MCDONOUGH, Ga. -- The Henry County School Board chair is fighting back against accusations the decision to rescind its offer to the finalist for the Superintendent position - was racially motivated.
Four state lawmakers have asked the Governor to take a closer look at how Henry County handled the process and Senator Emanuel Jones has gone a step further, engaging the NAACP and asking the state's accrediting arm to investigate as well.
“He is a trail blazer. He would have been the very first African-American superintendent in this county," Jones says. "He would have been (the) first hired by an independent agency that’s done a national search to find the very best candidate." And he believes some in the district felt threatened by that.
In the letter, signed also by State Reps. Pam Stephenson, Sandra Scott and Demetrius Douglas, Jones says “It pains me to witness the dysfunctionality, racial polarization and the intentional violation of board policies.”
While the vote to rescind the offer did fall along racial lines, the Board Chair Dr. Pam Nutt insists it was not racially motivated. Nutt has so far declined our request for an interview, but did provide us a written response to Senator Jones accusations.
The back and forth has left Dr. Timothy Gadson, the actual finalist for the job, in the middle of it all. He is aware of the letter sent to the Governor, but says he doesn't want to lose sight of the main issue and is trying to focus on ways to open up dialog with board members.
In an interview with 11Alive investigator Rebecca Lindstrom, Gadson says whole-heartedly that he still wants the job. He’s already resigned from his previous position and believes if the board sits down to truly negotiate, an agreement can be reached.
“Sometimes adults engage in adult behavior, and I think this is one of those where I still want to have an opportunity to lead and help in that community,” he says.
Gadson says despite all that’s happened, he believes he could still work effectively with the board and that his 23 years of work experience have made him the perfect candidate for this job.
At one point, the Henry County School Board members also agreed.
According to the Georgia Association of Schools, they were paid $7,000 to conduct a nationwide search. It resulted in nearly 40 applicants with about a dozen top-tier candidates that met the district’s interests and needs.
The board met three times to review the applications and conduct interviews. They could have chosen three finalists by law, but decided Gadson was the best of the best and presented him as the sole finalist in late June.
“On a vote of 4 to 1, I assumed that I had the job,” Gadson says.
But as soon as the district made the announcement, critics took to social media. Division in the community appeared to turn into division on the board.
According to contracts obtained by 11Alive, county attorneys entered into negotiations on behalf of the board, offering Gadson $224,939 a year in salary. It was more than the district had paid in the past. But Gadson countered with a request for $275,000, along with the value of 10 percent of his salary deposited into an annuity plan.
As for the base salary, seven metro school districts pay their superintendents that much, or more, and several also make contributions into an annuity plan. According to data reported by school districts, last year the Superintendent in Gwinnett was paid $501,974. Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen made $447,994. Districts more comparable in size like Forsyth and Cherokee paid their superintendents $248,428 and $238,919 respectively.
But in emails obtained by the 11Alive Investigators, the county attorney says when he calculated all of the requests Gadson’s attorney made to the proposed benefits package, it added up to “$500,000 more than the board was obligated to pay.”
Gadson’s attorney asked how the district reached that number. In emails obtained by 11Alive, she tries twice to get the county attorney, Buddy Welch, to call so they can talk. But Gadson says he never did.
Gadson wonders if Welch literally added up all of the changes made. But he argues, the number wouldn’t be reflective of the actual change since that would count things like vacation, sick pay, and disability as additional costs.
On Monday, 11Alive got a side-by-side comparison from the Henry County School District to explain how they came up with the estimate for Gadson's contract. A review of Gadson’s proposed contract shows he did ask for additional money for technology, a greater car allowance and money for memberships to civic organizations and training activities.
However, Gadson’s always insisted they were just items he wanted the opportunity to discuss with the board as part of his contract.
“My representation and I came from the perspective that you put out on the table the things you’d like considered, and then the board would suggest what they would or could not do,” he says.
