Johnson City Commission votes to oppose superintendent retention bill

Zach Vance • Mar 21, 2019 at 8:34 PM

Johnson City commissioners joined a growing list of Tennessee school boards and local governments opposed to legislation that could give voters a say on whether a school director’s contract could be renewed or not. 

Commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to adopt a resolution requesting its state representatives and senators oppose the measure. Ironically enough, the bill is sponsored by state Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, and co-sponsored by state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City. 

The Unicoi County Commission, Unicoi County Board of Education and Sullivan County Board of Education have all passed similar resolutions. 

The way the bill, HB0301, is drafted, the governing bodies of counties and cities that operate a school system would be allowed — following a two-thirds vote — to require its director of schools face a retention election the August before their contract expires. If a majority of voters cast ballots against retaining the director of schools, the local board of education could not extend their contract or term.

Both City Manager Pete Peterson and Mayor Jenny Brock said the bill is a “step backward.” 

“There are only three states out of 50 in this country that elect directors of schools. That obviously is for a reason. Those three states are not the three highest performers of the 50 when it comes to education performance,” Peterson said. 

“I have talked to numerous city mangers, directors of schools, school board members from across the state and everyone seems to be in the same position on this legislation.”

Peterson said governing bodies in Oak Ridge, Collierville, Maryville, Alcoa and Greeneville are considering similar resolutions in opposition to bill. 

Brock said the bill would politicize and create a distraction for school directors.

Commissioner John Hunter also expressed concern about the bill limiting the number of candidates for a director of schools position.

“It would handcuff our education system into a limited pool of candidates. A lot of people who have the experience are not necessarily going to run for office and invest in such a risky venture from outside the region,” Hunter said. 

Vice Mayor Joe Wise concurred, saying some counties with smaller populations might struggle to find enough eligible citizens who are qualified to run a school system and inclined to put their name on the ballot. 

“Being in a similar profession, I can assure you that you’re going to discourage the vast majority of candidates that are qualified and that you would want to lead your system if they know they have to face a retention vote every four years,” Peterson said. 

“The opportunity already exists to change the direction of the school system through the election of the school board. There is no need to change the system.”

In defense of the bill, Crowe has previously told the Johnson City Press that he believes many of his constituents in “rural counties feel there isn’t enough balance between school directors and parents and teachers as there is now with school board members.” He also said the retention vote could be used as an “evaluation tool” for school board members when determining whether to renew a director’s contract. 

The bill has been assigned to the House Education Administration Subcommittee and the Senate Education Committee, but a hearing has yet to be scheduled. 

In other business, commissioners approved: 

• A $1.43 million contract with LDA Engineering to design streetscape, stormwater and water-sewer improvements along West Walnut Street.

• A $26,830 contract to install cupholders on most of the seats inside Freedom Hall Civic Center.

• The second reading of a request to rezone FACE Amusement’s corporate headquarters at 4721 Lake Park Drive in Boones Creek to accomodate a family entertainment center.




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