The results of the special TPS board meeting of November 14, 2023, were underwhelming. First, the Board decided to put off determining the process for searching for a new TPS Superintendent until sometime before January 31, 2024.
Second, the board only produced a resolution signifying confidence in and support of Interim School Superintendent Dr. Ebony Johnson rather than offering her contract beyond the current school year.
In contrast the agenda and accompanying rumors for the special meeting held great promise. The seven-member board was planning to establish a search process for a new superintendent. One Board Member, Dr. Jerry Griffin, was lobbying the Board to offer a contract to Interim Superintendent Dr. Ebony Johnson fearing that she would be “snatched up” by another school district before the start of the 2024-2025 school year.
Dr. Jerry Griffin boycotted the executive session during which the remainder of the board discussed Interim Superintendent Dr. Ebony Johnson’s employment. He chose instead to remain in the public room which resulted in an unplanned interview with News Channel 8’s Burt Mummolo, who regularly attends the board meetings.
The board meeting concluded with a second executive session that Dr. Griffin did attend during which the board received private information regarding Devin Fletcher and other individuals/organizations who may have been involved with him in “the diversion of funds from the district”. That information, while potentially interesting and exciting, remains confidential.
Befitting the nature of this special meeting the board meeting room was configured in a small open U facing the sparse audience of fewer than ten. Six members, Diamond Marshall was absent, started the meeting by discussing the policies surrounding the search for a new superintendent.
Note that Interim Superintendent Dr. Johnson took over the district on September 16, 2023. Her term ends on June 3, 2024.
It was quickly clear that the board was divided as to what needed to be done. President Stacy Woolley was focused on defining the process the board should follow to recruit a superintendent.
Dr. Marshall noted that there is no need to be concerned about recruiting a superintendent now because the Interim Superintendent has the same authority as a Superintendent. Plus, she added, the State Audit of TPS has yet to be released and may reveal information about other possible prosecutions that would impact recruitment. She wanted to demonstrate that the board fully supports the Interim Superintendent.
Dr. Griffin maintained that having an Interim Superintendent rather than a Superintendent puts the district in a weak position. Additionally, he expressed grave concern that Interim Superintendent Dr. Ebony Johnson will be recruited away from TPS while the board talks back and forth about what to do and how to do it. He wanted the board to offer Dr. Johnson a contract right away.
E’Lena Ashley stating her alignment with what students deserve, said the board should start a broad search for a school superintendent right away. She pointed out that while Dr. Johnson will probably turn out to be the best, it is important to conduct a thorough search.
Susan Lamkin asked if they would be hiring a group to conduct the search since the board lacks that experience.
As the discussion continued it became repetitious. Dr. Griffin and Dr. Marshall exchanged some harsh words. Dr. Griffin asking that the board trust his judgment maintained that having an Interim Superintendent shows weakness. Dr. Marshall retorted “I do not trust you more than I can throw you”.
Ultimately the board decided to table the discussion about recruitment and go into executive session to discuss the employment of Dr. Ebony Johnson as Superintendent. Dr. Griffin boycotted that executive session stating that the board does not know what it is doing.
Dr. Griffin joined the few audience members who remained in the board room. Burt Mummolo of News Channel 8 was part of that group and asked Dr. Griffin for an interview which he conducted while the few other audience members periodically chimed in.
Dr. Griffin said that he chose not to join the executive session because he was afraid that he would regret what he might have said during that meeting.
He pointed out that he has confidence in Board President Woolley, but that the board does not have business experience. He believes that such experience leads to hiring Dr. Johnson now to strengthen the position of the school district with the State Board of Education and to prevent her leaving to work for another district.
Dr. Griffin stated his belief that perception is everything and that people perceive “interim” as a powerless position despite the fact that the TPS Interim Superintendent has full power through the board. He said he is in favor of offering Dr. Johnson a three-year contract with no roll over. When asked about the discord on the board between him and Dr. Marshall, he simply said, “Maybe we will never be on the same page”.
The boycotted executive session lasted a little over an hour. When the board members returned to the board room, Board Member Dr. Griffin rejoined them. The board first addressed the search process for the Superintendent of TPS and unanimously agreed to revisit the process discussion before January 31, 2024. Next, Board Member Dr. Marshall moved acceptance of the resolution that they had apparently constructed during the executive session. It was seconded by Board Member Croisant.
The resolution expressed that the TPS Board has full confidence in Interim Superintendent Dr. Johnson. To which Board Member Dr. Griffin opined “We really don’t, or we would have offered her a contract.” He voted no. saying the resolution is silly and irrelevant. The remainder of the board present voted yes.
After the vote board President Woolley pleaded with Dr. Griffin to support the resolution. He refused stating that supporting it now would cause him to lose credibility. The vote was retaken, and the resolution remained approved five to one.
Readers are encouraged to consider whether the time of the TPS Board members could have been better spent.