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What a difference a month and three new school board members make.
In less than a month's time, the Marion County Board of Education has reached an agreement with Superintendent Donald Smith for his resignation, hired an interim superintendent and has begun the process to hire a new superintendent.
Board Chairman Michael Mullins made the announcement regarding Smith's resignation following an executive session during the board's Jan. 25 meeting at Calvary Elementary School. Upon returning to open session, Mullins said the board members had a copy of a proposed severance agreement and release between the board and Smith, which terminated Smith's contract with Marion County Public Schools. Board Member Bernard Miles made the motion to approve the contract and Board Member DeLane Pinkston seconded the motion. (Miles and Pinkston are the only two remaining board members who hired Smith in April of 2009.) The board voted unanimously to approve the agreement.
The agreement (see page A??) includes keeping Smith on the payroll through June 30, 2011. However, his resignation was effective immediately.
Smith was not present at last week's meeting, but during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, Smith said he thought the deal-breaker was he and his family not moving to Marion County.
"I didn't feel like I could continue to focus on what was best for the kids of Marion County because I just couldn't move there without getting my house sold," he said. "I just think that was the deal-breaker. I think it was just best for all of us to part ways."
Smith said his decision to resign was what was best for the children of Marion County.
"When I got hired by the board my focus and goal for the Marion County school district was to do what was best for all students, and I feel like I did that," he said. "But the Marion County board decided they felt like they needed more than that."
Board Chairman Mullins said he and Board Vice Chairman Ed Hacker worked together on Smith's severance and release agreement, along with help from attorney Joe Mattingly, who is now serving as the school board's attorney.
Hacker's input was instrumental in getting the agreement accomplished, Mullins said.
"I think he's going to be an invaluable member of this board," he said. "People that voted for him are going to be very pleased that they made that choice. He is doing an excellent job. He was very instrumental in these procedures and very professional in how he handles himself."
Hacker said he felt that Smith not living in Marion County was interfering with the education of the students, and that he respects Smith for agreeing to resign.
"Donald Smith and I parted friends," Hacker said. "I think he is a bigger and better person for what he has done here."
Hacker, who himself is a former employee of the school district, said he believes the harmony that once existed in the Marion County Public School System can be achieved again.
"It seemed like there was a harmony from the janitors on up to the superintendent where everybody was striving for the best thing," he said.
Board Member Mike Cecil said he has confidence that the school system will continue moving forward.
"I don't think the school system is going to miss a beat," he said. "I have confidence in the people we have in place now."
In regards to Smith's resignation, Cecil said that the November election made it obvious what the community was thinking about the school system's leadership, but he also empathizes with the situation Smith was in regarding the difficulty in selling his home.
"There was always one issue that was coming up - his residency requirements. He himself said it was the elephant in the room," Cecil said. "Truthfully, I have a lot of empathy for Mr. Smith and the situation he was in. The economy made it very difficult for him to sell his house."
However, according to Pinkston, the board had given Smith every opportunity that it possibly could.
"We tried to support him as long as we possibly could, and we did," he said. "We wanted the school system to be successful and we tried everything we could to make it successful. There came a time when it wasn't working. We gave every opportunity for it to work."
Pinkston said it's time to move on.
"There were some problems, but those are behind us," he said. "I think we need to move on and focus on the future. Hopefully, things will work out well."
Miles said he is pleased with how things were resolved.
"I'm glad this happened, and I'm glad it's happened in a quick manner now so we can move on and get on with the business of educating children," he said.
Miles said things had become very negative in the community concerning Smith, especially regarding him not living here.
"They had lost faith in him," Miles said. "They didn't even believe in what he was saying anymore. We need the community backing us as a school system.
We just lost that support. I think it was time to do something and move on."
Miles said he, Pinkston and his fellow board members tried to give Smith a chance.
"You try to give people a chance, but they got to help themselves," he said. "I don't think Mr. Smith was helping himself by not moving here. His salary was being paid by Marion County tax dollars. People were very adamant about him moving here."
And, by not having the community's support, it was difficult for the school board and school system to be successful, Miles said.
"If the community isn't supporting you, we can't do positive things and move on," he said. "Some of the administrators and staff didn't believe in him anymore. They didn't trust him anymore. And you've got to be accountable, you got to have community support, or you can't be successful."
Former Marion County Superintendent Donald Smith's written statement
This evening the Board and I reached a mutual agreement to terminate our Contract employing me as the Superintendent of Marion County Schools, effective this evening. It is with deep regret that I have made this decision. I have greatly appreciated the opportunity that was granted to me, by both the previous Marion County Board of Education and the current Board to serve the children of Marion County. Marion County has a very good school system; Marion County is a very good community.
I have enjoyed working with the children of Marion County and the people of Marion County. However, I have an opportunity for a career advancement that I intend to pursue and this will not permit me to serve as Marion County Superintendent.
I want to take this opportunity to thank the past and current Board, the children of Marion County and the citizens of Marion County for the opportunity to serve you.
Board Chairman Michael Mullins' statement
"This evening the board, the Marion County Board of Education, and Mr. Donald Smith announce our mutual agreement to terminate our contract employing Mr. Smith as superintendent of Marion County Schools, effective this evening. Mr. Smith has advised the board that he has career advancement opportunities that he intends to pursue which will not permit him to continue to serve as superintendent. The board thanks Mr. Smith for his service to the children of Marion County and wishes him the very best of luck. In light of the issues that this board has been required to confront over the last few weeks, this change will enable us to move forward and improve the educational system we provide for all the children of Marion County. Thank you."
SMITH'S SEVERANCE AGREEMENT
(See full agreement elsewhere on our web site)
The severance package which the Marion County Board of Education offered and Donald Smith accepted is as follows:'
•The Board will pay to Smith bi-monthly payments equivalent to his current gross salary through June 30, 2011.
• The Board will pay Smith the monetary equivalent of any such earned but unused vacation pay.
• Smith agrees to return all Board property in his possession. Smith further agrees not to copy or reproduce confidential files or information contained on his or Board owned computers.
• Smith will remain entitled to any benefits to which he would otherwise be entitled under the terms and conditions of any 401 (k) plan or other retirement plan and nothing in this agreement is intended to waive or relinquish Smith's vested rights in such benefits. It is understood and agreed, however, that after the effective date of this Agreement Smith may not make or receive on his behalf further contributions or otherwise participate in the 401 (k) plan or retirement plan since he will not be an employee and will not meet the eligibility requirements for said plan(s). However, the Board shall continue to pay for Smith's group health plan, even if such health plan benefits through the Board are made pursuant to Smith's rights under COBRA, through June 30, 2011, or until such time as he becomes otherwise employed and has group health benefits available to him.
• Smith and the Board agree to handle Smith's separation from the board in a professional and friendly manner and Smith and the board mutually agree to refrain now and forever from disparaging each other, directly or indirectly, in any way.
• Smith agrees that through June 30, 2011, he will remain reasonably accessible and available to the board for telephone consultation and/or personal availability.