After nearly three hours in closed session Tuesday, the Wayne County Board of Education wrapped up its business in seven minutes — rendering a split vote to extend the superintendent’s contract.
The special called meeting was reportedly for the purpose of discussing personnel, with the contract item added to the agenda when the board entered into open session.
Board Chairman Chris West called for a motion to approve Superintendent Michael Dunsmore’s current contract as prepared by the attorney to extend the term to June 4, 2023.
After West asked for a show of hands of those in favor of the motion and then those opposed, Vice Chairman Rick Pridgen asked if they were going to have discussion.
West said, “We took a vote. Do we need to discuss it after the vote?”
Board attorney Richard Schwartz indicated any discussion should have happened before a vote was taken.
“Anybody want to discuss (it)?” West asked.
Schwartz said the board first needed to establish if the vote was taken, and what the breakdown was. West said the outcome was three votes for the motion, three against and one abstention. A non-vote still counts as a “yes.”
Specifically, he along with board members Ven Faulk and Joe DeMocko voted for it, while Pridgen and board members Pat Burden and Len Henderson had voted against it and board member Jennifer Strickland abstained.
Pridgen appeared unclear about the vote.
“We never did get to that far,” Pridgen said.
Several board members replied that they had.
“He (West) asked for the vote,” Burden said.
“Well, I didn’t vote,” Pridgen said.
“Well, you raised your hand like that,” said West, demonstrating.
“He (Pridgen) raised his hand to speak, I think,” Burden said.
Pridgen said he had raised his hand, but for another reason.
“I was raising my hand for discussion,” he said, directing his remarks to West. “You never asked for discussion.”
Schwartz moderated over the discrepancy and brought it to a resolution.
“I’m not sure what the deal was. I think we just need to have a vote,” he said. “So you did not vote, Mr. Pridgen?”
“No,” Pridgen replied. “I was wanting to discuss it but he never asked for a discussion, so just leave me as a ‘no’ vote.”
The attorney suggested the board entertain anyone interested in speaking about the matter.
“All I wanted to say was I was willing to go with a one-year contract instead of two-year, adding two (years), and the reason for that is because I would like see more data from testing to come about and I would like to have final discussion with the superintendent on evaluations,” Pridgen said.
West started to offer a rebuttal but then stopped short.
“Based on the evaluations — maybe I’m not going to make a comment — but I think the evaluation speaks for itself and the board knows the history of what’s gone on with the evaluation over the last two years. I’ll just leave it at that,” he said.
The meeting was adjourned without further discussion.
West said afterward that the school board is required to evaluate the superintendent’s job performance every year so was working in compliance with that.
“We try to make sure that our superintendent works on a four-year contract,” he said. “The former board had a caveat and the former superintendent, that it automatically renewed every year, which kept it at four years.”
With the retirement of then-superintendent Steven Taylor and elections that have since changed the makeup of the board, the current members elected to make the decision on an annual basis.
Schwartz and West chose not to offer details about the personnel meeting, but indicated one contributing factor for its lengthy closed session was the superintendent’s contract.
“Some wanted to wait and see more data and other people wanted to go ahead and do it (renew it),” the attorney said.
“We’re not guaranteed a timeline for the data to come back,” West said. “That’s why we wanted to move forward.”
Dunsmore was hired in 2015 to a three-year contract. His starting salary was $145,000. It is currently $176,000.