Instead, the board voted on July 10, 2017, to rescind the offer and start the search for a new superintendent over again. Some in the community applauded the decision, concerned that, even if he was willing to negotiate, Gadson was more interested in money than improving schools. Others were upset the district only put before them one candidate.
In a statement issued after the vote, the board chair wrote:
"We want to thank Dr. Gadson for his consideration and interest in our school system. This process to find the next superintendent to lead our schools has been done with the best interest of our students, employees, and community at heart. With that being said, the contract demands of Dr. Gadson far exceeded what has been traditionally extended to previous superintendents by way of salary and compensation packages. The Board will now start the search process over again."
A district spokesperson says the board has not made any decisions on how to proceed at this point. The district could go back and review again the applications it received in its initial search or it could conduct a new search on its own.
Gadson says before doing any of that, the board should sit down and have a conversation with him. He says he researched the district before applying for the job and still believes he is the right candidate.
“I looked at the gap that existed, the achievement gap, I looked at some discipline concerns, some of the discipline data and just knew that I could come in and make a difference in those areas to make sure that we an educational environment that is conducive for all students to learn and excel,” Gadson concluded.
A spokesperson for the Governor said, "The governor’s office did receive the letter regarding Henry County. The governor can’t intervene, however, until an accrediting agency puts a school system on probation. Following that action, the state school board will provide a recommendation to the governor."
Jones firmly believes that investigation will take place. A week after 11Alive's story aired, AdvancED forwarded documents from the agency confirming they will conduct an investigation.
The fight for a job has in some ways turned into a fight for credibility. In response to Nutt's accusations Gadson "potentially plagiarized" his plan to the board he told Lindstrom:
Each superintendent develops an entry plan. Many of the myriad entry activities that superintendents must lead and engage in are the same across districts. However, based upon research and findings related to the district for which he/she is hired, the superintendent must narrow and specify all activities needed to ease into the district and ensure a smooth transition of leadership. The goals that are developed for the plan are also specific to the district.
As examples, auditing a district's curricular program and analyzing student performance data trends are common activities that superintendents will engage in as part of their entry. Never-the-less, evaluating previous system-wide initiatives such as personalized learning and the district and school level work toward meeting Board expectations and priorities for student learning outcomes and meeting with school and District leaders to analyze causes of poor student performance at critically underperforming schools and develop a plan to provide regular strategic and intensive supports are specific to Henry County. Similarly, the activity of accounting for all technology and software purchased to determine systemic readiness for 21st century personalized learning opportunities, including the 1:1 rollout and ensuring adequate quantities have been purchased to meet enrollment projections is also specific to Henry County.
So while you will see commonality across superintendent entry plans, each superintendent will ensure specificity to his or her District.
All leaders that I consulted, ones who advised me, and/or whose entry plans were used to develop my own are listed and acknowledged on my plan. The Board chair and I discussed this and we clarified this matter in relation to the public acknowledgement on my plan versus a standard reference page as you will find on research papers dissertations, articles, etc. on July 5, 2017. There was no additional concern or discussion brought to my attention by the chairperson or any other member of the Board.
After the 11Alive investigation, the Henry County School System also sent another statement to Rebecca Lindstrom in response to Senator Jones' letter.
The Henry County Board of Education undertook one of its main responsibilities recently by conducting the search to find the next superintendent to lead our school system. Through that process we identified one individual as a finalist with the help of the Georgia School Boards Association (GSBA). Even though there were questions regarding the candidate, including his potential involvement with an Atlanta Public Schools grade changing scandal, the Board liked the plan Dr. Gadson advanced as his own for the Henry County School System and we decided to give him a chance, as recommended by the GSBA.
Thereafter, our Board and Dr. Gadson felt it was in everyone’s best interest to let the community meet with and ask questions of him in an effort to allow everyone the chance to get to know each other better. During this time, we introduced Dr. Gadson as the “sole finalist” for the position, making clear we still needed the opportunity to discuss further a contract with our system.
