The Murfreesboro City Schools Board on Tuesday rejected three candidates for superintendent and decided to keep Interim Director Ralph Ringstaff on the job, after a motion to offer him the position failed.

The board ended its $11,500 paid national search, at least for now, by the Tennessee School Boards Association. TSBA on Tuesday presented the board with three finalists out of 17 applications. Two were internal candidates: Trey Duke, principal of the district’s newest school, Salem Elementary, and Dr. Kimberly Osborne, coordinator of data and assessments. The only external candidate was Dr. John Millay, retired superintendent from Meade County, Kentucky.

Board member Roseann Barton led the charge to reject the search and immediately enter into contract negotiations with Ringstaff. After a great deal of debate and various votes to change the job’s qualifications to allow Ringstaff to be considered, her motion to enter into negotiations with Ringstaff failed 3-4. Voting yes were Barton, Chairman Butch Campbell and Wesley Ballard. Voting no were Becky Goff, David LaRoche, Amanda Moore and David Settles.

Settles made the motion to reject the three finalists presented by the TSBA and keep Ringstaff on board indefinitely as interim director. The board’s internal counsel 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. No votes were cast by Goff, LaRoche and Moore.

To consider Ringstaff, the board had to change the director job qualifications, including holding an educator’s license. Also, the board had previously decided that as interim director Ringstaff would not be considered for the permanent job. One reason they had to change the qualifications is that Ringstaff’s educator’s license has expired, according to discussion made during the meeting.

A search on the Tennessee Department of Education website shows that Ringstaff’s license is inactive and had an expiration date of Aug. 31, 2002.

Barton told the board they had enough going on with the coronavirus and she would like to avoid another change. She said she spoke to educators at every school who provided positive feedback about Ringstaff.

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

LaRoche, a lawyer who did not run for re-election and is leaving the board at the end of August, said lawyers have a term for such a situation: “home cooking.”

“I feel the optics of this are terrible,” LaRoche said, and that it looked like the board was just appointing the person it wanted all along.

“As a taxpayer, I’d want to know where my $11,000 went,” he said.

Despite their decision, TSBA Executive Director Dr. Tammy Grissom told the board she would not charge them again if they decided to resume the search at a later date.

The board did not mention another part of the process. In June, Grissom told the board there is a blackout date from June 22-Sept. 5 in which the board may not offer the job or sign a contract with anyone, although it can advertise and interview. The reason is because there were board seats up for election on Aug. 6, and the law is written that way so any new members can have input.

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