by Danny Wade
Will Humboldt City Schools soon be looking for a new leader? After Thursday night’s school board meeting, a contract extension for the director of schools is up in the air.
Dr. Versie Hamlett’s contract is set to expire June 20, 2020. Typically, the early part of the final year of the superintendent’s contract is when discussion for an extension takes place. The extension, if offered, has to be approved by January 1, 2020.
During the July school board meeting, the board agreed to have the chairman and superintendent sit down together to discuss an extension, and report back to the board.
Thursday evening, board chairman, Terry Johnson, opened the floor for discussion on Dr. Hamlett’s contract. Johnson said Dr. Hamlett is seeking a 4-year extension with the same benefits package, plus a $250 monthly annuity. She did not ask for a salary increase.
Board member Leon McNeal asked why Dr. Hamlett is seeking a 4-year extension and not the typical 3-year contract. He also questioned the $250 annuity and thought that money could be better spent on substitute teachers and aids. McNeal also noted she did not ask for a raise.
Dr. Hamlett told the board that the contract is up for negotiation. Later in the meeting, she said she would remove the $250 annuity from her request.
“I would drop it down to a 1-year contract,” board member Valeria Wedley suggested. “In five years, I’m not seeing much change. I understand the state changed (tests and testing procedures) and it’s difficult for students. We can’t keep doing the same thing over and over and over, and expect different results. One year to make changes, if not, get someone else. I’m not blaming anyone. We need to find someone to capture our children.”
Wedley brought up Dr. Hamlett’s salary and school budget more than once during the meeting, stating, “A half million dollars and $60 million budget.”
These numbers are 5-year totals, not yearly.
“I’m the youngest on this board,” Mark Hodge said of being one of the new members. “You (Dr. Hamlett) deserve more. What you put up with and deal with from the community and from this board.”
Hodge was in favor of the contract extension but would like to have a 2-year clause included for performance. He noted that student behavior in the schools is getting better.
“We need to find someone who has proven they can get the job done,” Wedley continued. “We need to go after that.”
“Stability is crucial to our kids,” Hodge noted. “I’ve heard that this board has never liked the superintendents. Even if we choose someone else, this board won’t like them. We need familiar faces.”
Wedley then talked about the number of principals and teachers that have left the school system.
“Some people leave voluntarily,” board member Wayne McLemore replied.
After listening to Wedley’s thoughts of the job Dr. Hamlett had done over the past five years, she finally responded.
“I met with the principals and one said, ‘I can’t do any more for the kids’,” Dr. Hamlett said of principal and teacher turnover. “Some staff left because they weren’t doing their jobs.”
McNeal said it’s hard to compete with Jackson, which pays teachers more money. He also said Jackson pays $5,000 to $10,000 sign-on bonuses.
“Who is the one jumping up and down like James Brown, trying to get teachers raises,” McNeal stated of his push for higher teacher pay.
“I would not sit in that seat,” McLemore said of the superintendent’s position.
“For half a million dollars, you wouldn’t?” Wedley replied.
“No,” McLemore quickly responded.
“It takes the right kind of person to sit in that chair,” Hodge added.
“I’m patient—you can’t blame Dr. Hamlett,” McNeal stated. “There’s enough fault from all of us.”
Chairman Johnson had been quiet through most of the discussion when he said he would not vote for a contract extension.
McNeal quickly advised the chairman that the contract was not up for a vote, only discussion.
“Our scores are dropping,” Johnson said. “I can’t see extending a contract. We are losing too many great teachers.”
“Our schools are improving,” Dr. Hamlett stated. “We’ve been an Exemplary School (designated by the Tennessee Department of Education). I’m not giving up on my babies.”
There was no discussion or determination to have Dr. Hamlett’s contract extension up for vote on the September 9 school board agenda. In July, the board agreed to have discussion on the contract during the August meeting, which they did, and hold a vote in September.