It’s standard practice for a school board to regularly evaluate a superintendent’s performance and then make a decision about whether to renew his or her contract. But because of a delayed evaluation timeline, the Little Rock School Board’s vote to renew the contract for Superintendent Dexter Suggs for an additional year is happening at an awkward time: during what’s essentially a brief lame-duck session of the board.
Though two of the current board members — Norma Jean Johnson and Jody Carreiro — are on their way out after losing elections on Tuesday, their replacements won’t be sworn in until after results are certified. That will be next Friday at the earliest, but the board has its regularly scheduled September meeting on next Thursday, Sept 25. The outgoing incumbents both tend to be much more sympathetic to Suggs than the incoming members — Joy Springer and Jim Ross — who campaigned in part on their pointed criticism of Suggs’ leadership over the past academic year.
Suggs’ original contract was for a three year period, one of which he has just completed. It’s standard practice for a board that wants to retain its superintendent to extend such a contract by an additional year on a rolling basis, says board president Greg Adams — that is, to re-up the contract so that it’s again good for the next three years.
Usually, said Adams, the board would hold such a vote sometime in the summer — but it has only recently completed its evaluation of Suggs’ first year on the job because it didn’t have its evaluation tool in place for the new superintendent at the beginning of last school year. “This will be the first business meeting we have had since we completed the evaluation process,” he explained, and said the current board should be the one to wrap up the evaluation by now deciding on whether to add a year to the super’s contract.
“The board that goes through the year with the superintendent needs to finish that whole process. The board that’s about to be seated in October needs to complete that process next year — it needs to be the people that went through the year who evaluate the superintendent.” The matter is on the board’s Sept. 25 agenda, Adams said, although action is not required on the item at the meeting.
As for the superintendent’s performance, Adams said, “only speaking for myself, I think Dr. Suggs overall has had a good year— getting out of the desegregation lawsuit, establishing new partnerships in the schools, putting together some greater accountability pieces, starting the cultural change that happens whenever you have a new leader. I think he did a great deal of community outreach. …The first year is a learning year…but a lot was accomplished.”
Jim Ross said he’d prefer the board wait on voting to re-up Suggs’ contract. “I’d like for them not to take action on the big issues — facilities, the contract — until the new board is seated,” he said. However, he said, if the lame-duck board does vote on the issue, “they’re well within the bounds of the law to do what they’re doing.” He also noted that he’d also received a warm welcome from Adams upon winning the election, and was looking forward to working with the board. In the past, Ross and Springer have both blamed Suggs’ leadership for the districts’ troubles. (Springer couldn’t be reached for comment as of the time of this posting.)
Carreiro, the outgoing incumbent upset by Ross, acknowledged the evaluation should have been completed earlier, but said that the decision to extend Suggs’ contract “is clearly this board’s prerogative.” He also said Suggs had done well. “This board in the last 18 months has accomplished more positive things in a short time than a board and superintendent has in my memory, and I’ve lived here 30 years,” said Carreiro. Johnson said she’d need to hear the full board discussion before deciding on how she would vote, but added that “any school district that does not keep a superintendent for more than two or three years wont be successful.”
Of the remaining board members, Dianne Curry expressed some doubts about re-upping the contract. “My preference would have been to revisit that contract…after the second year, but not necessarily after the first year,” she said, adding that “under Suggs’ leadership, achievement has dropped some.” C.E. McAdoo and Leslie Fisken declined to comment on the contract, while Tara Shephard also could not be reached on Thursday afternoon.
If Suggs contract is renewed for another year and the board should later make the decision to buy out the remainder of his contract, the additional year would have to be paid for by the district. (A buyout isn’t something currently being discussed, but it’s a situation that’s happened all too many times before in the LRSD.)
Support for education reporting provided by the Arkansas Public Policy Panel.