The search is on for a new director of schools in Wilson County, but the Wilson County Board of Education will have to agree on an interim director first.
Following about a 15-minute meeting behind closed doors Saturday morning, the board emerged and voted unanimously to release Director of Schools Tim Setterlund from his contract under a settlement agreement Saturday morning in a special called meeting at the Central Office.
Board of Education Chairman Don Weathers called it a request from Setterlund to retire Friday afternoon in a phone interview, but the agreement between Setterlund and the board was actually a contract release and settlement agreement.
Under the terms of the agreement, dated Friday, the board will pay Setterlund $78,000 or the remainder of his salary through the first year of his three-year contract. Board attorney Mike Jennings said Setterlund would receive monthly payments just as he would if he were getting a regular paycheck.
Jennings said the amount is about $4,500 more than what Setterlund would have received had he worked out his first year. Setterlund will also be allowed to keep his health insurance through June 30, 2015 or until he is hired by another group.
In exchange, Setterlund, who wasn’t at Saturday’s meeting, agreed to give up all rights to a lawsuit against the board. Setterlund’s last day was Thursday, according to the agreement. Weathers said he turned in his keys and the board-supplied Ford Expedition at the center of the controversy.
The Saturday morning special called meeting was originally set earlier in the week to discuss potential punishment, including possibly firing Setterlund, for admitting in a Jan. 16 Wilson County Budget Committee meeting he drank a beer at a local restaurant before driving his county vehicle when asked by Commissioner Mike Justice. The meeting’s agenda was changed Friday evening when the board sent notice it had reached a retirement agreement with Setterlund.
The next step for the board will be to appoint an interim director of schools, who will not be in the running to be the next schools director, according to board policy. The board was expected to discuss possible interim directors at its meeting Saturday morning, but board member Larry Tomlinson abruptly ended those discussions.
“I’m not comfortable taking that up at this time,” Tomlinson said. “Is it OK if we take one or two days to think about it?”
Jennings told the board, “A school system needs a leader.” He said the board was about nine days away from a regular meeting and could see the four deputy directors handling operations until that time.
“One thing that they might do is sit down as a body should a serious decision need to be made during that time,” Jennings said.
Tomlinson then asked Jennings whether an executive session could be called to discuss filling the interim position.
“I want to be able to discuss with my colleagues about what we want to do,” Tomlinson said.
Jennings didn’t give a definitive answer on whether the situation would warrant an executive session under state law.
Following the meeting, Tomlinson said he liked deliberations out in public.
Ultimately the board voted unanimously to defer filling the interim director position.
“I feel like we didn’t rush into this and did it the right way,” Jennings said of the settlement with Setterlund.
Setterlund was unavailable for comment by phone Saturday.
State law prohibits a director of schools to be appointed 45 days before or 30 days after an election. Under that scenario, the board would not be able to appoint a new director of schools between June 23 and Sept. 7 due to the Aug. 7 election.
After Sept. 7, about a two-week window opens until Sept. 20, which is 45 days before the Nov. 4 General Election. If the board cannot put a director of schools in place before June 23, or between Sept. 7-20, it would have to wait until after Dec. 4, according to state law.
Jennings said he was confident the board could appoint a new director of schools before June 23.
“We’ve got some time to do that if we stay on task and get the job done,” he said.
Nearly a week ago, the board met with Jennings behind closed doors for more than two hours to discuss Setterlund’s employment.
Jennings said the board discussed two policies during the closed-door meeting as they related to Setterlund. One was a policy on drug-free workplace and the other referenced staff rights and responsibilities.
Setterlund, who replaced Mike Davis as director, started July 1. Since that time, he’s been embroiled in controversy regarding decisions to eliminate and create new positions in the Central Office, go to a seven-period versus a block schedule, move forward with plans to divide three kindergarten through eighth-grade schools into middle schools, among other issues.
Board member Bill Robinson was the lone vote against hiring Setterlund at the time.
“I’m not looking for who is right or who is wrong,” Robinson said. “I just want us to move forward. I don’t want to start. I just want to win the game for our children.”