By Heather Mullinix
The Cumberland County Board of Education voted 5-3 Saturday to offer a yearly salary of $115,000 to Donald Andrews, who was selected as the next director of schools.
The board had previously approved a four-year, $110,000 salary, below the $115,000 salary Andrews had asked for.
"We were still in negotiations," said Jim Blalock, 8th District representative. "The motion was to offer $110,000. He turned it down. He wants $115,000."
Josh Stone, 4th District representative, moved to approve the contract with the only change from the April 29 meeting the change in salary from $110,000 to $115,000. The motion was supported by Sandy Brewer, 3rd District representative.
Several board members expressed dismay they had not received a contract with the revision prior to the meeting. Blalock, board chairman, noted he had sent the contract, which included all changes requested by the board at the April 29 meeting and the salary change requested by Andrews, by email earlier in the week. There was question of that being received and email communication noting what had been changed in the contract. Several board members said they were seeing the change in salary for the first time that morning.
There was also question of an item not included on the agenda for consideration. Richarch Janeway, 2nd District representative, had requested the board end contract negotiations with Andrews and move on to another candidate. Blalock said he had misread his notes and felt the request "didn't need to be on there." Blalock apologized. Janeway asked the board to approve the agenda by a roll call vote, which passed 5-3 with Janeway, Dan Schlafer, 9th District representative, and Gordon Davis, 5th District representative, voting no.
During discussion, Schlafer said, "We clearly established the guidelines and the salary range was $95,000 to $110,000, and $110,000 was the high end for a top quality candidate. Jim, I don't know about you, but when my salary's established and the salary range is there, I can't go in and say, 'No, I'm not going to work for that.'"
Schlafer also pointed to a transportation clause, removed by the board at its April 29 meeting, that would have provided Andrews $500 a month for transportation costs. He noted the school system has vehicles and gasoline available for the director to use for official business.
"I think it comes an item here of who's going to blink first," Schlafer said. "We said $110,000, and that was with some trepidation...Frankly, it's not something most folks can relate too, that kind of money. And when that kind of money is not enough, to have more than that, to me, it's a slap in the face of staff who work here on a daily basis and taxpayers who are struggling to get by."
Janeway said he'd heard from a number of constituents in the preceding week that were not in favor of the $115,000 salary.
"Overwhelmingly, even the ones who have met with him and have no problem with him personally, they do not approve of $115,000," he said. "We struggle with parents' involvement in schools and asking teachers to do more and more with less and less. I will tell you that $5,000 in the morale of this school system is going to be tremendous. I've had parents that have said, 'I will not support my schools anymore.' I have business owners that have said if we're going to waste money like that on a director of schools, their support of athletics and buying signs is over."
Davis said Andrews was also unproven in leadership in Tennessee schools.
"I could see a three-year contract. But four, that's too far," Davis said. "He's a fine fellow but he hasn't proven himself as a director."
Davis also noted a transfer clause was not included in the contract that would allow the board to transfer Andrews to another position in the school system should the board not be happy with his performance, at the agreed upon salary and benefits. Without that clause, Davis said the board would either have to dismiss for cause, such as unethical conduct, violation of state law, neglect of duties or failure to carryout board directives, or buy out the contract.
"Four years, that's $440,000, almost half a million dollars," Davis said. "It's a four-year contract and we don't know his capabilities. I say he needs to show what he can do and perform and then negotiate his contract again."
Charles Tollett, 1st District representative, noted the board had included a number of provisions it wanted in the contract, including a required physical examination at the request of a majority of the board and removing the transportation clause.
"That issue, whether he could prove himself, is not before us. It's that one issue of the salary," Tollett said.
Stone said, considering the number of students, the salary of $115,000 was not out of line with other school systems of similar size.
Janeway noted the school system pays its teachers less than surrounding counties and ranges 126th out of 131 school systems.
Stone said, "I'd really like us to work towards correcting that."
Janeway said he'd like to see additional salary tied to performance, such as improved graduation rates and ACT scores or other measurable objectives. However, he did not have such a proposal prepared because he did not receive notice of what the hold up was on the contract prior to the meeting.
Janeway was also concerned Andrews had brought a staff member from North Carolina to Cumberland County, touring facilities.
"He's going to bring somebody with him," Janeway said. "We're hiring him, not somebody else, and he's already planning on making changes that he hasn't been here to evaluate anybody's job. Or add a position, whatever his choice is going to be. That doesn't sit very well with me at all."
Brewer said she'd talked to several members of the community, including members of the Cumberland County Commission, and had had no negative comments.
Stone said, "I had one commissioner tell me if he's the right man for the job, pay him."
Tollett said he'd been told by the one constituent that contacted him the board was elected to choose the right person for the job.
"He said, 'If he's right person, go for it,'" Tollett said he was told. "We either pay it or we don't. I'm in favor of paying it."
Question was called and the motion passed with Davis, Schlafer and Janeway voting no. Voting in favor were Brewer, Tollett, Stone, Blalock and Vivian Hutson, 6th District representative. David Bowman, 7th District representative, was not present.