Wilson County’s school board plans to hire a permanent director of schools by the end of June.
“We fully prepare on having our next director in place before the June 23 deadline,” said Don Weathers, board chairman. “We do not want to enter into the new school year without having a permanent director.”
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.
Weathers said board members will review the board policy regarding the search process in anticipation of launching that process during the next meeting on March 3.
“We just want to make sure we comply with our policy,” said Weathers.
He said the board voted not to hire an outside firm to conduct the search. Last year, the board hired Tennessee Education Management Services to lead the search for a director following Mike Davis’ departure.
Weathers said the board the board may choose to reach out to candidates from last year’s search.
“Once we get together [as a board], we’ll make that determination if we want to open it back up to the candidates that were in the top five, I guess, for the prior search to see if any of those candidates are still available,” said Weathers. “If that’s the pleasure of the board, then we’ll contact them to see if they’re still candidates. If the board chooses not to do that, we would just search for candidates in another way.”
He said it was unlikely Mary Ann Sparks, recently appointed interim director of schools, would take the position permanently.
“It’s my understanding that she has no intention of pursuing that,” said Weathers.
But although the plan for the search and hiring is still up in the air, at least until March 3, Weathers said it will likely be shaped at least somewhat by the district’s previous experiences with the process.
He acknowledged the turmoil within the district since the board hired former Director Tim Setterlund in May.
“Hopefully we did learn something from it,” said Weathers. “We should be in the learning business, and that goes for board members, too. As we enter into a new contract, I’m sure we will evaluate the language that was in the prior contract just to make sure that if there are any changes we want to make, we include those.”
The board released Setterlund from a three-year contract Jan. 25, about a week after Setterlund admitted to drinking a beer at a local establishment before driving his county vehicle.
His last day was Jan. 23, more than two years shy of the contract’s end date.
The board also approved a settlement agreement in which the board agreed to pay Setterlund $78,000 or the remainder of his salary through the first year of the contract. Setterlund will also keep his health insurance though June 30, 2015, or until he is hired by another group.
In exchange, Setterlund relinquished any right to sue the district.
“Hopefully we will learn from [the experiences with Setterlund's contract] and be better prepared for the next contract,” said Weathers.
He noted that the new director will be the fourth director the school board has hired since the law changed in about 2000 to go from an elected superintendent to an appointed director.
“Hopefully each time we do it, we’ll get a little bit better,” said Weathers. “The people that we deal with are professionals. They’re thinkers, they’re visionaries and they have their minds on what their values and their expectations are, and we do the same. Sometimes it takes a little bit for us to get together.”
He said he hopes it gets a little bit better each time.
“Maybe this time it’ll go smooth,” said Weathers.