Loudon school officials keep jobs

Despite problems in system, board votes not to get rid of pair

Friday, September 14, 2007

LOUDON — An effort Thursday night by some members of the Loudon County school board to oust Superintendent Edward Headlee and maintenance supervisor David Hemelright over job performance issues failed amid a highly charged atmosphere.

Incoming school board Chairman Bobby Johnson Jr. several times admonished board members to show respect for each other and had to interrupt several escalating arguments.

The primary issue was whether or not Headlee and Hemelright should bear personal responsibility for problems in the school system, including the safety issues at Loudon High School that resulted in delays in opening the school, and a grand jury investigation.

Board member Scott Newman offered a motion to eliminate the position of schools maintenance coordinator on the basis that Hemelright had not performed his primary job responsibility of facilitating communication with the state fire marshal’s office.

Instead, Newman said, Hemelright had been identified as the cause of communication problems and had to be taken out of the loop to avoid further problems.

“All this falls on the shoulders of Headlee and Hemelright,” Newman said. “I think the best thing we can do is to eliminate this position.”

Board member Freddie Walker was quick to second the motion, saying, “Not in my 27 years with this board have we ever been called to the fire marshal’s office in Nashville. We’re the laughing stock of the state.”

Walker added that County Mayor Doyle Arp’s office was prepared to take responsibility for the schools’ maintenance.

Despite the fact that no board members offered to speak in support of Hemelright, Newman’s motion to eliminate the position failed in a 6-4 vote.

The board also voted 6-4 against a motion by outgoing board Chairman Bill Marcus to buy out Headlee’s contract before his scheduled June 30, 2008, retirement date.

“Headlee has said that his contract is available, I motion that we enter into negotiations to buy his contract,” Marcus said.

Board member Larry Proaps spoke out against the motion, arguing that the school department is already strapped for money and cannot afford to buy out the contract.

Marcus said he meant no disrespect to Headlee but, given all the recent controversy, he simply wanted a vote of confidence or no confidence from the school board.

“I choose to make a statement as to whether or not we have confidence in the superintendent,” he said.

Marcus said now that the board has indicated by its vote that it has confidence in Headlee, he will give the superintendent his full support.

Headlee said he would like to stay on as superintendent and was only “half-joking” when he told the school board earlier this year that his contract was available for buyout.

“There are things I’d like to finish,” he said. “I’d also like to be able to prepare for the transition to help the person coming into the job.”