COMMENTARY: Ooltewah Q & A: How’s the victim doing? - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

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COMMENTARY: Ooltewah Q & A: How’s the victim doing?

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It’s been a while since I last wrote about the Ooltewah High School rape/assault investigation. People are still asking questions, so I will answer them as best I can.

We haven’t heard much about the victim lately. How’s he doing? Physically, he’s doing very well. He has returned to school, although not at Ooltewah, and not at a Hamilton County public school. He has been cleared to play basketball again.

What did you think about the Gatlinburg detective’s testimony at Monday’s Juvenile Court hearing?   Detective Rodney Burns may have sabotaged his own case with various discrepancies, conflicting information, and eyebrow-raising comments.  It will be interesting to see whether all charges of aggravated rape and aggravated assault will stick when the three student/suspects appear before a Sevier County judge on March 15.  The Hamilton County DA is requesting a TBI investigation of Burns’ “perjurious statements.” Burns did a better job defending the post-incident behavior of the Ooltewah coaches and Athletic Director.  He said they sought medical care for the primary victim, and quickly sent the alleged perpetrators back home.  Plus, he correctly pointed out that some media outlets were reckless in their use of anonymous, often unreliable sources.

READ MORE | Ooltewah Assault

What will happen to the Ooltewah coaches and the school’s Athletic Director?   That remains to be seen.  While their post-incident actions to help the primary victim seem solid, other questions remain.  Why did they go to Gatlinburg without School Board approval? (That could be a legal nightmare.) Why were so few chaperones on the trip? If it is true that some of the students had reputations of past bad behavior, and that coaches were alerted to previous incidents, why were these students unsupervised? And, in light of recent reports that hazing and bullying had gone on at Ooltewah for years (or decades), how could they be oblivious to those reports?  If “everyone else” knew, how could the coaches be in the dark?  (Same goes for the principal, who said on the stand that he didn’t know of any past misbehavior involving Ooltewah athletes, even though he’s been there for more than a decade.)

I do wonder, however, if assistant coach Karl Williams should be held to the same standard as Athletic Director Jesse Nayadley and head coach Andre Montgomery. Williams is not an employee of HCDE, he is an unpaid volunteer with no supervisory powers.  From all accounts, he does this for the love of the game.  This next bit of information has no bearing on the Ooltewah case, but I feel compelled to note that Williams lost his wife and two daughters in a house fire in 2005.  I can’t help but have personal sympathy for what he has been through, and what he is going through now.  I think it’s worth asking if he had any power to make the ill-informed decisions that led to this terrible event.

Why in the world is the school board dragging their feet on letting Rick Smith go?  They should take a look at Cleveland, TN and not let Smith dictate how and when he leaves.  I think it is a shame and disgrace they won’t stand up and do the right thing.

It’s more complicated than the Cleveland situation, where Director Martin Ringstaff had clearly (and admittedly) violated the morality clause in his contract.  Smith is under contract through July 2019 at almost $200,000 a year, and if he wanted to take it to court, the School Board would have to prove he violated the terms of his contract to keep from paying him every penny.  He has made some mistakes, for sure, but it isn’t certain he has violated any clause in his contract.  Board members have only agreed to begin negotiations, in hopes of buying him out at a far lower price than the remainder of his contract (about $700,000 total).

So their choices are (A) to negotiate a lower buyout amount, or (B) refuse to negotiate, fire him, and take their chances in court, which could end up being more expensive. This is what will be debated in the coming weeks.

When Rick Smith leaves, will we see a mass exodus at Central Office?  Reports are circulating that Secondary Schools director Steve Holmes and Vocational Director David Cowan are leaving, with as many as a dozen others to follow.  Smith’s administrative assistant is already gone.  Let’s just say there will be a lot of new faces in Central Office, which will lead to more new faces in principals’ offices.  The dominoes are just starting to fall.

What does this mean for the future of field trips in Hamilton County schools?  Board members have asked very few questions about them in recent years.  They will look at the details much more carefully, especially those that are hundreds of miles away, or out of the country.

Who will the next superintendent be?  I have no idea.  I doubt it will be anyone currently employed by Hamilton County, and I doubt it will be anyone from far, far away.  The Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce and the various groups supporting the Chattanooga 2.0 education initiative have made it clear they want to be at the table. Ultimately, it’s up to the nine School Board members to decide how much, if any input they will allow from “outsiders.”  Due to state law prohibiting a superintendent selection around the August general election, the choice will likely be made by mid-June, and if not by then, they’ll have to wait until September.

Finally:

Is there any chance Rick Smith will save everyone a lot of time and trouble, and just walk away without a buyout, or the full amount owed on his contract?  As we’ve all learned recently, anything is possible.  But if he just “walks away,” it would likely cost him a lot of money. Depending on what the Board (or the Court) decides, he stands to leave with a package in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

However, even in the worst case scenario, he wouldn’t have to resort to panhandling. As I reported on WRCB Wednesday, 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 $95,000, along with a lump sum payment of $171,360 in vacation pay, and $6,460 in sick leave pay.  Also, he could certainly 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.

In the meantime, we should know the terms of Smith’s departure in early March, as the Board is required to give the public a 15-day notice before taking the next step in Smith’s departure.

(From David Carroll's ChattanoogaRadioTV.com)

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