By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
The Escambia County Board of Education’s workshop, held last Thursday (August 24) prior to the board’s regular monthly meeting, went smoothly for about an hour. Then it hit a rough patch, and another rough patch, and another.
The only item on the workshop agenda was a self-evaluation by Superintendent of Education Michele McClung of her performance during the almost two years she has held the job.
“This is one of the most important things this board will do,” Board President Danny Benjamin said prior to McClung’s presentation. “We need to make sure we hear her evaluation and score the superintendent on her job performance that she has provided for us for almost two years now.”
The trouble began brewing before McClung began her PowerPoint presentation.
Kirk Garrett, the board’s legal counsel, handed out packets to each member and told them to “grade” the superintendent’s performance on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being the low end and 5 the top, in 11 categories. The documents also allow room for BOE members to provide any comments they might wish to make.
The attorney said he would give the board an hour to complete the evaluations and would take them back to his office, tally them and bring the results back by the end of the regular meeting.
A brief discussion ensued prior to McClung’s talk, during which four of the seven-member panel — Kevin Hoomes, Loumeek White, Sherry Digmon and Cindy Jackson — complained that they needed more time to look over the evaluation documents.
Hoomes, who was the first to question the need to file the evaluation sheets so quickly, said he felt “rushed” and “confused about the whole thing.” Jackson noted that board members were given time to properly study and consider superintendent evaluation papers in the past.
Digmon also wondered why there was such a need to quickly complete the evaluations, which could come into play when negotiations begin in a few months on McClung’s next contract.
“I will ask why we changed it this time,” Digmon said. “Why are we doing it in such a set time? I understand that we have to do the evaluation, but personally it seems like we’re pushing it.”
Hoomes noted of the evaluation, “I’ve done a bunch of them, but I’ve never done them on the spot.”
McClung outlined the impressive list of positive changes that have occurred in the county’s public schools since she took over as superintendent, as well as some of the negatives that lingered when she took over. She spoke for just under an hour, providing details on selected areas as she went.
When McClung had finished, Benjamin praised her performance.
“I think this process of evaluation, sharing point-by-point what has been accomplished in the last two years, is very informative to the board,” Benjamin said. “I am sure that all of us did not know all of the gains that we have made in the last two years. I think this process has improved greatly by you sharing with us.”
He encouraged the remaining six board members to go ahead and fill out the evaluation documents, offering to extend the workshop into the regular meeting time, if necessary, so the results could be made known before the regular meeting ended.
Those against immediate evaluation became blunter in their objections, however.
“I’m just not doing it,” said Hoomes, while Jackson reminded Benjamin that “it’s up to the board if they want to do it now or take it home” and told him she “didn’t want to be pressured into something that’s so important.”
Benjamin, who has been a BOE member for 35 years, argued that he wasn’t trying to “pressure anyone into doing anything they weren’t comfortable with,” adding that he “just wants to be sure (each member) gives Mrs. McClung a fair evaluation.”
“At the end of the day, it’s up to the board to determine the ultimate timeline,” the school board’s attorney then said. “I think I’m hearing a consensus that they are either not going to do it or are not interested in doing it in the timeframe of 30 minutes or an hour.”
Hoomes again let his feelings be known.
“When I walked in here, I didn’t know we were doing any of this,” he said. “I don’t understand why we’re doing all this with a year (actually 10 months) left on her contract.”
After Benjamin asked his peers how much time they would need, White, who had remained mostly quiet until that point, made his feelings known.
“I think what the problem is, nobody really knew what they were getting into,” he said. “That was the main …”
Benjamin interrupted to say, “We evaluate the superintendent every two years,” and White, still speaking calmly at that point, asked Benjamin who made the decision to first put, then remove, renewal of McClung’s contract on the day’s official meeting agenda. When the board president said he did so, White began to lose his composure.
“You didn’t think you needed to discuss that with this board?” he asked. When the board attorney began to express his opinion, White’s composure completely disappeared.
“It’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question,” he said. “Does he (Benjamin) set the tone for the board, yes or no? Does he speak for the other six of us?”
When Benjamin again tried to explain, White disgustedly flipped his pen into the air and let it land on the table.
A decision was ultimately made to turn the documents over to Garrett by the end of the workday on Tuesday, August 29. A special board meeting was set for 9 a.m. Wednesday morning, August 30, to hear the overall results.