During a called meeting Monday night, the Chattahoochee County Board of Education approved bringing superintendent David McCurry back to the district on a part-time basis for one year at 49 percent of his original salary of $115,000.
Four of the board's five members were in attendance: chairwoman Christy Humber, Shirley Jones, Lora McAdams and Carrie Jackson. Krystal Coleman was absent. They went into closed session for approximately 15 minutes to discuss the proposal. Then, without public discussion in the open session, the board unanimously approved rehiring McCurry, who retired at the end of the school year after four years leading the school district.
Following the meeting, Humber referred the Ledger-Enquirer to her previous explanation about why the board chose to bring back McCurry in a part-time role. She told the L-E in a June 29 phone interview, "He has done a very good job for Chattahoochee County. We've got the College and Career Academy ongoing — we're still building it — and just having him there to be able to see it through will save us money (in superintendent salary) and it also will give the board more time on a superintendent search."
The academy, funded by a $3.1 million state grant, is where more than 200 of the approximately 460 ChattCo students in grades 9-12 took courses this past school year. Renovations this summer will upgrade two wings by the start of this coming school year, and new construction will produce two labs scheduled to open in January.
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That's also when Humber expects the board to start its search for a full-time superintendent.
McCurry didn't attend the meeting, but he told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview Monday night, "I'm just tickled that the board invited me to come back. I'm looking forward to coming back to a great place with great people, and I'm excited to continue to try to help improve things."
Asked why he agreed to come halfway out of retirement a month after he left ChattCo, McCurry said, "It's the opportunity to help a school system I love and still have time to pursue other opportunities and spend more time with my family."
McCurry was ChattCo’s superintendent for four years and worked for 30½ years as an educator in Georgia. His wife, Jackie, retired in November as the federal programs director in the Grady County School District, where he was principal of Cairo High School. So he started thinking about joining her in retirement and ending the back-and-forth drives they did to spend weekends together, McCurry told the Ledger-Enquirer when it reported his retirement.
“I love what I do,” he said then, “but it’s always been my goal to retire early and look at other opportunities.”
Those opportunities already included signing an agreement with the Technical College System of Georgia to help train the approximately 40 College and Career Academy boards around the state. Now, those opportunities also include returning to ChattCo.
McCurry said the state allows educators in the Teacher Retirement System to work full time for three months out of a year and 49 percent during the other months while still drawing full retirement benefits. The agreement he has with the ChattCo board says he would work full time during the months of August, September and October, but McCurry said they might substitute April for October so he can be in ChattCo during standardized testing, employee hiring and contract renewals.
Humber assured skeptics that McCurry will be available whenever the school district needs him, even while he officially is a part timer. "He always will have his phone on him," she said. "He always will be in charge. Even when you're a 100 percent superintendent, you're sometimes away at meetings."
McCurry emphasized ChattCo has "such a great leadership team already in place. So with me being at 49 percent, they do their jobs and do them well, I have no doubt it will be no different than if I'm there five days a week. ... I appreciate the board's confidence in me, but if this isn't working out in the best interest of the students and the school system, then I'll be the first one to say it."
None of the half dozen residents in the audience spoke during the meeting. Afterward, however, two of them agreed to an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer — and they criticized the board's decision.
They are upset that the board hasn't promoted Tabatha Walton, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, who has served ChattCo for 27 years and has a doctorate, which McCurry doesn't.
"We already have someone here qualified for the job," said Brendisha Hoyte, the mother of a 2018 ChattCo graduate and a rising 11th-grader. "And that's Tabatha Walton."
Having a part-time superintendent, even one who is available full time by phone, isn't good enough for ChattCo, Hoyte insisted.
"There's some stuff, issues that might occur, when he needs to be here," Hoyte said.
Kenyana White, who has three children in the school system, noted the board is adding a second full-time police officer for the school system. "So if they think we need more security," she said, "we definitely need a full-time superintendent."
White accused the board of discriminating against Walton, who is black and taught White in fifth grade. The board has four white women and one black woman as members.
"They're overlooking her for their own personal reasons," White said. "I hate to say it, but I just don't think they can handle a black woman being in charge."
For evidence, White offered this example: Board members call Walton "Ms. Walton, not Dr. Walton," she said, "but they have three others (in the school system) they address as Doctor."
Asked for her response to the allegation of discrimination, Humber told the L-E in a phone interview later Monday night, "It has nothing to do with this."
As for the board not addressing Walton as "Dr. Walton," Humber said, “I can’t speak for everybody, but I try to address her as Dr. Walton. I know sometimes I slip up, but I've known her for a long time (before Walton earned her doctorate), so it's just human nature."
Humber noted that Walton was among the "seven to 10" candidates the board interviewed during the search that resulted in McCurry being hired four years ago, when the board members were three white women , one black woman and one black man. She declined to say why Walton wasn't promoted.
"I'm not going to discuss an employee," she said.