The Wilson County Board of Education faced criticism from every direction regarding how they handled the situation with former Director of Schools Tim Setterlund. Regardless of opinions, the situation played out with the director receiving a sizeable payment for his departure. In addition to the costs, the board finds itself looking for a new leader.
Typically, when school boards part ways with a director, there’s the logical next step of naming an interim replacement. That wasn’t the case on Saturday. Rather than being prepared to name an interim director after reaching the agreement with Setterlund, the board didn’t seem to be in a hurry to name an interim director. In fact, that action has many asking the question – Why?
Those who have a stake in the school system believe the board should have at the very least been prepared to name someone to lead on an interim basis in an effort to keep some sort of continuity for the faculty and student body.
Board member Larry Tomlinson is credited with initiating the deferral. “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?” 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.
In addition, Tomlinson suggested the discussion about the interim position should be one behind closed doors and asked attorney Mike Jennings if there was precedent for an executive session under the state’s open meetings law. Jennings didn’t give a definitive answer on whether the situation warranted the closed meeting or not.
Regardless of where the discussion takes place, what’s just as important is that the discussion happens – and happens quickly. The bottom line is that the decision to prolong an interim director only further delays naming a new director in the long run. The board needs to remember that they’re on a tight schedule if they have any intention on getting a new director on board this year.
Thanks to state law and the timing of elections, a new director might not be named until after the start of December. The law prohibits a director of schools to be appointed 45 days before or 30 days after an election. The reason, as most can appreciate, is to aid a school board in making decisions on hires like this for the right reasons and to remove politics from the scenario.
Based on state law and due to the election cycle Wilson County embraces in 2014, the board would not be able to appoint a new director of schools between June 23 and Sept. 7 due to the August elections. After Sept. 7, about a two-week window opens but only until Sept. 20, which is 45 days before the Nov. 4 General Election. If the board cannot put a director in place before June 23, or between Sept. 7-20, then the board would have to wait until after Dec. 4 according to state law.
So the concerns for the board not appointing a director have merit. The fact is that the board doesn’t have much time to waste on discussing not only who will be the hire for the director position, but also just as importantly, who will be named the interim director. Time is of the essence, and time isn’t a luxury that the board is going to have in naming a replacement for Setterlund.