published Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Bledsoe eyes voting for schools director

Bledsoe County commissioners have passed a resolution in pursuit of making the director of schools job an elected post.

County Mayor Bobby Collier said the idea is to make the office less political and more accountable to the people.

The resolution, which passed 11-2 by the County Commission, now must go to the state Legislature, which ultimately would be in charge of changing the state law that says school directors are appointed. Commissioners Tim Campbell and Steve Bice voted against it.

"Technically, I think the idea was when they passed [the Education Improvement Act of 1991] to eliminate the political nature of [the post]," Collier said. "I think it made it more political."

The next step is to seek support from Rep. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, and Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere, for introduction in the Legislature. Collier said it could take a couple of years to get the idea on the ballot, even if it clears hurdles on the first try.

The Bledsoe resolution arose after local residents made comments to commissioners, said Collier, a former agriculture teacher who has worked in school systems under both elected and appointed leaders.

"An elected superintendent works better in small, rural counties," Collier said, because the superintendent feels pressure from the voters to perform rather than from the school board.

Senior school board member Sue Everett disagreed, though she said some fellow board members support the proposed change.

"That's the most stupid idea I have ever heard," said Everett, a board member with the school system under both elected and appointed leaders in the last 19 years. "You've got a stalemate by having an elected director and an elected school board. Really and truly, you wouldn't have any (accountability) except every four years."

Bledsoe's director post has been a lightning rod in recent years.

Since 2006, Bledsoe has had three directors of schools. Longtime Director Ronny Colvard retired in 2006. Colvard was Bledsoe's first appointed director after having been elected to the post in 1986, 1990 and 1994, according to newspaper archives.

After he retired, former Assistant Director Clettis McDaniel was appointed to replace him. Not long after, McDaniel became embroiled in lawsuits, one filed against McDaniel and other officials by a teacher over her tenure, and another filed by McDaniel against the system over his contract. Both were dismissed, archives show.

Current Director of Schools Phil Kiper was appointed to replace McDaniel in 2008 and would not be eligible to seek the seat in an election because he lives in Sequatchie County.

Kiper said he thinks accountability is strongest under the current system, because school boards continually can evaluate performance and make immediate changes when needed.

"You're never going to solve the politics of it," he said.

Everett and Collier said there's still plenty of time for residents to learn more about the pros and cons of an elected versus an appointed school leader.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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