UPDATE: Supt. Rick Smith plans to remain Hamilton Co. Superintendent
The Hamilton County Board of Education voted against buyin out Rick Smith's contract.
UPDATE: Hamilton County Superintendent Rick Smith says he plans to remain on the job through the end of his contract, which runs through June 2019. Smith spoke with reporters Tuesday for the first time in several weeks.
Here's the entire press conference held by superintendent Smith Tuesday:
This comes one day after board members decided keeping Smith was better than paying him to leave. They voted 5-4 not to buyout his contract for $269,000 dollars. A motion by Board member Greg Martin, which would have terminated Smith, failed for lack of a second.
Smith says he's ready to get back to work. He knows he will have to regain the public's trust and confidence in the school system. He says the last few months (since the December 2015 Ooltewah basketball rape investigation) have been difficult for his family. He says he offered up a buyout proposal only because he didn't want to hold the community back from healing.
"I never said I didn't want the job," Smith said. "I believe what I said was, and this is how much this means to me, if ever there comes a time that I'm in the way of progress of this school system, I need to get out of the way. It's important for me to never think that I am a barrier of the school system and I mean it." Smith became emotional, leaving the room for almost a minute to compose himself. He said he had offered a buyout proposal because of negativity, and he felt he had become a distraction.
Smith says he's focused on two priorities as he begins the recovery from what he calls three months of distractions, since the Ooltewah scandal came to light. First, repairing relationships with the School Board. Several Board members have complained about poor communication with them, the media, and with parents. Smith says he'll be more open with Board members, and he now plans to hire a communications director. "I'm not a communicator, I'm an educator," he said.
Second, Smith says he must begin repairing relationships with the public. He admits his reputation has taken a hit, as well as that of the school district. He said he plans to encourage all employees to do what they do best, educating kids. "I plan to be much more vocal," he said. "You haven't heard much from me during the past ten weeks, and that will change," he said.
Smith says he plans to continue his relationship with the Chamber of Commerce and Chattanooga 2.0, in their current endeavor to bring business and community support to Hamilton County schools. "We have the same goals," he said. I've been a part of that since the beginning."
Smith admitted the recent controversy had taken a toll on him personally. "It's been hard. I've taken a lot of criticism. But I also have a lot of support. I have a great staff, and they were here for me last night, and they were in my office early this morning. I must have gotten a hundred messages today, and they're all positive."
PREVIOUS STORY: Hamilton County School Board members made a U-turn Monday afternoon, deciding to embrace Superintendent Rick Smith instead of setting him free. Given the opportunity to buy out Smith's contract at a cost of $269,000, Board members decided in a 5-4 vote that they would not pay Smith for doing nothing. Instead, they found themselves at a stalemate, declining to second a motion from Greg Martin to terminate Smith, then deciding to encourage Smith to stay on the job.
Voting for the buyout were David Testerman, Joe Galloway, George Ricks and Jonathan Welch. They were outnumbered by Rhonda Thurman, Greg Martin, Donna Horn, Steve Highlander and Karitsa Mosley. Mosley, who represents the Brainerd area in District 5, said she had wavered back and forth on the issue, deciding her vote only when entering the Board room on Monday.
"I was in favor of a buyout because I didn't want to fire the man. I knew if we fired him, it would have cost much more in the long run," District 4 member George Ricks, Sr. said.
"He was the one that wanted to leave and if he wants to leave then he just needs to leave. I don't think it's fair to ask the taxpayers to pay him if he's not working. If he wants to get paid, he should work," District 1 member Rhonda Thurman added.
Smith declined comment after the meeting. Board members encouraged him to do a better job of communicating with them, the public and the media. He had come under fire for his handling of the recent Ooltewah High School rape case, which occurred during a basketball tournament in Gatlinburg last December.
"We're not at the time that we just need to move forward. Not forget what happened in the past but to learn from it and that experience and move forward to be a better school system," District 5 member Karitsa Mosley said.
But board members like Dr. Greg Martin, who represents District 3, made it clear that they expect better communication from the superintendent.
"There've been many times that I've not been communicated with, not just with Ooltewah. There've been all kind of things that I've found out through the news about a bus wreck or something happened in a school that I found out at 6:00 at night when I sat down and watched the Ti-Vo'd news," Martin said during Monday's special called meeting.
"We expect to be kept informed and we expect things to be a whole lot different than they are now," Thurman added.
A special called session that had been scheduled for Thursday has been cancelled. Board members had expected to choose an interim superintendent to replace Smith, whose departure was seemingly a foregone conclusion. Four people had applied for that position.
Martin: There have been many times I've been kept in the dark about things.— Michelle Heron (@MichelleWRCB) March 7, 2016
Welch: I think that would be an excellent idea. Would mirror what Bradley Co. Uses.— Michelle Heron (@MichelleWRCB) March 7, 2016
Schools attorney proposes coming up with a new evaluation instrument for superintendent.— Michelle Heron (@MichelleWRCB) March 7, 2016
Smith can either resign and walk away with just $$ earned and pension or stay as super or board can terminate. Buyout is off the table.— Michelle Heron (@MichelleWRCB) March 7, 2016
Mosley now speaking: There's not a day that I don't think about think about how we got here and what would happen today.— Michelle Heron (@MichelleWRCB) March 7, 2016
Horn: I will not support a buy out.— Michelle Heron (@MichelleWRCB) March 7, 2016
Horn: Finding out key information from the media is now how we should have learned info.— Michelle Heron (@MichelleWRCB) March 7, 2016
Thurman: This is nothing personal with Rick, but this is business with me.— Michelle Heron (@MichelleWRCB) March 7, 2016
Rhonda Thurman now speaking.— Michelle Heron (@MichelleWRCB) March 7, 2016
Board members are talking directly to Rick Smith.— Michelle Heron (@MichelleWRCB) March 7, 2016
Galloway: I don't think that's right.— Michelle Heron (@MichelleWRCB) March 7, 2016
Board members discuss settlement regarding Smith's contact.— Michelle Heron (@MichelleWRCB) March 7, 2016