School board retreating at home

Mary E. Hinds News Herald

Criticized in some quarters for their retreat in Gatlinburg last year, the Loudon County School Board is leaning towards staying closer to home in 2009.

During their Monday evening workshop, the board considered whether or not to have a board retreat. The meeting began with two citizens, Richard Truitt and Pat Hunter, voicing their concerns about the board spending money during this economic downturn and a very tight school budget. Truitt noted the board spent $8,000 last year when the retreat was held in Gatlinburg necessitating the school system pay for hotel rooms. He told the board they could discuss school business, “in Loudon County as good as you can in Gatlinburg.” Hunter agreed saying if the board needs to get together they should hold their discussions in the county to save money. “Everyone is tightening their belt,” Hunter said. 

Director of Loudon County Schools Wayne Honeycutt opened the discussion of whether or not the board should have a retreat. Board member Van Shaver said he thought a retreat was a fine idea, “if we have it here.” Board member Steven Harrelson said much of the criticism of last year’s retreat stemmed from photos posted on the Internet of rooms at the hotel where the board was staying that left the impression the board was living it up in luxury at taxpayers’ expense. “We met for two days, we were not partying,” Harrelson said adding the board had done nothing extravagant or wrong despite perceptions to the contrary. Board member Bill Marcus agreed last year’s retreat was, “not a party” and added holding the retreat in Gatlinburg was a board tradition that could be changed. “I’m for doing it locally,” Marcus concluded. 

Board member Gary Ubben said the problem with having the retreat in Loudon County was the fear of interruptions as board members might be tempted to come and go from meetings to run errands or answer phone calls. “We need to commit to being here,” Ubben told the board. Board member Larry Proaps said the key was to control distractions. He said once the retreat starts there should be no going in and out, cell phones should be turned off and board members should be obligated to stay unless there is an emergency. 

Board member Bobby Johnson, Jr. also felt the photos posted on the Internet during last year’s retreat were misleading. He said the photos showed hot tubs and other amenities at the Gatlinburg hotel but those were “extras” not paid from the county school budget. “We paid for it,” Johnson said of the upscale amenities available. He agreed that since the economy is tight holding the retreat in the county was a better alternative. 

“We all agree a retreat is a good idea,” Shaver said. The board agreed and Honeycutt is scheduled to come to Thursday’s board meeting with a proposed agenda for the retreat and a proposed location in the county.