joe Galloway:        galloway_j@hcde.org

District 7, Donna Horn:           horn_donna@hcde.org

District 8, David Testerman:   testerman_d@hcde.org

District 9, Steve Highlander:   highlander_s@hcde.org   

UPDATE: From School Board chair Jonathan Welch on Feb. 21: "There is considerable interest from the public about the topic of an interim superintendent. As such this is what I am going to recommend in the event on Monday March 7 the board does reach a separation with Superintendent Smith. We must appoint an acting superintendent.  I do not think we can be prepared fully to do that as we have had limited discussion about the topic.
Therefore, as chairman, I am going going to suggest this.    At the meeting on the 7th we can appoint someone from in house until we meet on the 10th at our work session.  On the 7th we can discuss interim candidates and then ask any we would like interview as a board to our meeting on the 10th.  At that time on the 10th or our next meeting on the 17th we can appoint an interim and discuss next steps. Also, at this time, there have been no official contacts with anyone regarding the position of interim superintendent.  I do not speak for the board but based on the limited discussion last week at our meeting, I believe there will be a wide range of opinions on both the qualities we are searching for and the candidates that may ultimately come forward.  If and when there are individuals that express interest in serving and would like to be considered formally, they will need to understand the scope and public nature of this position.  I will do my best to keep you updated but once again I do not speak for the board."

UPDATE: The Hamilton County School Board will vote March 7 on a proposed "separation agreement" which, if approved, would pay Smith 35% of his current contract value, which amounts to $269,000.00

The entire value of the contract totals $721,327.55 through July 31, 2019, with an additional automobile allowance of $7,200.00 per year.

Additionally, the agreement allows a "Mutual Release of Claims" that "both the Hamilton County Board of Education and Fred R. Smith release one another from any obligation either has to the other under the terms of Fred R. Smith’s contract of employment to serve as the Superintendent of Hamilton County Schools."

The agreement will be voted on March 7 at 5:00 p.m. at the Hamilton County Board of Education Board Room.

READ MORE | Smith Separation Agreement


PREVIOUS STORY: The future of Hamilton County Superintendent Rick Smith will apparently be decided on Monday March 7, at 5:00 p.m.. In the aftermath of the Ooltewah High assault/rape controversy and disappointing test scores, Smith is proposing a contract buyout of $269,000, which represents about 35 percent of the remainder of his contract.  Last year, the School Board extended Smith's contract through July 2019, at $199,000 a year.  

At Thursday's Board meeting, members expressed emotions ranging from anger to sadness.  

District 1 representative Rhonda Thurman left no doubt about her position. She said if Smith wanted to quit, he should do just that, without requesting any money.  She said that if she quit her job as a hairdresser, no one would put money in a tin cup for her. Thurman added, "This is not our money, or School Board money, it is taxpayers money."  District 3 representative Greg Martin asked that the Board be allowed to consider another option besides a buyout, which would simply be firing Smith.  He said his feeling was not a vendetta, but that he was opposed to paying Smith for not working.  

District 8 member David Testerman, who waged a passionate defense of Smith at last month's meeting, was more low-key, but continued to maintain his support for Smith, and the job he has done since becoming superintendent in 2011.  District 6 member Joe Galloway, usually soft-spoken, spoke loudly and firmly, stating that the community's recent treatment of Smith is "an injustice."

Most Board members added more tempered comments, but made no official statement of how they would vote on the buyout proposal on March 7.

Even in the worst case scenario, Smith is due to receive a handsome payout.  Smith is already entitled to a sizable pension, as well as a cash payout for unused vacation and sick days.  Having served 34 years in Hamilton County schools, Smith is eligible for an estimated annual pension of $90,000 to $100,000, along with a lump sum payment of $234,260 in vacation pay,and $6,460 in sick leave pay. Also, he could follow in the footsteps of hundreds of retired Hamilton County educators, and cross the state line into Georgia to continue his career as a teacher, coach or administrator.

Through his attorney, Smith is requesting to be placed on immediate leave with pay through June 30, 2016.  Although it was not stated at the meeting, that date would complete a full five years of service as superintendent, boosting the value of Smith's pension from the state.

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