The Board of Education tried in good faith to negotiate with Dr. Gadson’ representatives. Over a nine (9) day period between June 30, 2017, and July 9, 2017, Dr. Gadson was asked for revisions to his initial counteroffer on two different occasions. We received none. In addition, during this same time frame, we became aware that Dr. Gadson had potentially plagiarized the 100-day plan that was so attractive to the Board.
When the meeting came about on July 10, 2017, while two (2) Board members still supported Dr. Gadson, a majority of the Board did not feel comfortable making the taxpayers of the county liable for $500,000, more than any other superintendent had received in the county’s history (which Dr. Gadson’s counteroffer would have), nor did we like the fact that struck through the immorality termination clause. All of this has been of even greater concern in light of all the questions that were being raised during this process.
We will continue the search process in an attempt to find the best fit and fifteenth superintendent of Henry County Schools.
With regards to Senator Jones’ email, there are several inaccuracies in the letter that should be addressed:
1. He stated that we held town hall forums in response to “concerns of the community.” As stated above, the town hall forums were agreed to by all parties in an effort to let the community meet with and ask questions of Dr. Gadson. This was seen as a beneficial step to allow the community to hear from the potential candidate to lead our school system.
2. Senator Jones stated that the meetings concluded on Saturday, July 8. However, we know it to be true that multiple meetings were held outside of the school system sponsored meeting by various civic organizations with the premise that attendees would be meeting the superintendent of schools. Dr. Gadson was not the superintendent, rather he was the finalist for the position.
3. It was stated that our board attorney “had ill intent nor was he ever willing to actively negotiate a contract for Dr. Gadson.” There were two opportunities given to our finalist and his representation to amend the contract offer and his counter offer.
The initial contract offer started point was presented on June 30th and a counter offer was received on July 6, 2017. The counteroffer contained 330 redline changes as publically shared by local news media.
On July 6th, the Henry County Schools financial services team evaluated the full monetary compensation offered by comparing Superintendent Bowler’s existing contract to that of the requests made by Dr. Gadson. I asked the Board attorney to request that Dr. Gadson reconsider his offer since his contract requests were over $500,000 more than the Board’s original proposal which was based on Mr. Bowler’s existing contracted financial liabilities. No changes were offered by Dr. Gadson or his representation.
On July 9th, the Board attorney again requested of Dr. Gadson’ attorney to determine if her client was willing to strike any of his requests from his proposal. And again, no changes were offered in response.
4. Senator Jones stated that he believed that “the school board’s attorney has overstepped his authority and acted inappropriately in accordance with the State Constitution as it relates to school board governance and good faith negotiations.” Our school board and its attorney have followed every policy as it pertains to this search. Our policies CEC (Superintendent Recruitment) and CED (Superintendent Appointment) were followed throughout this process. Our attorney has followed the direction of the majority of the Board through this process.
5. It was also stated that 35 schools are underperforming and the system is currently without a superintendent or candidate for superintendent. Henry County Schools has schools improving, but there is a false narrative out there as to the extent of the underperformance and the cause. Our school system is not without a superintendent. Superintendent Bowler is in the position. We do not have a candidate at this time, but we will continue the process to find out next superintendent.
6. Senator Jones said that our board has “expressed the need to hire someone locally.” At no point in time did our Board ever make that statement. We conducted a national search that yielded many candidates and the ones we interviewed were all from outside of Henry County.
It is unfortunate that Senator Jones is attacking our school system in such a way. The record is clear he is no friend or supporter of public schools. He has used our school system on more than one occasion to keep his name in the news and further his political agenda.
Attached to this email is a breakdown of the financial review of Mr. Bowler’s current contract and the request made by Dr. Gadson to which he ultimately offered no changes. We insist that this document be published in the same manner that Senator Jones’ letter was circulated.
We have an incredibly diverse and accomplished school system that has achieved many great things over the course of our existence. We will move forward to find the next superintendent to carry on this rich tradition and ensure success for each student in our school system.
Dr. Pam Nutt, Chair
Henry County School System.