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New school director selection stalls
May 11, 2006 12:00 am
May 5, 2006 – Even though the process of selecting a new Wilson County school director is nearly complete, two school board members said they intend to block any appointment to the post until after the Aug. 3 county elections.
Wilson County Board of Education members Lisa McMillin and Greg Lasater said Thursday they will vote against any candidate recommended to succeed Director of Schools Dr. Jim Duncan, who is retiring Dec. 31.
McMillin and Lasater said they were concerned about "wasting taxpayer dollars" by hiring a new director before Duncan steps down. They also believe it is inappropriate for the current board to vote on a director who will work primarily with a newly elected panel.
McMillin and Lasater have aired the objections to other board members for months, but said Thursday it was clear voting against an appointment is the final option.
According to school board policy, the board must confirm a director with a two-thirds vote, ultimately requiring four votes to select a new director.
After last weekend's candidate interviews, the board narrowed the field to two candidates – Mike Davis of Scott County Schools and Charles E. Thomas of Union County Schools. A final round of interviews had been scheduled Friday, May 12 with school board members saying they had hoped to make their selection and announce it afterward.
"That's not going to happen," McMillin said Thursday. "Greg (Lasater) and I have been totally against this from the very beginning. We have told them (the other board members) from when this began in January that we were not for hiring a director at this time. They were jumping the gun. But they've kind of taken us kicking and screaming through this process even though they have known our wishes."
Zone 2 school board member Lisa McMillin explained her and Lasater object to paying a new director a partial year salary while Duncan still earns a paycheck.
"We don't want to waste $60,000-70,000 worth of taxpayer money. That's not being fiscally smart," she said.
But the two also raised objections to the timing of the selection process, noting a new school board will be elected in August.
"All of this can be done in September or October," said Lasater, who represents Zone 5. "We haven't even seen Dr. Duncan's resignation. I personally have not received anything from him saying 'I'm resigning.'
"And the new board should have a say so on who the new director should be," Lasater continued. "You've got one board member (Ron Britt) who's not even running. So in two months from now he's not even going to be on the board. And he's picking our leader for the next four years. That's not really fair to the new person coming in."
News of McMillin and Lasater's block was met with outrage by a couple of board members, who questioned why they would vote to conduct an extensive candidate search if planned to block a pre-election appointment.
"Why did they vote to proceed with the new search, then, if they knew that at the time?" asked an angry Zone 1 board member Wayne McNeese.
McNeese explained any financial ramifications of hiring a new director before Dec. 31 have already been worked out, making it a "non-issue."
"A new director could start whenever," he said.
McNeese also questioned the pair's motives.
"Their tune has changed, because before it was because they did not want two directors at the same time," he said. "Now, it's because they want the next board to be voting."
McNeese described the arguement simply as another red herring, especially since McMillin, Lasater and Zone 3 representative Don Weathers were not on the board when Duncan was appointed.
"It was an excellent choice then, so why wouldn't we do the same thing now?" McNeese asked.
School Board Chair and Zone 4 board member Ron Britt said he was not surprised.
"I think the honorable thing would have been to be honest and straightforward instead of engaging in some maneuvering and misleading tactics," Britt said.
McNeese and Britt also said McMillin and Lasater have discredited themselves by citing wasted funds as a basis for their objections, and at the same time approving funds for a search they were evidently prepared to sabotage.
"Now we're definitely going to be wasting taxpayer money in the form of the money that has been contracted to spend on the superintendent search," Britt said. "That's unfortunate."
The school board has agreed to pay Wayne Qualls $6,000 to consult on Duncan's replacement.
McNeese also questioned whether Lasater and McMillin violated the Tennessee Sunshine Law by meeting outside of an official board meeting to discuss their plans.
The Sunshine Law states whenever two or more members of a public body meet to discuss or deliberate toward a decision or vote on a matter the body is considering, they must do so in a public forum and provide the public adequate notice.
Board members on both sides of the director debate were unsure how McMillin and Lasater's announcement would affect the last set of candidate interviews.
Lasater said the process should be halted.
"It's not fair to the two candidates who've got to come from Union and Scott County," Lasater said. "If they want to reapply when we reopen this thing after the election, then I would want to see them reapply."
Britt said postponing final interviews is a possibility.
"We may have to stop the process in order to have a called board meeting so we can find out where we stand on this," Britt said.
The school board is not set to meet again until June 5.
If the board were to postpone appointing a new director until after the Aug. 3 elections, the earliest it could do so would be Monday, Sept. 13.
Staff Writer Jared Allen can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 15 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.