published Friday, June 17th, 2011

Interim head proposes trimming Hamilton schools’ office jobs

Rick Smith, interim superintendent for the Hamilton County Board of Education, speaks to the Times Free Press on Thursday in his office at the Board of Education.
Rick Smith, interim superintendent for the Hamilton County Board of Education, speaks to the Times Free Press on Thursday in his office at the Board of Education.
Photo by Jake Daniels.
  • Interim Superintendent Rick Smith
    Watch as Hamilton County Schools interim Superintendent Rick Smith discusses his plans while waiting on the school board's decision to appoint a permanent superintendent.

Plans are on the table for $1 million in cuts to the Hamilton County Schools’ central office staff as long as interim Superintendent Rick Smith is at the helm.

Smith said Thursday he is proposing to trim jobs, although he wouldn’t say how many, as a partial solution to the $14.4 million deficit facing the system. Some school board members said they are in full support of Smith’s plan.

“We have to cut somewhere,” said board member Linda Mosley, who has talked with Smith about the cuts.

Rhonda Thurman, who is pushing for Smith to be named permanent superintendent without a search for other candidates, said she is thrilled he is working to cut a staff levels that she calls bloated.

“I have been preaching about the waste,” she said. “There are too many people that we don’t need at the central office.”

Several of the jobs being eliminated will come after the people now in them retire, including the human resources assistant superintendent, Smith said. He already eliminated the director of communications position, which paid an annual salary of $84,338.

“The biggest challenge is the budget,” he said. “We are working really hard on balancing it. It’s a difficult cut.”

In an interview Thursday, Smith didn’t discuss any other budget cuts he might be considering.

Smith, who was deputy superintendent and has worked at Hamilton County Schools for 15 years, wants to be named permanent superintendent.

Last month, the Board of Education elected him interim superintendent after voting 6-3 to offer then-Superintendent Jim Scales a $300,000 buyout to leave a year before his contract ran out.

On Tuesday, the board voted 5-3 to change the system’s hiring policy for superintendents to allow for just a 15-day notice before hiring a new system leader. Previous policy required the board to conduct a series of meetings and approve a hiring timeline, although there was no set deadline for that to take place.

No vote has been scheduled to decide the future of the superintendent job, but several board members, especially Thurman, have said they want to move Smith quickly into the job.

“I don’t see why we need an out-of-town person coming in here, someone we have to train,” Thurman said. “Rick is his own person. I don’t think he’ll be easily bought.”

But other board members and the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce have spoken in favor of a statewide or national search for other job candidates.

Mosley said she plans to request a workshop with board members to discuss goals and pay today.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” she said. “If Rick Smith turns out to be the victorious one, then I want that. I just want to make sure we are not overlooking another viable candidate.”

It’s a tough time for transition. Schools are under pressure to implement major education reforms passed in the last year in the state Legislature, including Race to the Top, and another round of budget slashing looms.

Despite the tasks facing the district and the controversy over his possible hiring, Smith said he has wanted the post for a long time. Five years ago he was a local candidate for the job, but withdrew his name after charges that a search advisory committee violated the state’s open meetings law by choosing the finalists through secret ballots, according to Times Free Press archives.

“I wish to prevent further strife in the process and the community,” Smith wrote in a March 2006 letter withdrawing his candidacy.

If he becomes superintendent now, Smith said, he’s not concerned with the politics of the board and plans to shape up the central office by curbing waste and improving its communication with schools.

He wants to be more involved in training better principals and wants every principal to write an evaluation of central office services this fall, he said.

“For 15 years I’ve heard issues with the central office [from schools],” he said. “We have to reorganize ourselves where people see the value.”

about Joan Garrett McClane...

Joan Garrett McClane has been a staff writer for the Times Free Press since August 2007. Before becoming a general assignment writer for the paper, she wrote about business, higher education and the court systems. She grew up the oldest of five sisters near Birmingham, Ala., and graduated with a master's and bachelor's degrees in journalism from the University of Alabama. Before landing her first full-time job as a reporter at the Times Free Press, ...

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crow1033 said...

Funny... Rhonda didn't seem to be so quick to advocate for staff cuts when Rick Smith's job was on the chopping block...

“Rick is his own person. I don’t think he’ll be easily bought.”.... I think he just got 'bought' when Rhonda and her gang saved his job and gave him the top spot by eliminating policy. Wonder who he will be obliged to now???

June 17, 2011 at 9:01 a.m.
chet123 said...

Since Rhonda got her boy friend in as Superintendent...you wont hear her complaining...THE SKY IS FALLING!...THE SKY IS FALLING! ..THE SKY IS FALLING!....EVERYTHING WILL BE JUST FINE!....MAN WHAT A CON JOB SHE RAN ON HAMILTON COUNTY....THIS WHAT SHE WANTED ALL ALONE...FROM DAY ONE...CONTROL AND MANIPULATION! TOO BAD PRESENT SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS WERE TO WEAK TO SEE IT COMING ....THIS WOMAN IS AN ABSOLUTE WITCH....SHE SLANDER AND DESTROYED THE GOOD NAME OF THREE MEN WHO HAD SARIFICE THEIR FAMILY COMING AS HAMILTON COUNTY SUPERINTENDENT TO BE BACKBITTEN AND DEFAME BY RHONDA THURMAN WHO HAD HER OWN SECRET AGENDA....WHAT A SLICK FLIMFLAM JOB SHE PULLED ON THE SCHOOL BOARD AND COUNTY COMMISSIONERS ....DIRTY POLITIC IS ALIVE AND WELL HERE IN HAMILTON COUNTY...LOL LOL LOL

June 17, 2011 at 9:33 a.m.
docspop said...

Watch your back Rick.Rhonda and her gang will turn on you like a pack of lions after a wounded animal.Good Luck!

June 17, 2011 at 11:06 a.m.
Selah said...

Hopefully, Rick and Rhonda will wake up to the fact that they are both being used. Sadly, it will be later when the cards All come falling down. Mr. Smith deserves a chance ONLY if he faces the policies and procedures of getting the job ...like all the rest of us COMMONERS...be prepared to see bullying and retaliation at its COUNTY's BEST...BELIEVE THAT!!! LORD, HELP THE CHILDREN...HELP THE CHILDREN !!!

June 18, 2011 at 1:57 a.m.
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