city superintendent story_Roseann Barton_Wes Ballard

Roseann Barton and Wes Ballard attend a workshop and business meeting of the Murfreesboro City Schools Board on Thursday. One topic of discussion was the search process for a new superintendent. JASON M. REYNOLDS

The Murfreesboro City Schools Board is defending its handling of the search for a new superintendent, and the body is restarting the stalled process.

Board members discussed the matter during a workshop and business meeting last Thursday. They voted 7-0 to reinstate the job criteria for a new superintendent: to hold a professional educator’s license, have a master’s degree in education with a preference for a doctoral degree, have three years’ successful experience in school administration, and any other requirements that may be set.

The job requirements had been stripped down to simply having a bachelor’s degree.

Board Chairman Butch Campbell said he would contact Dr. Tammy Grissom, executive director of the Tennessee School Boards Association, to ask her to meet with the board again about resuming the search. The board had paid TSBA $11,500 to conduct the search. The board needs to hold a retreat anyway, so Campbell suggested bringing Grissom to the retreat, which has not been scheduled yet. Last month, Grissom told the board that the $11,500 fee would still be good for another search.

In August, Grissom presented three final candidates to the board: two internal candidates, Trey Duke, principal of Salem Elementary School, and Dr. Kimberly Osborne, coordinator of data and assessments. The only external finalist was Dr. John Millay, retired superintendent from Meade County, Ky. There had been 17 candidates.

Board member Roseann Barton said Aug. 11 she wanted to offer the job to Ringstaff, an assistant superintendent who has worked as interim director since the death of Superintendent Dr. Linda Gilbert. Barton told the board they had enough going on with the coronavirus and she would like to avoid another change since she has received good feedback about his work.

To consider Ringstaff, the board had to change the job qualifications; one reason is that Ringstaff’s educator’s license had expired. Also, the board had previously decided that as interim director, Ringstaff would not be considered for the permanent job.

Despite all that, a motion to enter into negotiations with Ringstaff failed 4-3.

Board member David Settles on Aug. 11 made the motion to reject the three finalists presented by the TSBA and keep Ringstaff on board indefinitely as interim director. The board’s lawyer, Elizabeth Taylor, had cautioned against having Ringstaff, as assistant superintendent of human relations, also serving for a long period as interim superintendent. Settles’ motion passed 4-3.

During the board’s debate on Aug. 11, Ringstaff said, “I respectively decline to participate in an interview process,” and said his two-and-a-half months served as interim director and decade as HR head should suffice as his interviews.

David LaRoche was a board member who did not run for re-election, so he has been replaced by Jimmy Richardson. On Aug. 11, LaRoche was critical of the changes to the superintendent search. He called it “home cooking,” meaning the board was trying to go with the person it had wanted all along.

On Thursday, the board members discussed feedback they have received over the Aug. 11 meeting. Several members said they heard critical comments from members of the City Council as well as former school board members.

Campbell repeatedly said the board had not closed the search – only postponed it – and did not reject the three finalists.

Wes Ballard, a board member, said he had received a “lot of negative comments,” mostly about negating the job requirements without much discussion. Other criticisms dealt with having spent $11,500; he told people the money was not flushed down the drain as the board can still use TSBA. He received positive feedback about trying to do something consistent.

Ballard said he took issue with the people suggesting there was home cooking and he did not home cook with Barton. He said he had spoken with Ringstaff, “which is totally appropriate to do and we had a conversation.”

Settles said he had spoken with three city council members as well and had received emails from teachers for and against the board’s actions. There were a “lot of people disappointed in the way the process went down.” Some people expressed disappointment that Ringstaff said he would not interview.

Campbell denied he had participated in home cooking and he did not like that statement, and he had not spoken to Barton about Ringstaff. Barton said she had spoken to Ringstaff.

Settles said he had made the motion that used the word “reject” in not going with the three finalists, and that word was a mistake. It may have been better to say the board would put the applicants on hold.

Barton said, “I think I started that.”

Campbell said he did not remember the term “reject” being used.

Board member Becky Goff said she had a problem with the board not following its own policies.

The board unanimously re-elected Campbell as chairman and Settles as vice chairman. Goff had nominated Settles for chairman, but that motion failed for lack of a second.

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