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Board of Education voting indicates opposing views

The Sumter County Board of Education (BOE) met for their regular meeting on September 9, 2021. Before the agenda was approved there were dissenting views. The BOE would follow this pattern throughout the meeting. Chairman Rick Barnes opened the meeting and then requested a voting item be added to the agenda. The item, hiring Georgia School Board Association (GSBA) to take the lead in the recruiting process for a new superintendent, was thoroughly investigated at the work session. The offerings of the GSBA were laid out to include establishing qualifications, how the community can be a part of the process and the legal considerations of hiring for the position. The GSBA presented other county school boards who had utilized their services as references. They were also able to indicate two small counties who had voted to take on the task directly without the help of GSBA. One of the most recent searches was done on behalf of the Gwinnett County School System, which is the largest district in the state. At the working meeting, Barnes established the search can be completed by the BOE itself with no outside help or the BOE can purchase recruiting services. The cost for GSBA to take on the task is $7500 plus incidentals such as travel.

As a correction or addendum to the agenda, Barnes asked the item to be voted upon during the meeting. Although the motion brought a second, no discussion was offered on the topic and the vote was called. With a final vote of 4-3, the board would not take a vote on any further movement with the GSBA. The four opposed to taking up the action were Patricia Harris, Carolyn Hamilton, Vincent Kearse and Abbis Bivins. Sylvia Roland, Jim Reid and Rick Barnes were agreeable to letting the vote come to floor. Following this vote for refusal to add to the agenda, another item was added under personnel. After having to explain Robert’s Rules of Order to the BOE, Barnes then encouraged the process to go forward following the standard rules. Hamilton then made a motion to delete the acting superintendent’s contract from the agenda. Another split vote was made with a 4-3 outcome. Those voting in favor of taking the item off the agenda were Bivins, Harris, Hamilton and Kearse. Those voting against removing the item were Barnes, Reid and Roland. The item was then deleted from the personnel committee recommendations.

With those matters settled, the BOE unanimously accepted the final agenda. The changing of the agenda proved to be an important matter as the meeting unfolded. The voting blocks presented themselves again when a vote was called on appointing Walter Knighton the Interim Superintendent of Sumter County Schools. When discussion was held, Barnes offered his opinion. “The interim superintendent role is very much important. It’s time consuming. It tries to make that bridge good for our teachers, our administrators and our kids.” He went on further to state, “By asking Mr. Knighton to do this job we are not being fair to our kids who always come first on anything we act upon.” Barnes further explained, “One of the biggest things we suffer from is teaching and learning. One of the jobs of the associate superintendent (Knighton’s current position)—that Mr. Knighton does a wonderful job at– is leading our teaching and learning. I do not feel by asking him to be the interim superintendent—which I know he will take and do a wonderful job with—I do not feel it is fair to our kids and our teachers to ask him to do both at this time.” Bivins then added to the discussion with “I feel he will make a great interim superintendent. He been in this system over a decade. He know the parents, he knows the teachers, he familiar with what going on in this system. With that being said– he know the problems—I feel he is best and appropriate to move this system forward, so I don’t have a problem with him being the interim superintendent.” With no further discussion, Hamilton, Kearse, Bivins and Harris voted in favor of adding interim superintendent to Knighton’s duties as associate superintendent and Barnes, Reid and Roland voted against asking Knighton to take on the additional role. Walter Knighton will be serving as both the associate superintendent and the interim superintendent. With no vote on how to proceed with the superintendent search, there is no indication how long Knighton will be serving in both of these positions.

A little later in the evening the voting block split presented itself again. Based upon the recommendation of Knighton the motion was made to mandate face coverings until January 31, 2022. Knighton reports he has been working with interested parties and based upon the information gathered, the mandate ruling needed to be extended until the 31st. Barnes questioned why ending the mandate on October 7, 2021, changed from the morning until the meeting and Knighton reports he looked at data again and changed his determination within those hours. Barnes pointed out the Department of Public Health is reporting Sumter County’s numbers are down from ten days ago. Knighton’s response was the numbers where still significant, he “doesn’t foresee any letting up” and he wants to keep mitigating factors in effect until “we are in a comfortable place in Sumter County.” Barnes asked for the metrics which would indicate it was time to revisit the policy. Knighton indicated he would be looking to the COVID team of partners and data to show a “low spread.” After Knighton made his recommendation clear, a motion was made to accept it. Without a second, Bivins began the discussion portion of the vote and Barnes reviewed Robert’s Rules of Order once again. After the motion was received and a second procured, the discussion opened. Hamilton then asked for clarification upon the requirements of the masks, and it was determined they did not have to be N-95 masks. The item went for a vote, which again resulted in the same 4-3 outcome which had decided the earlier votes.

Voting for the committee recommendations were unanimous. Finance, property and personnel committees had action items.  No changes were reported to the finance reports from the working session, property recommendations for five tractors were approved and several human resource changes were accepted. Also unanimously accepted was an agreement with Columbus State University for field experience. In closing the meeting, COVID-19 came up once again. As basketball season is upcoming, guidelines will be put into place for how people gather in the gym. Vincent Kearse made the point to highlight the Georgia High School Association sets the standards. The BOE does not override what the GHSA establishes.

Closing the meeting was a review of upcoming dates to include an in-person retreat on September 20, 2021, from 5-8PM. The next working meeting will be on October 11, 2021, at 6PM and the regular meeting will be on October 14, 2021, at 7PM. The meetings are held in the board room at the administration building at 100 Learning Lane and are live streamed on Facebook on Sumter County Schools Facebook page. You can also find past meetings archived on the Facebook page.