by Mel Griffith
The Hamilton County school board, whose budget is several million dollars short, is preparing to waste over $200,000 to pay its current director to get lost and goof off for the last year of his contract. We may remember that this is the same guy brought in to save the system after it also paid its last director a small fortune to go away a year early. (He actually went to be director of Davidson County schools, a much bigger system.) Why would the school board keep wasting taxpayer's money this way? There are several causes.
First is the fascination with "experts from afar," who are supposed to know lots of things locals don't know, but seldom do and frequently have good reasons for wanting to leave where they are. Both the failed Hamilton County directors were recruited from other states. The school board did not know them well and they couldn't even find the schools without a map. The notion that someone who is technically skilled can succeed when dropped in a place where he doesn't know the people, history, or politics is frequently unrealistic. Some years ago, Cleveland decided that it was time to bring in "experts from afar" to upgrade the city. They imported a police chief, city manager, and director of schools. Of the three, only the director of schools was successful. A 33% success rate is not very good. There is nothing wrong with giving high positions to people from elsewhere who have been here long enough to learn the area, but giving someone who has never been here a top job requires a learning curve too steep for most to climb. Of course, these problems would go away if only the legislature would do its job and return the director of schools to an elected position. Sadly, even with Republicans in charge of state government this badly needed change has once again not been made.
A second cause of wasteful contract buyouts is the tendency of school boards to automatically extend the director's contract to the maximum four years every time it gets down to three. I have always contended that no director should have a contract for more than two years. If his or her performance is satisfactory it should be extended back to two years when it gets down to one. In Hamilton County's case, they extended the director's contract in 2009. Why on earth did they extend his contract when they wanted to get rid of him? Extending the contract of someone you don't want to fulfill it shows a complete lack of common sense on the part of board members which voters should address at the next election.