We could hear the collective groan across the county on Thursday as people read our headline that the buyout of Tommy Lowry will cost $180,000, all of which are local dollars.
What followed was surely some anger against what we now call The Six, the board members who voted to oust Lowry, which they succeeded in doing, and then to hire Thomas Graves, which hasn’t happened yet — and shouldn’t, regardless of his credentials.
And they deserve plenty of blame, but there is more to spread around.
Three of the five remaining board members are part of this fiasco, because they all voted to hire Lowry in the summer of 2015 when an attempt to hire Rick Watkins was sabotaged by a fraction of that board, and Lowry was picked — even though he had not applied.
Loistine Defreece, who is now chairman, and board members John Campbell and Brenda Fairley-Ferebee were joined by Jo Ann Lowery, Bosco Locklear and Gary Strickland in voting to hire Lowry. We don’t think it’s coincidence that Locklear, Lowery and Strickland were booted from the board by voters in March 2016.
Remember as well that it was Campbell and Lowery who shamefully disparaged Watkins during a school board meeting with the public listening, leading to his decision to tell the board to take this job and shove it.
Mike Smith, who was then chairman and had cast the tie-breaking vote to offer Watkins, didn’t vote for or against the Lowry hire because there was no tie to break, and the other member of the current board, Craig Lowry, had not yet joined the school board.
The decision not to continue the search meant about $20,000 that was spent on the search was wasted. More importantly, it guaranteed that Lowry would labor under a splintered board, and his fate was essentially was sealed from Day One as The Six had no interest in working with him.
It is true that $180,000 is swallowed by the system’s yearly budget of about $230 million, but those are your dollars because they are raised locally, including through property taxes. Consider there are about 23,000 students in the system, and then do a little math, and you understand that Lowry’s salary works out to almost $8 per student.
We have all heard the sorry stories of teachers having to spend their own money for supplies for students, so many of whom come from families struggling to put food on the table. Eight dollars is a good start for supplies for a student.
Those are your dollars being wasted, all because the school board in 2015 made a decision not to try to find a superintendent that the full board could support, ensuring that Jan. 10 would happen. The mistake that The Six made was not in their decision to seek new leadership, but in colluding in the dark to hire Graves, thus undermining any chance of him enjoying the full support of the board.
While our school board isn’t compensated as richly as our county commissioners, they do receive a stipend that when totaled adds up to more than $100,000 a year. Given that the school system trails others across the state in just about every education metric, it’s fair to ask should they get a cut in their pay.
Ours is a poor school system, and taxpayers shouldn’t have to foot the bill for the school board’s petty games.